The May 9, 2022 presidential election looks like nothing we have ever seen before, and we have to do everything to prevent it exploding into a total “failure of elections.”
Three things seem clear.
First, the sheer number of self-nominated individuals seeking the presidency (97) can only produce—even after all the “nuisance candidates” shall have been weeded out—a minority-elected president. This is the exact opposite of what we need and want especially at this time.
It is completely antithetical and inimical to the first essential requirement of a functioning presidential system—namely, that it should represent majority of the people, led by a president freely chosen in a fair and free election by at least fifty percent plus one of all the voters who had voted in that election.
For the past 35 years, we have been led by one non-elected “revolutionary” president (Cory Aquino), and five minority-elected presidents—Fidel V. Ramos, 1992; Erap Estrada, 1998; Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, 2004; B. S. Aquino 3rd, 2010; and Rodrigo Roa Duterte, 2016. We have survived the roller-coaster ride, and may yet survive another minority-elected president. But we cannot turn our particular experience into an honored principle.
Even now, some groups, including Filipino expatriates in the US, are suggesting we forget the 2022 elections and begin the process of shifting to a parliamentary system. This needs a separate and elaborate discussion though.
The second problem is not less formidable.
With President Duterte running for the Senate, and his daughter, Davao city mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio, running for vice-president, the Constitution that bans political dynasties and demands to be honored by all those who have sworn to preserve and defend it from all evils, has become a disposable piece of paper.
No wonder, someone like former Public Works Secretary Mark Villar feels free to run for the Senate without any moral inhibitions, while his illustrious mother, Senator Cynthia Villar, still sits there. At the same time, a number of political dynasties have proliferated and continue to proliferate at the local level.
I personally believe the constitutional injunction against political dynasties is the result of misguided political zeal. The most developed and best functioning democracies have no such constitutional prohibition. It seems completely unnatural that the son or daughter or spouse or sibling of a politician should be barred by law from following the latter’s occupation for no legitimate reason. In no other profession outside of politics do we have this prohibition.
But since the misguided ban is already in the Constiution, it should be enforced until it is properly revoked or withdrawn. Those who enter the executive and legislative branches of government must enforce it on themselves, as though it were already legally enforceable, even as they point out that it is completely misguided and wrong.
The third problem takes us into the innards of our system. Because of our geostrategic position in the Indo-Pacific region, and our own peculiar circumstances as a nation, we could end up with a minority-elected president speaking the language of a foreign power. We are a prize trophy in the growing US-China competition for “influence” in the region, and many of our countrymen are already talking of a “Manchurian candidate” speaking for the Filipino people. Filipinos have gotten used to their politicians openly seeking American support, and no such politician will resent being built up as an “American boy” by a cover story in TIME magazine. But pigs will fly if and when people begin to hear of a Filipino presidentiable made in Beijing.
The term, “Manchurian candidate,” owes its origin to a 1959 Richard Condon novel that was turned into a movie in 1962, in which a fictional American “hero” of the Korean war ends up running for US vice-president, under the spell of his communist handlers who had turned him after he was captured and locked up in a North Korean internment camp. In the present context, the term suggests a Filipino candidate whose real allegiance is to China whose territorial and maritime interests are in conflict with his own, but which the candidate has embraced for personal, ideological or economic reasons.
No proof has surfaced to show that such a Manchurian candidate already exists. But talk about it has already begun and could increase as we move closer to the elections. The Left’s massive attempt to savage and scuttle the candidacy of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., as a candidate of the extreme Right, whose late father had used martial law to prevent the planned communist takeover in 1972 and stay in power until 1986, only adds fuel to the speculation. But any sign of political over-reach on the part of China, at this stage, could set back Philippine-Chinese relations by at least 46 years.
In 1975, when Marcos established diplomatic relations with Beijing and agreed to recognize the “One-China Policy,” it was in exchange for, among other things, China’s commitment to stop aiding and abetting the Communist Party of the Philippines, which had threatened to bring down the Marcos government. The Chinese leadership honored that commitment for years, but in 2016 Duterte named known communists to his government. Any Chinese attempt now to intervene in the elections could trigger a strong negative reaction from some of the Philippines closest allies, including the US, Australia and Japan. The resulting conflict could lead to a political meltdown.
We are not prepared for such a meltdown, and we cannot allow it to happen. Duterte, who will remain in office during the election, should do everything to prevent it from happening. As his term finally expires on June 30, 2022, he could and should make good his earlier pledge to conduct a truly “independent” foreign policy that puts the Philippines’ sovereign interests over and above those of any of its friends. He should also try to create an enduring legacy by ensuring the nation’s first truly free and honest national elections, free of all forms of deceit and manipulation, and of all foreign interlopers. This means that no one will be asking Chinese President Xi Jinping and his financial supporters to swell the coffers of any “Manchurian candidate” from Mindanao.