The Long View: The mandate

The Long View
The mandate
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 23:29:00 05/16/2010

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.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

60 thoughts on “The Long View: The mandate

  1. Carl on “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.

    It is incorrect to sweep the political reality in the country as having changed. Arroyo allies still dominated Congress. But having a token change with a new President-elect courtesy of the Filipino electorate is better than nothing. It is small step, nonetheless all great things starts from a small step.

    As always, negative ideas can only kill your dreams but not of others.

  2. Good points, cusp. However, there’s a thin line between pragmatism and corruption. Anyhow, I wonder how altruistic all parties concerned are. The smoke of battle hasn’t settled, and they’re already at each other’s throats. We will see . . . 🙂

  3. Yes, Carl, I agree and perhaps that ambiguity is why it is so difficult to translate the mandate contained in the electoral outcome if it remains as is.

    Perhaps the electorate is saying they prefer “benevolent” corruption to “predatory” corruption. Maybe this simple distinction is what the electoral contest was all about-not quite the vision of Camelot that the idealists were dreaming of.

  4. I mean the idealist notion of Camelot would be good to have at some point. But in case that project fails, I guess the minimum expectation is for predatory behaviour to be minimised in favour of some regard for the public good.

  5. he…he..reality sinks in when you have to OWN the problems. Even Fr. Joaquin Bernas has had to backtrack from previous statements and is now urging Noynoy to face the the real world. Click on the link:

    Noynoy will soon have to embrace the power that emanates from the PORK BARREL, JUETENG, the PNP and LOCAL OFFICIALS. He will have his uncle, Peping Cojuangco, and Jojo Binay overseeing these. It was too an overwhelming argument in Realpolitik, which resulted in dumping Mar Roxas.

    I still maintain that it’s all too easy to be a critic-at-large. It becomes different when you own the problems and have to seek pragmatic solutions. 🙂

  6. I must note that it isn’t only, as John Nery points out, Jojo Binay who is severely compromised. The Villaraza and Cruz law firm is terribly compromised. They want to be the local legal version of Goldman Sachs. They want, no less, than to monopolize every aspect of the legal profession.

    THE FIRM was tight as thieves with the Ramos and Arroyo administrations. It was so tight with Arroyo, in fact, that they had their offices at the First Gentleman’s building at the start of the Arroyo administration. They had a mutually beneficial relationship until the inevitable quarrel among thieves came about.

    Nonong Cruz, who now champions Noynoy, was Gloria Arroyo’s Legal Adviser from 2000 until 2004. He was her legal adviser when “Hello Garci” happened. And he was moved to Secretary of Defense in August, 2004, when “Hello Garci” broke out and someone of confidence had to keep the lid on the military. Not only was Nonong Cruz Defense Secretary, he was concurrently the Executive Secretary. He must have known about all the cover-ups in those positions. He couldn’t just have been the piano player in the whorehouse who had no clue about what was going on. If so, then his administrative abilities are overblown.

    It’s still the same old ploy of not letting the left hand know what the right hand is doing. :=)

  7. I believe when Congress is done with its work, it will be Noynoy and Binay.

    So much with the noises even before the two candidates can be officially proclaimed. Pinoys are known otherwise for intrigues and wild speculations similar to punching holes on the same boat that everybody ride – lacking common sense.

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