'Caveat emptor': Significance of 2022 Senate elections

'Caveat emptor': Significance of 2022 Senate elections Featured

THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) reports that "18,100 positions will be contested for the May 9, 2022 elections from president down to the local municipal councilors. Of these, 48,000 candidates and party-lists have filed their certificates of candidacy (COCs)." But what has captured voter interest is the presidential and vice-presidential tickets. Much has been written and posted in the mass and social media about the five serious presidential aspirants (out of 97). No doubt the most important is speculating on the Deegong's successor.

But this column will devote space instead to the Senate, particularly on the 12 senators (out of 176) who will join the 12 others elected in 2019. (Please refer to an excellent piece by Malou Tiquia, The Manila Times, Sept. 27, 2021.) The senators' terms total 12 years each (with one reelection). But their importance goes beyond their tenure, doubling that of the president's. Borrowed from the old Roman concept of the senatus, the occupants were considered the wisest, most experienced and respected senior members of society, particularly the elite.

In America, two senators are voted by each federal state to compose a 100-member Senate, unlike that which the Philippines adopted in 1946. Our 24 Philippine senators, like our president, are "elected at large," thus arrogating upon themselves self-proclaimed status as heirs apparent to the presidency, acquiring over time a certain demeanor underscored by developing egos equating them with the president they eventually seek to replace. Of the 16 Philippine presidents, 10 came from the Senate. These senators have created for themselves their own political enclaves with prestige and influence a little lesser than that of the president's.

Senate post-Marcos

Since the expulsion of Marcos and the abrogation of the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions, the Cory Constitution of 1987 was designed to be principally anchored on anti-martial law doctrines. Philippine concepts of governance have not adapted to the realities of a dynamic and evolving Philippine society and the exigencies of modern society. Thus, our laws, based on the now flawed constitution have proven to be the main hindrance to our total development — cultural, economic and political. The two last criteria are glaring when our country is compared to our neighbors that have left us behind — Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, Vietnam, et al. Comparatively, our economy has virtually stagnated, if not deteriorated. Poverty is widespread and barely mitigated. Our political development is stunted with political power and authority concentrated at the center causing disparities in the periphery, a weak rule of law, ongoing impunity, and corruption in all levels of governance. These all need to change.

The Senate holds the key to these changes. Principally a deliberative body of a chosen few from whence the laws of the land spring forth, they are the conservative keepers of the familiar, more concerned with preserving the status quo through the old, tried and tested formulas than trying out the modern, the dynamic and the unconventional. From the 9th to the 13th Senate, Presidents Ramos' 1997 Pirma, Estrada's 1999 Concord, and Arroyo's 2005 ConCom, moves to revise the 1987 Constitutions were met by the Senate's intransigence.

The 15th/16th Congress during the presidency of PNoy never did consider any alteration to the 1987 Constitution. "Not even a comma," he once declared, holding the document as a sacrosanct legacy of his mother. The subsequent Senate during President Duterte did not seriously consider the proposals of the 2018 Charter Change Consultative Committee seeking political restructuring.

Thus, the ingenuities for changes to the laws of the land that will impact Philippine society for generations to come are stuck at the obstructionist Senate. The need therefore to shift our attention this election to the upper chamber becomes imperative, hopefully evoking the ancient concept of Senatus Populusque Romanus (SPQR), peopling it with "persons of wisdom."

What changes are needed

I am presenting proposed constitutional revisions of the 1987 Constitution centered on the Centrist Democrats' (CD) core value of human dignity, guided by principles of Christian and Muslim social teachings. "Political, economic and social order must be so logically designed that the dignity of each person is protected and promoted. An atmosphere of freedom is a prerequisite upon which human dignity is enhanced. Self-determination by everyone, an essential component, is the impetus for collective expression toward the development of a just society." ("Call for change: PH constitutional revisions," TMT, Aug 19, 2020.)

To be more specific the guiding principles are simple: 1) a strict adherence to democracy and the rule of law; 2) a parliamentary government based on program-oriented political parties; 3) a decentralized state structure with regional autonomy and local self-government, leading towards federalism; and 4) a "social market economy" with a well-functioning open market, protected by a strong state.

What these all amount to is the Senate's role in providing the impetus for fundamental change. The Duterte administration never did push through any long-lasting political reforms except perhaps for passing the BARMM law, which, in the first place, propelled his presidency in 2016 on his campaign commitment "to a set of political reforms, including establishing a federal system of government. It was assumed that the President would keep his word, ushering all these under his promise of pagbabago (change)."

Current Senate profile

One third of the present 12 senators are members of the PDP-Laban whose platform includes political reforms and government restructuring from a presidential to parliamentary form of government and is unitary to a federal system. These are congruent with the CD demands, too. Joining the four (Go, Bato, Tolentino and Pimentel) are two who may go for federalism (Imee Marcos and Angara). This block going for Charter revision comprises one half of the rest (Poe, Binay, Lapid, Villar, Cayetano and Revilla). This means that at least the incoming seven out of 12 senators could go for Charter revisions, and for the 19th Congress to pass a law calling for a constitutional convention for the revision of the 1987 Constitution.

Possible incoming senators

Six reelectionists are running to regain their seats — de Lima, Gatchalian, Hontiveros, Gordon, Villanueva and Zubiri — plus the usual "branded names" who at some point in the past won as senators or possess an excellent name recall for a shot at a slot: Alan Cayetano, Chiz Escudero, Loren Legarda, Jojo Binay, Bam Aquino, Gibo Teodoro, Jinggoy Estrada, JV Ejercito, Greg Honasan, Antonio Trillanes 4th and Raffy Tulfo, et al. Their views on political reforms and shift to a parliamentary/federal government structure are vague and for some, belied by their belonging to political dynasties. It is therefore incumbent on the advocates for structural change to scrutinize these senatorial hopefuls.

There are, however, some uncut gems on the side who may emerge in the course of the campaign with good chances at winning. As a service to those advocating for political party reforms, a shift to federal parliamentary government, underpinned by the social market economy (SOME) and allowing foreign direct investments (FDI), this column will from time to time highlight senatorial candidates with their own advocacies congruent with this column's Centrist ideological profile.

Meantime, be discriminating for the lies peddled as truth! This is their stock in trade.

 

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