BACK in April 2009, Rep. Raul T. Gonzalez Jr. filed a bill proposing a “surgical” constitutional amendment to permit run-off elections for the presidency three weeks after the May 10 polls if no candidate achieved 50 percent. I’ve long been a proponent of run-off elections as a more democratic alternative to turning back the clock to the old two-party system (and with the Indonesian experience in mind).
Had Gonzalez’s bill been taken seriously the country would be gearing up for a showdown between Benigno Aquino III and Joseph Ejercito Estrada, with the end result being a president the country would know was supported by at least fully half of the electorate.
But Gonzalez Jr. filed his bill when the Frankenstein Coalition was pushing the Villafuerte and Nograles formulas for ramming through Charter change. This was in order to institute a one-party parliamentary state and thereby save the President and her people from ever having to bother with public opinion in national terms.
The effort would continue until August of last year, when it was quietly dropped, coinciding with the President’s return from her visit to Barack Obama in Washington. The proposal for run-off elections was never seriously considered as the least of the Palace’s priorities was to facilitate a mandate for any potential successor: particularly after Cory Aquino died and the nightmare scenario of a second Aquino presidency surfaced. Not until January of this year, though, did the Charter change attempt officially go belly up.
We should never forget the desire of the administration to head off the result everyone saw coming by attempting to postpone the May 10 elections. Its brinkmanship failed even when it tried to enlist the Cardinal-Archbishop of Manila as an ally to fend off warnings of the risks its dangerous game involved. It seems His Eminence has since seen how he became a tool in a desperate gambit to stop the momentum of Aquino’s campaign (recall Estrada’s and Villanueva’s supporting the postponement proposal).
But the writing was on the wall; the surveys showed it; the public knew it on its own. The Comelec count (6:15 a.m., May 11) at present has Aquino with 12.2 million or 40.19 percent of the vote and Estrada 7.7 million or 25.4 percent. The PPCRV (7:10 p.m., May 15) has Aquino with 13.8 million or 41.85 percent and Estrada with 8.7 million or 26.4 percent; with a turnout ranging from 57.21 percent to 64.62 percent (from Comelec’s pre-election expectation of 85 percent).
It is the largest plurality since the present Constitution came into force; and only the second indisputable presidential win in a generation. It ends the legitimacy crisis of 2001-2005. It has even been called a landslide.
This is not a landslide as traditionally understood in the context of the Quezon (1935, 68 percent; 1941, 81.76 percent), Magsaysay (1953, 68.9 percent, the largest first-term mandate ever); and Marcos (1969, 61.5 percent) landslides. Nor is it a majority like the Roxas (1946, 54 percent), Quirino (1949, 51 percent), Macapagal (1961, 55 percent), Marcos (1965, 54.78 percent) or 1986 Aquino victories.
But it potentially surpasses the only pre-martial law plurality victory: that of Carlos P. Garcia (1957, 41.3 percent) which not even Joseph Ejercito Estrada managed to beat in 1998 when he obtained 39.6 percent. Over time, with an ever-expanding population, it is the percentages that matter (even with the cheating, Fernando Poe Jr. garnered more votes in 2004 than Estrada in 1998 though the former’s percentages may not have been larger than the latter’s).
Estrada’s 1998 win was a landslide in terms of his getting twice as many votes as his nearest rival. In that sense Benigno S. Aquino III’s victory over Estrada is a landslide, too, though not as vast. But whether in absolute votes or percentages, it eclipses Estrada’s 1998 victory and puts his victory at the very least at par with Garcia’s 1957 election. He won in 51 out of 80 provinces (plus the overseas vote), in contrast to Estrada who won in 23 provinces. A 63 percent victory in provincial terms: a landslide.
Many have seized on the multiparty nature of our elections to point out a large majority of the electorate did not vote for Aquino. This overlooks the reality (and flaw, to its critics) that in a multiparty election with no runoff, achieving a majority is not the built-in purpose of such an election: it is fostering many choices as a more democratic means to select leaders. Had the framers of the Constitution believed in the necessity for majority presidencies, they would have put in place run-off elections.
Even if one adopts the flawed belief that the election revealed a majority opposed to Aquino, it can also be said even more overwhelming numbers voted against the other candidates: if 60 percent can be said to have gone against Aquino, then 75 percent went against Estrada, 85 percent against Villar, 89 percent against Teodoro, 97 percent against Villanueva, and 98 percent rejected Gordon, and so forth. So the end result is the same: more Filipinos wanted to confer a mandate on Aquino than on any of his rivals; and the end result is that the national will has been expressed and a national mandate conferred.
Automation does make instituting run-off elections a practical possibility, especially since this election was also a referendum on the presidential system. After over a decade of sustained efforts to abolish it altogether, the country has shown it overwhelmingly prefers to directly elect its head of state and government. It puts in place the parameters that should confine any talk of constitutional reform.
And tells us why the game plan of Aquino’s critics is to downplay the significance of his mandate and to create artificial controversies like the chief justice appointment. They cannot allow the meaning of this mandate to sink in: Our first indubitably legitimate government in nearly a decade.