Something bothers me about the opposition in some quarters, to the idea of champion pugilist Manny Pacquiao throwing his hat in the electoral ring. Which is a greater indictment of democracy -that Pacquiao has the nerve to consider himself fit for public office, or that some of his fellow citizens consider it unthinkable that a boxer who made it good, dares to aspire to a government job that will be decided by the outcome of a popular election?
The truth is, both may be approaching the same question but from opposite ends of the spectrum. If democracy is the rule of the majority, and the majority of the population happen to be of a certain economic standing or level of education or culture, then naturally their financial and cultural circumstances will affect those they consider worthy and desirable to represent them. The only limits on their ability to do so, are explicit requirements for office that would automatically, and drastically, limit the representative options available to the electorate.
But those explicit requirements have never been there; and, indeed, were never necessary back in the day when there was a greater similarity between leaders and followers because the laws limited those qualified to be electors. However, these limitations have been lifted over time; which makes the assumptions on which the slender, mandatory, qualifications for office now in our laws utterly obsolete.
That being the case, who is to say it is either undesirable or unworthy for Manny Pacquio to aspire to elected office? He is qualified by law on two counts: as an elector, the fundamental qualification that governs all additional qualifications for office (to be an office holder, you must be qualifed to be a voter), and qualified, too, as far as the explicit qualifications required of legislators, for example.
As for whether these qualifications are enough, or should be all that are required, there is the other counter-question: but in this and all similar cases, the public will decide. And doesn’t sovereignty reside in the people?
The objection to his running is fundamentally an objection to the people and the way they manifest their will. But then, isn’t this a challenge to the whole majority rule nature of democracy?
What is happening here is a fulfillment of the law of unintended consequences, which we should examine if we are to get a grip on the crisis of democratic representation we’ve been undergoing since Joseph Estrada’s election to the presidency in 1998.
There are other dynamics at work here, of course, and that includes alienation on the part of voters no longer impressed with, or downright hostile to, the credentials of those formerly deemed solely qualified for public office. “Where have all these bar topnotchers brought the country?” was the dismissive argument you heard going into 1998, from many quarters. That, and the inability of the topnotchers to unite to confront Estrada politically, too.
But the social resentment and alienation angle has been explored thoroughly elsewhere. What I want to examine is how we are dealing with the unintended consequences of democratization : how changes in the rules in one aspect of governance, affects other aspects.
First, let’s review the development of we, the people, as the electorate of the Philippines.
The following have been the qualifications required for voters.
Emilio Aguinaldo, in his capacity as “egregious dictator,” issued a decree for the organizing of municipal and provincial governments on June 18, 1898, and another on June 23 transforming the dictatorship into a Revolutionary Government detailing the means of selection of representatives to the Malolos Congress, including the means to ensure that roughly half of the representatives were appointed by with the other half, elected. The provisions of Aguinaldo’s June 18, 1898 decree describing the electorate is particularly interesting (as reproduced in The Laws of the First Philippine Republic):
Icalaua. Pag-naagao ang bayan sa cuco ng mga castila, ay ang mga mamamayang matangi, dahil sa liuanag ng caisipan, pagcatao at cabaitan maguing sa loob ng bayan maguing sa mga nayon ay magpipisan sa isang daquilang Kapulungan at dito pipiliin at ihahalal ang pagcaisahan ng marami ng maguing Puno sa bayan at maguing Pangulo, sa baua’t nayon, at dito’y sa ngalang nayo’y cabilang ang loob ng bayan.
Macahaharap sa Kapulungang ito at maihahalal naman ang sino mang magtaglay ng mga casangcapang nasasabi sa itaas, cun mapagquilalang may pag-ibig sa casarinlan ng Pilipinas at may dalauang pu at isang taong singcad.
(in contrast, the English translation is less illuminating: “After this has been accomplished all select citizens of every town shall convene in a big assembly and elect by majority vote the town mayor and the head of every barrio in every town…” It sidesteps completely the emphasis in Aguinaldo’s decree, the qualifications, both for electors and officials, of certain characteristics that, you could argue, immediately conditioned the public not only to to select leaders already prominent in their communities, but to limit those entitled to acting as electors).
In the 1899 Constitution, the Malolos Congress ordained that citizens would elect representatives who, in turn, would elect a President for the Republic. Legislation for this was called for, but since no further elections were ever held, the point is moot.
But it is important, to my mind, to note that qualifications to be an elector and an office-holder can be of two kinds: substantive ones, or the intangible kind. The decree of Aguinaldo focused on the intangible kind: “liwanang ng kaisipan, pagkatao, kabaitan,” whether “within the community or outside of it,” are qualifications by virtue of, well, virtues that are assumed to be commonly-recognized as existing and worthy by a community.
