The Commission on Elections is faced with the task of trimming down the list of presidential candidates from 130 to a number composed of only the really serious contenders. This, by no means, is a mean feat. The Philippine Constitution itself has made the task tough because nearly anyone can qualify to run for the highest post in the land. All that one needs to qualify is that he is a natural-born citizen, a registered voter, able to read and write, at least 40 years old on the day of the election, and a resident of the Philippines for at least 10 years before the election.
If Comelec accepts all those who filed certificates and includes them all in the ballot, we will have an outrageously lengthy list—a spectacle that Comelec cannot afford to allow. Assuming Comelec succeeds in cutting the list to about five, six or, even seven presidential aspirants, the winner will never garner a majority of the votes cast—which is more than 50 per cent. Thus, it is more likely that the winner will only enjoy a mere plurality or garner just a few more votes than the next one. Can he then be considered as having won the trust and mandate of the Filipino people to run the country for six long years? Hardly. Because of this phenomenon, even after a president has been proclaimed, the nation remains divided and fractured.
Before the 1987 Constitution, the Philippines had a much better system, similar to that in the United States, where only two major parties slugged it out, the Liberal and the Nacionalista parties. As in the American system, each party would choose the best of the best and field him to run against the contender from the other party. In the US, there are virtually two elections: the primary and the general. In the primary election, the candidate to represent either of the two dominant parties, that is, the Republican or the Democrat, is first elected. The winner then represents the party in a general election. While the Philippines never had the Electoral College system which is unique to the US, at least, the Filipino voters used to choose from the two best candidates who had gone through a primary selection process.
In most parts of the world, if an absolute majority or a designated percentage—such as 40 to 45 percent of votes cast—is not obtained by a candidate, the two who earned the highest votes undergo a runoff or a second election. The other candidates are then eliminated from the list so that those who voted for them may now vote for either of the top two candidates in order that a majority may be obtained by the more favored candidate. In the Philippines, the person having the highest number of votes, no matter how slim the margin may be, gets proclaimed as the winner.
How did we get into this sorry mess? When the 1987 Philippine Constitution was being crafted, the initial intention was to shift the Philippines from the unitary/presidential system to one of federalism. In a federal system of government it is all right to have multiple parties because the voters in every state will only vote for their representative in the parliament. The elected members of parliament from all the states will then choose from among themselves the prime minister. Thus, the general electorate is not subjected to the agony of choosing the head of government from an endless bevy of aspirants. Unfortunately, even while the 1987 Constitution was originally crafted for a federal system of government—explaining why multiple parties are allowed to exist—in the final vote among the commissioners of the 1987 Constitution, the proponents of the federal system lost by a mere one vote. Thus, the 1987 Constitution put back the Philippines to the unitary/presidential system of government. Yet, as the Constitutional Commissioners were then running out of time as there existed no Constitution when President Cory Aquino declared a revolutionary government, the Commissioners apparently overlooked many provisions that needed to be changed to conform to a unitary/ presidential system.
This is but one of the many incongruities in the 1987 Constitution that needs revisiting and amending. While a nation’s Constitution should serve as its backbone, ours needs reconstructing to respond to the changing times and the needs of its people. Although amending the Constitution is a constituent act—or the act of the sovereign people—without the support of the Chief Executive, any attempt to change it will fall apart. Remember how much effort the present Congress invested to amend at least the economic provisions of the Constitution to make the nation more competitive in the global market? All these were put to naught as President Benigno Aquino III adamantly refused to touch his mother’s Constitution. Thus, the Filipino electorate must elect a President in 2016 who genuinely desires to promote the common good, rather than self-interest, to lift the Philippines out of limbo.
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