THE LONG VIEW
Tribute to Adel
NO Muslim figures in either of the two main senatorial slates. I am pegging the administration line-up as follows: Gilbert Teodoro, Tessie Aquino Oreta, Vicente Sotto III, Richard Gomez, Edu Manzano, Miguel Zubiri, Mike Defensor, Edgardo Angara, Joker Arroyo, Rafael Recto Jr., Gregorio Honasan and Prospero Pichay. The opposition slate seems likely to be composed of Loren Legarda, JV Ejercito, John Osmeña, Francis Escudero, Benigno Aquino III, Francisco Pangilinan, Alan Peter Cayetano, Manuel Villar Jr., Aquilino Pimentel III, Panfilo Lacson, Sonia Roco and Antonio Trillanes IV. As you can see, on neither list does a Muslim appear. As recently as 2004, the major slates all featured Muslim candidates.
Regardless of whether Filipino Muslims have ever had enough numbers — or a Muslim vote — to elect one of their own, national slates have tended to make a point of including a Muslim. This was part of the larger strategy of balancing regional interests in national representation. Another example would be the tradition, which held out from 1935 to 1986, of geographically balanced presidential and vice-presidential tandems. The Marcos-Tolentino and Aquino-Laurel tickets were the first to break with this tradition. As with all unwritten rules, once broken, they’re impossible to restore. That the number voters in Luzon equals those of the Visayas and Mindanao combined is a political reality that trumps tradition.
The Senate elected in 1941 had a distinguished Muslim, Aluyao Alonto; the one elected in 1946 had two: Alonto and Salipada Pendatun. The Second Congress had no Muslim senator, but Domocao Alonto was elected to the Senate in 1955 to serve in the Third and Fourth. There was no Muslim senator in the Fifth and Sixth, but the Seventh (last pre-martial law legislature) had Mamintal Tamano. The Eighth Congress’ Senate had two: Santanina Rasul and Mamintal Tamano; the Ninth had Rasul; the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th Congresses — or a total of 12 years — mark the longest period in our history that we haven’t had a Muslim senator. (From 1916-1935, the Senate always had one, appointed by the governor general.) Previously, the longest stretch was six years. This is one reason I’m personally in favor of a regional approach to electing senators in the future.
Unsought as he is, let me pay tribute to Adel Abbas Tamano, who I think would make a splendid senator — and might be one, still, at some future time.
Both the administration and the opposition were quite interested in getting Tamano to run. He was approached by leaders of administration-allied parties, as well as by the leaders of the opposition; though from what I can recall, his name was first floated by the non-traditional political groups, such as the Black and White Movement, to which I belong.
I understand the pressure became quite intense, which is as much a tribute to his personal qualities as it is to the appreciation, by both sides, of the need for a Muslim candidate. In the end, he declined the offers. It is sad that conflicting political pressures have resulted in his opting out. But at a time when our national politics shows no sign of improvement, it’s a kind of victory that one potential candidate has set aside his political prospects to maintain his personal principles.
I’d like to reproduce a comment Tamano left on my blog, addressed to another reader who was supportive of his running for the Senate.
This is part of what Tamano wrote on Jan. 30: “I am seriously concerned by the fact that there aren’t other Muslim leaders who are being considered as possible senatorial candidates…
“On the issue of the need for a Muslim senatorial candidate, allow me to say this — one of the preconditions for this nation’s full development is a stable and lasting peace in Mindanao. This cannot happen unless we have Moro representatives in the highest sectors of government, articulating Muslim concerns and interests. This point is not a self-serving endorsement — there are many qualified Muslims — but rather an objective assessment of the current failure of the peace process in Mindanao and the obvious marginalization of Moros in higher-level policy-making.
“Finally, my hope is that issues that affect Muslim Filipinos will also be an integral part of the discourse in choosing our country’s future leaders.”
I share Tamano’s concern that he is the only Muslim who has been considered for the Senate at this time. Because of their entrepreneurship, which has made them increasingly visible (and thus, less alien and less subject to suspicion and misunderstanding), Muslims figure in our daily lives. Given this reality, the idea that a Muslim Filipino vote — and thus, constituency — should break out of the confines of geography should be gathering steam. Which is why, I believe Tamano, though Manila-based, to be as good a representative for Muslims as anyone.
It may be timely to propose that Muslim Filipinos consider three things: that the short list of their potential leaders is scandalously short; that they have a potential clout that transcends geography and even ethnicity, as there are an increasing number of Muslim converts without traditional ties of blood or ethnicity; that at no time since 1916 (when the Senate was established) have they been so weakly represented nationally.
It bothers me that even if I wanted to vote for a Muslim for the Senate, and I always have made a point of voting for a Muslim national candidate ever since I started to vote, this year, I have no choice. Muslim Mindanao and the broader Muslim Filipino community, has been reduced to a place for harvesting votes, but not for actual representation.