In contrast, there are qualifications that may, indeed uphold certain virtues (for example, the assumption that being a property-owner makes for a sober and responsible citizen) as manifested by material possessions or by dint of professional or educational credentials.
Even prior to, and including the Philippine Bill and up to to the Jones Law that superseded it, the requirements for electors was described as follows in A decade of American government in the Philippines, 1903-1913:
The conditions of suffrage remained as originally provided in the Municipal Act of 1901, l which had followed somewhat the provisions of the ” Maura Law ” proclaimed by the Spanish government in 1893. Voters were restricted to male persons twenty-three years of age, not subjects of any other power, with a residence of six months in their district, who, prior to August 13, 1898, had held local office, or who owned real property to the value of five hundred pesos, or who could speak, read, and write either the English or Spanish language.
Under the Jones Law, the following provisions served as the criteria for participating in elections:
Sec. 15 …Every male person who is not a citizen or subject of any foreign power twenty-one years of age or over (except insane and feeble-minded persons and those convicted in a court of competent jurisdiction of an infamous offence since the thirteenth day of August, eighteen hundred and ninety-eight, who shall have been a resident of the Philippines for one year and of the municipality in which he shall offer to vote or six months next preceding the day of voting, and who is comprise within one of the following classes:
(a) Those who under existing law are legal voters and have exercised the right of suffrage.
(b) Those who own real property to the value of 500 pesos or who annually pay 30 pesos or more of the established taxes.
(c) Those who are able to read and write either Spanish, English, or a native language.
In the 1935 Constitution, the founding fathers of our present system of government decided the requirements for voters would be as follows (Article V, Suffrage):
Section 1. Suffrage may be exercised by male citizens of the Philippines not otherwise disqualified by law, who are twenty-one years of age or over and are able to read and write, and who shall have resided in the Philippines for one year and in the municipality wherein they propose to vote for at least six months preceding the election. The National Assembly shall extend the right of suffrage to women, if in a plebiscite which shall be held for that purpose within two years after the adoption of this Constitution, not less than three hundred thousand women possessing the necessary qualifications shall vote affirmatively on the question.
(In 1937, women voted overwhelmingly to grant themselves the right of suffrage.)
These requirements were liberalized under the much-amended so-called 1973 Constitution (Article VI, Suffrage):
Section 1. Suffrage shall be exercised by citizens of the Philippines not otherwise disqualified by law, who are eighteen years of age or over and who shall have resided in the Philippines for at least one year and in the place wherein they propose to vote for at least six months preceding the election. No literacy, property or other substantive requirement shall be imposed on the exercise of, suffrage…
(Marcos had experimented with lowering the voting age, for his “plebiscites,” to 15; the elimination of literacy requirements grew out of the political ferment of the 1960s and 1970s to more thoroughly democratize elections, and followed at the heels of other changes such as the elimination of bloc voting in the early 1950s)
So at present, the 1987 Constitution (Article V Suffrage) says the electorate is composed of anyone who fulfills the following broad criteria:
Section 1. Suffrage may be exercised by all citizens of the Philippines not otherwise disqualified by law, who are at least eighteen years of age, and who shall have resided in the Philippines for at least one year, and in the place wherein they propose to vote, for at least six months immediately preceding the election. No literacy, property, or other substantive requirement shall be imposed on the exercise of suffrage.
In general, the requirements for suffrage began as exceedingly strict; as the requirements have been relaxed, the requirements for legislators and the chief executive have hardly changed.
The Jones Law (which served as the Philippine Constitution from 916 to 1935) imposed the following conditions on representatives:
Sec. 13 …No person shall be an elective member of the Senate of the Philippines who is not a qualified elector and over thirty years of age, and who is not able to read and write either the Spanish or English language, and who has not been a resident of the Philippines for at least two consecutive years and an actual resident of the Senatorial District from which chosen for a period of at least one year immediately prior to his election.
Sec. 14. …No person shall be an elective member of the House of Representatives who is not a qualified elector and over twenty-five years of age, and who is not able to read and write either the Spanish or English language, and who has not been an actual resident of the district from which elected for at least one year immediately prior to his election…
The 1935 Constitution, in Article VI, Legislative Department:
Section 4. No person shall be a Senator unless he be a natural born citizen of the Philippines and, at the time of his election, is at least thirty-five years of age, a qualified elector, and a resident of the Philippines for not less than two years immediately prior to his election.
Section 7. No person shall be a Member of the House of Representatives unless he be a natural born citizen of the Philippines, and, at the time of his election, is at least twenty-five years of age, a qualified elector, and a resident of the province in which he is chosen for not less than one year immediately prior to his election.
