Why is the May 2010 election very important for the Philippines?

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Why is the May 2010 election very important for the Philippines?

Fri, 07/22/2011 - 13:18

Why is the May 2010 election very important for the Philippines?

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You are not voting, you say? 

Fri, 07/22/2011 - 13:20

You are not voting, you say?  Hope you change your mind.  Why waste a great opportunity to elect a good leader and contribute to the process of establishing political stability and economic development?  Yes, a peaceful and credible election is the single best tool to achieve both.  History proves it in the Philippines, where elections are questionable, political stability is shaky, and economic development is sparse.

The presidential and national elections in the Philippines on May 10, 2010 are critical for the country, which needs political stability to lay the groundwork for economic development.  For close to half a century, the supposedly democratic country in Southeast Asia had a limited experience of successful election and a long period of political instability, which disrupted economic development.    Beginning with the Marcos dictatorial rule in the late 1960s, the Philippines had questionable election results, and a controversial election was usually followed by military coup or people power uprising.  It was guaranteed.

Following the snap presidential election called by dictator Ferdinand Marcos, the questionable results became an issue why a street protest turned into the 1986 People Power Revolution, which was backed by the military.

When the revolutionary government of President Cory Aquino was installed, she had to endure repeated attempts by a right-wing faction of the military headed by now Senator Gringo Honasan to oust her.  The political instability until 1992 weakened any effort to bring economic development in the country.  This was simply because Cory Aquino was not duly elected by the people.

The military always adheres to the Constitution, which only counts election as the only mode of installing people to political power.  When the results of the election are in question, it becomes a window for those in the military to grab power for themselves.  Maybe, the military is also instigated by some civilians, who knows?

Then came Fidel Ramos, a former military general who was elected in 1992.  No coup attempts were recorded during his six-year term, although there was apprehension that he would bend the Constitution to extend his stay in power.  The Philippines achieved a sustainable economic growth during this brief period of polital stability, until the 1997 Asian financial crisis affected the country.

The 1998 election was also credible, with President Joseph Estrada winning by a landslide over other candidates.  No coup d'etat was recorded during his three-year term, until a group of businessmen and civil society leaders protested at EDSA against the corruption in the government.  The military, led by Angelo Reyes, had to join the protest at the last minute because they knew the Constitution prohibited it.

Vice President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was sworn in as the next president by Supreme Court Chief Justice Hilario Davide Jr. in January 2001.  The military knew it was illegal, and saw a window of opportunity to mount repeated attempts to oust her.

In 2004, the controversial results of the election also became a basis for an adventurous faction of the military to try to destabilize the government.  Antonio Trillianes became a household name and even became a senator, following the footsteps of Honasan.

By appointing former military and police officials in sensitive posts in government, President Arroyo had loyal allies who defended her government against her enemies.  

Now, another election will be held on May 10, but this is the first time the country will adopt a computerised system of counting ballots in a bid to hasten the declaration of the winning candidates, which took weeks, if not months in the past.   Much attention now focuses on the poll automation, because a failure of the system could instantly become a source of political instability.  

Analysts think the system is highly vulnerable to fraud and collapse.  Add political violence and energy crisis, and you have a very serious situation.  Violence actually began with the killing of dozens of journalists in Maguindanao, during the filing of candidacy of a gubernatorial candidate challenging the family of incumbent governor, an ally of the president.

The energy crisis is serious and Mindanao is already experiencing intermittent brownouts.  Luzon and Visayas were also vulnerable.  Come election time, a brownout could delay, disrupt or stop the electoral process, just because it was computerized.

The Arroyo administration was actually prepared to take charge in the event of failure of election.  President Arroyo made sure she has the support of the Commission on Election, the Supreme Court and the military in case she has to extend her term.

President Arroyo appointed the incumbent chairman of the Comelec, the incumbent chief of staff of the Armed Forces, and is likely to name the new chief justice of the Supreme Court, whose members are also Arroyo appointees.

Among those that will be elected in May are the four highest officials in the government bureaucracy, namely: the President, the Vice President, the Senate President and the Speaker of the House of Representatives.

The one who will swear the new president into office is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but the incumbent Chief Justice Reynato Puno is set to retire in May 2010. This is why the appointment of the new Chief Justice by the President is considered highly political and controversial at this point.

What will happen if the computerised electoral system fails or a power blackout disrupts the whole process?   Some say there might be no election, or no proclamation of a new president.  In this case, the rule of succession should apply, meaning the Vice President can take over.  If he is not available, the next in line is the Senate President, followed by the Speaker of the House of Representatives.  However, the terms of the incumbent Vice President, Senate President and House Speaker will all expire on 30th June 2010, coinciding with the expiration of the term of President Arroyo.

Assuming that this is the case, whoever is appointed the Supreme Court Chief Justice will play a crucial role in swearing in the rightful successor, but many believe that being an appointee of incumbent President Arroyo, the next Chief Justice may end up declaring the House Speaker as the rightful successor.  

Another scenario is that a military “junta” may take over the government, if no candidate is proclaimed as the new President.  Senate President Enrile even suggested that if no President, no Vice President or no Senate president is elected, then the military can take over and appoint an officer-in-charge in the meantime.  

Senate President Enrile knows what he is saying, because he, as a former Defense Minister in the Marcos regime, together with then Gen. Fidel Ramos, staged a people-power backed military uprising that ousted the late President Ferdinand Marcos from power in 1986, following a questionable snap presidential election.

What Senate President Enrile failed to mention is the role of the next Speaker of the House, who will not be elected at a national level.  In the Philippines, the President, the Vice-President and the Senators are all elected at the national level, while a member of the House of Representatives is elected by congressional district.  There are more than 200 congressional districts in the Philippines.

Some sectors are asking Enrile to give up the post of Senate President to another senator who is not up for reelection this year, so that the Senate will have a leader beyond the election period. However, the fact that half of the Senate - 12 senators are joining the election - means it will have no quorum come June 30, in case of electoral failure.

While a glitch in the computerised system of counting votes may result in failure to proclaim the next President, Vice President and Senators, this may not be much of a problem in counting the votes for a member of the House of Representatives, given the much lower number of voters in a congressional district.  The next Speaker of the House of Representatives will be elected by and among the members of the Chamber.

However, President Arroyo herself, whose term ends in June, has filed a certificate of candidacy to run as a member of the House of Representatives in the second district of her home province of Pampanga.  Some members of her Cabinet are also running for Congress, and most likely they will win and see each other again as members of the House of Representatives come July 2010.  A

As members of Congress, their first order of business is to elect the new House Speaker, and guess who will most likely be named the new Speaker, and the third in the line of succession.  President Arroyo is likely to become Speaker Arroyo, President Arroyo again, or Primite Minister Arroyo.

Expect the military to be excited about these developments.

To avoid this situation from happening, let us cast and defend our votes.