Elections are supposed to be the best expression of democratic will. Sovereign citizens make their wishes known through elections on the matter of who they think can best represent and lead them. The same process also allows citizens the opportunity to express their approval or disapproval of the policies of sitting officials and of the proposed platforms of those running for office.
The US Congressional elections of November 2006 demonstrated how voters can use elections to throw out those associated with an administration responsible not only for the US debacle in Iraq but also for such current US economic woes as the weakening of the dollar. They ended Republican Party dominance of Congress to demonstrate their displeasure. But the US Democratic Party also regained control of the US Congress on the crest of the US electorate’s hopes that the Democrats can find a way out of the Iraq and economic quagmires George W. Bush and the Republicans led the US into.
An election can thus be an expression of displeasure as well as hope: displeasure over what the incumbents have been doing, and hope that those who want to take their place can do better.
If they do take place–and I think that a no-elections scenario is still possible–the May elections in the Philippines are likely to be an expression of displeasure over the Arroyo regime and its allies, cohorts and lackeys in the House of Representatives as well as in the local governments. But they will express the hope that an opposition win will put an end to the arrogance of power that especially since 2004 has led to bad policies.
From all appearances, and assuming certain conditions are met, the displeasure will be enough to hand over control of both Houses of Congress to the opposition, or those associated with it.
The displeasure is based on the host of grievances practically every sector of Philippine society harbors against the regime. A large segment of the business community believes that the political killings create security problems that are bad for business and subvert the rule of law. Educators decry the failure to reform Philippine education and its politicization. Lawyers note the erosion of the rule of law and the country’s slide into chaos.
Environmental groups see no end to the despoliation of the environment under a regime in which corrupt officials and bureaucrats selectively enforce the laws. Women’s groups are fuming over the way the regime practically lawyered for, and in effect released to US custody, convicted rapist Daniel Smith. Good governance NGOs see corruption intensifying rather than waning, and secrecy and backroom deals becoming the norm in government. Human rights groups are at their wits’ end documenting, much less finding a way to stop, the unremitting violations of human rights that take place almost daily.
These sectors see the root of these problems in the mother of all issues in contemporary Philippines: the, to put it kindly, flawed mandate of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. More than a majority of the Filipino people seem to agree. Some 60 percent of them want Mrs. Arroyo to resign before 2010, and they have been saying that since late 2004, with a consistency that defies the norm. (Social Weather Stations has pointed out that citizen distrust and disapproval of government officials tends to wane with time, but that this has not been the case with Mrs. Arroyo.)
The result is unanimity across most sectors and economic classes that Mrs. Arroyo has to go. It’s a unanimity regime actions have only served to strengthen, not the least being the House majority’s attempt to constitute itself into a constituent assembly without the Senate, and the Department of Interior and Local Government’s clandestine transfer of Daniel Smith to US custody.
The various opposition groups couldn’t have wished for more ideal conditions in which to have elections. Unfortunately, the confidence this has generated may erase the advantage–citizen disgust with the Arroyo regime–being with the opposition endows a candidate with.
That confidence is encouraging a reckless belief that anyone they field this May will win. The recklessness is evident in what’s being bandied about as likely opposition candidates for the Senate. The United Opposition (UNO) has listed the son of Senator Aquilino Pimentel, the brother of Senator Pia Cayetano and the brother of Senator Jinggoy Estrada among its possible candidates for the Senate this May. (While we’re on the subject of that list, what is this obsession with Gringo Honasan, anyway?)
We could end up with a Senate where there will be two Cayetanos and two Estradas, even as the House welcomes the usual sons, brothers, sisters, uncles, mothers etc. of those whose terms will end this June. While senators from the same party or coalition are expected to vote together, basing decisions in that chamber on family ties is an absurdity the already absurd world of Philippine politics can very well do without.
What defies explanation is that, because the politicians know (and trust, though few of them will say so) the results of the surveys, so many of them want to be part of the opposition slate there shouldn’t be any problem choosing from among them. And yet UNO is talking as if, like the Arroyo coalition, it doesn’t have enough people on hand to fill the 12 slots it has available.
It’s all very well for the opposition to have grasped the crucial fact that Mrs. Arroyo and her rule will be the issue this May. But that doesn’t mean it can run just anyone it wants. I doubt that many people will relish having two Cayetanos and two Estradas on the same list of 12, no matter how much they may despise the Arroyo regime and everyone else associated with it.