In Article VII, Executive Department:
Section 3. No person may be elected to the office of the President or Vice-President unless he is a natural born citizen of the Philippines, a qualified voter, forty years of age or over, and has been a resident of the Philippines for at least ten years immediately preceding the election.
The 1973 Charter, in Article VII, the President and Vice-President:
Section 3. No person may be elected President unless he is at least fifty years of age at the day of his election as President, and a resident of the Philippines for at least ten years immediately preceding his election. However, if no Member of the National Assembly is qualified or none of those qualified is a candidate for President, any Member thereof may be elected President.
In Article VIII, the National Assembly:
Section 4. No person shall be a Member of the National Assembly unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines and, on the day of the election, is at least twenty-five years of age, able to read and write, a registered voter in the district in which he shall be elected, and a resident thereon for a period of not less than one year immediately preceding the day of the election.
Which brings us to the present, 1987 Charter, in Art. VI, Legislative Department:
Section 3. No person shall be a Senator unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines and, on the day of the election, is at least thirty-five years of age, able to read and write, a registered voter, and a resident of the Philippines for not less than two years immediately preceding the day of the election.
Section 6. No person shall be a Member of the House of Representatives unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines and, on the day of the election, is at least twenty-five years of age, able to read and write, and, except the party-list representatives, a registered voter in the district in which he shall be elected, and a resident thereof for a period of not less than one year immediately preceding the day of the election.
In Art. VIII, Executive Department:
Section 2. No person may be elected President unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, a registered voter, able to read and write, at least forty years of age on the day of the election, and a resident of the Philippines for at least ten years immediately preceding such election.
These examples are instructive for the following reasons:
1. In general our laws, particularly our Constitutions, have gradually opened up and liberalized the qualifications for voting, so that now, the requirements are few; they have, on the other hand, while instituting minimal standards for being representatives, been more conservative in maintaining basic requirements for office.
2. However, the requirements for legislators and the presidency were formerly very few, in large part because they were crafted in eras when the electorate itself was limited; in other words the limits on qualifying as electors served as means of maintaining those strict qualifications when it came to the officials elected.
3. But as electoral requirements have been relaxed, the result is that the bar for representation has also been lowered. A high bar for qualification for public office was deemed irrelevant to mention in the past, because it was assumed that a limit on those qualified to be electors would naturally have an effect on those elected into office. That assumption has not held true since the 1950s, when matinee idol Rogelio dela Rosa was elected senator and then made a bid for the presidency in 1961.
There was a trend, for a time, towards dissipating the influence of the old clans, and even freeing the clans themselves of the stranglehold of their elders. See Families Remain Strong in Congress, but their Influence is Waning by the PCIJ in 2001. But that trend has been checked and is being reversed.
And it has, as its motive power, a backlash from the educated, the property-owning, the managerial, entrepreneurial, and professional classes whose established notions of qualifications and self-worth, are made irrelevant in a government setup that imposes minimal qualifications for voting or holding office. But their notions are traditional notions, deeply-held, even revered ones of duty and fitness; see how they were expressed in Aguinaldo’s decree; these objections to Pacquiao holding office are expressions of a traditional way of life and of seeing things -of traditional values of worth.
Those minimal qualifications for holding office were never intended because fundamentally related to previously-existing limits on those qualified to belong to the electorate. But as legislators and constitution-makers responded to public opinion demanding an opening up of the electorate, they seem to have overlooked the manner in which the first cut, so to speak, ensured by limiting the electorate, disappeared when that electorate was expanded.
Or maybe not! After all, at no time has it been mandated that a legislator must be a lawyer, for example, even if legislators make laws. Where being a lawmaker is required is where it matters -in the courts, including the Supreme Court, which can declare laws unconstitutional- but not in the legislature.
So again: if what the public in a particular part of the country, be it Sarangani or Quezon City, want is for a retired boxer to represent them, and if their wish conforms with the Constitution, then who can object? If objections to Pacquiao are rooted in traditional notions of fitness and worth, that public office and those who hold it are venerable, then there are other deeply-rooted notions at work in those championing Pacquiao’s running for office -and Pacquiao’s seeking it- of empathy, primarily, for example.
One argument is, Pacquiao can do more good elsewhere. One comment I often encounter is, “if he wants to do good, let him establish a foundation.”
Which is simply institutionalizing “balato,” isn’t it? And yet if you ask Pacquiao himself, the same reasons would apply to his wanting to serve in the House: “to help others,” to do good, to spread the wealth, etc. Another form of institutionalized “balato.” The only difference being some people think the only wealth Pacquiao should be spreading is his own, while Pacquiao -who has earned enough to know the limits and effectivity of spreading his own winnings around- seems to think the best way to do this is to be in office. And here, he has a point too: for that public purse, which the House (in theory, though not practice) controls, is derived from the people.