Monday, May 14, 2007

Philippine Election Overview

Philippine elections are a special breed unlike any in the world.

Where else can you find the second most powerful person in the country describe it as “destructive, very dirty, even poisonous,” as House Speaker Jose de Venecia described his tight race for reelection?

Where else can you find this headline: “Despite 114 dead, polls ‘generally peaceful’ – PNP”? Only 59 candidates and 55 supporters were killed this time, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer which attributed the quote to officials of the Philippine National Police (PNP), which compared this “rosy picture” to the 2004 elections where 189 people were killed.

There were political parties of all stripes running national and local candidates. In the Senate race were candidates with the same surnames competing against each other: Alan Peter Cayetano of the Genuine Opposition (GO) and Joselito Cayetano of the Kilusan Bagong Lipunan (KBL); Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino (GO) and Theodore "Kuya Ted" Aquino.

“Kuya Ted," a dual citizen from Fremont, California, filed his certificate of candidacy and ran on a platform of good governance representing the global Filipino community. But his cousin “Noynoy” called him a “nuisance candidate” and the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) ruled in Nonoy’s favor, disqualifying “Kuya Ted” on the grounds that he was not properly a Philippine citizen as he had reacquired his citizenship before the COMELEC had set the regulations for acquiring dual citizenship.

But when COMELEC Chair Benjamin Abalos visited San Francisco last month, he learned from consular officers that “Kuya Ted” had been properly sworn in as a Philippine citizen, based on Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) interim regulations that were legally in force. Ooops. Abalos then ruled that “Kuya Ted” could run but, alas, it was too late to change the ballots.

And where else can you find so many candidates with cutesy names? Aside from “Noynoy,” Senate candidates included “Buboy” (actor Cesar Montano), “Koko” (Aquilino Pimentel III), “Kiko” (Francis “Mr. Sharon Cuneta” Pangilinan), “Chiz” (Francis Escudero) and “Goma” (actor Richard Gomez), aside from “Gringo” (Gregorio Honasan) and “Ping” (Panfilo Lacson).

The Senate is also a dynastic family haven. Alan Peter seeks to join his sister Pia. Aquilino Pimentel III wants to be with his father Aquilino II. John Henry (Sonny) Osmena wants to rejoin his first cousin, Serge. And Noynoy wants to follow his father, Ninoy, in the Senate where he may be joined by his Aunt Tessie (if she makes it.) The Senate family already has Jinggoy Estrada and his mother, Dr. Loi, son and wife of Erap.

There are several dozen “party list” groups running for House seats allocated to groups which attract at least 2% of the electorate. The leading party-list group in the Left is the Bayan Muna under the former Communist Party of the Philippines Secretary-General, Satur Ocampo, who was briefly incarcerated for an old subversion charge, which he claims was politically motivated. The Right is represented by the True Marcos Party of the Philippines headed by retired Maj. General Jovito Palparan, charged with various human rights abuses in UN reports.

While there are numerous political parties and party list groups vying for the 25 million votes that were cast in these May elections, there are essentially only two parties with competing platforms – the “pro-impeachment” party and the “anti-impeachment” party. The pro-impeachment alliance is running under the banner of the “Genuine Opposition” (GO) led by impeached former Pres. Joseph “Erap” Estrada. The anti-impeachment coalition is called Team Unity (TU), supported by Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA), the beneficiary of Erap’s impeachment.

GO is derisively referred to as GAGO (stupid), while TU is labeled TUTA (lapdog). In the Estrada-led coalition are Manny Villar, who as House Speaker in 2000 maneuvered the impeachment of Estrada before running for the senate. Also in his slate is Sonia Roco, the widow of the late Sen. Raul Roco who led the Senate prosecution of Estrada. In the GMA-supported TU are former Erap senators Vicente “Tito” Sotto and Tessie Aquino-Oreta, who were the closest supporters of Fernando Poe, Jr., GMA’s main rival in the 2004 Presidential elections.

The main question to be decided by these elections whether there will be enough members in the House to impeach GMA and be enough members in the Senate to convict her. It will take a minimum of one-third (92) of the 275 members of Congress (220 elected by district and 55 party list) to impeach President Arroyo and two-thirds of the 24 senators (16) to convict her in order to remove her as president and install her vice-president, Noli De Castro, in her place.

Of all the parties running for office in this year’s elections, one political party stands out, the Kapatiran Party which “focuses more on moral principles than what is politically expedient, more on the needs of the poor and vulnerable than the interests of the rich and the powerful, more on the pursuit of the common good than the demands of special interests, more on the culture of life and peace that the culture of death and violence.”

Aside from Jess Paredes and Adrian Sison, the Kapatiran Party also has Dr. Martin Bautista, who was a physician in Oklahoma (1996-2006) before returning to the Philippines, with his wife and four US-born children, to run for public office.

This year will mark the first time that dual citizens (those holding RP and US passports) have been allowed to vote in Philippine elections. Although it was included the Citizenship Retention and Reacquisition Act of 2003, the COMELEC ruled in 2004 that dual citizens who did not establish residence in the Philippines could not vote in Philippine elections.

The National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), under National Chair Loida Nicolas-Lewis, challenged the COMELEC ruling in the Philippine Supreme Court. On August 4, 2006, the Supreme Court unanimously held in her favor, holding that “there is no provision in the dual citizenship law—RA 9225—requiring ‘duals’ to actually establish residence and physically stay in the Philippines first before they can exercise the right to vote.” With this decision, the Philippines joined 98 other countries which allow “duals” to vote in their elections.

Unfortunately, the turnout of overseas voters has been less than stellar, leading some Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) officials to consider scrapping overseas voting altogether if the turnout does not noticeably improve in the 2010 elections.
Of course, the DFA doesn’t have this authority as the Overseas Voting Act was passed by the Philippine Congress and signed by the President. Nonetheless, more could be done, especially in Saudi Arabia where only 127,945 Filipinos registered to vote in a total of one million potential voters. The percentage is much lower in the US.

Finally, it takes only a few hours to know the results of elections in most countries. In the Philippines, it will take weeks, although we already know who lost - no one. No one candidate ever loses there, they either win or they were cheated of their victory.

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