2016: Our watershed election in 21st century


With national problems coming to a head, with government officials and politicians more brazen in looting the national treasury, and with Pope Francis discreetly making suggestions from the sidelines, the national election in 2016 is shaping into what historians and political observers call a “watershed election” for our people and our republic.

The term “watershed” is normally used by political scientists and historians to describe a national balloting that marks the end of one period and the beginning of another.

According to William Safire, in his authoritative Political Dictionary, a watershed election is “a campaign that decides the course of politics for decades; one that is especially memorable, or that proves to be a divide between historical periods.”

The metaphor has a descriptive basis. Watershed literally means “a water-storage area making the surrounding region fertile, or providing a city with its water supply.” A second meaning is “dividing line” as between storage areas.

The political meaning, says Safire, comes from both the nourishing meaning (of the vital water-holding uplands), and the epochal meaning (a line between two areas, or a moment between two eras.)

On May 9, 2016, some million Filipinos—most of them members of the new generations (Generations X and Y)—will go to the polls to elect a new president, a new Congress, and a new set of local government officials.

Historically, this election will be one of the most important in national history; and it will certainly be our most important in the 21st century—more significant than the 2010 election which gave us in two big hammer blows the presidency of Benigno Aquino 3rd, and the unlamented 15th Congress.

The transitional character of the political exercise rests on the likelihood that the election could usher a major political realignment in the Philippines for the following reasons:

First, the election will be a referendum on Noynoy Aquino and his erratic and incompetent government. It will write finis to the Aquino domination of national politics that began in 1986 when Madame Corazon Aquino was thrust into the presidency by People Power and installed as the head of a revolutionary government; a leadership that subsequently continued when her son Noynoy was elected president in 2010.

With Noynoy unmarried and Kris Aquino still possessed of enough good sense not to move into politics, the Aquinos’ hold on the presidency will decisively come to an end, when a new president is sworn into office on June 30, 2016.

With no real political party in command, and the Liberal Party exercising only token leadership, there is no political party that dominates national politics today. If a new and serious political party is established to contest the 2016 election at all levels, a major political realignment could result.

More than the fate of the Aquinos, 2016 will be a watershed because the campaign will almost surely bring up front the surpassing questions of what new course the nation will follow, what a new set of leaders can do to fix the Philippines, and what a new government can do raise up our people from grinding poverty and underdevelopment.

Uppermost in many minds is whether besides saying goodbye to President Aquino, we will finally be rid of Butch Abad, of Dinky soliman, of Leila de lima, of Jericho Petilla, and infamous acts of commission and omission while serving in the Cabinet of President Aquino.

Some of them (especially Butch Abad) we will still behold for some time longer, because they will likely stand trial at the Sandiganbayan for unprecedented loss and carelessness, looting of public money.

We will know there’s a new sheriff in town when Abad no longer has the keys to the treasury.

We will know it even more if Noynoy follows the fdootsteps of his hated predecessor, Gloria macapagal-Arroyo, and is indicted for the billions in public funds that he funneled into the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP), and for his bribery of the Philippine Senate to secure the conviction of former chief justice Renato Corona.

Can the horse of President Aquino still spring a surprise in the 2016 election? Will VP Binay show that beneath his dark skin is the color yellow?

Will a new candidate come in and enter the field, and like an avenger proceed to beat the field and run away with the prize.

Electability, not winnability
The winnowing of the field of 2016 presidential aspirants is superficial and haphazard because the public and the media are distracted by false concerns about “winnability,” and by premature preference surveys, that do not raise the questions that need to be asked. It is being driven totally by public relations. No one is discussing issues, and developing party platforms.

This is the reason why VP Binay has been the frontrunner from Day One and has not been seriously challenged. He is a frontrunner almost by default, despite being pummeled from pillar to post by Senators Trillanes, Cayetano and Pimentel – the three horsemen of the Apocalypse in the Senate.

“Winnability” is like a worm that is infecting the way the public views the declared and prospective candidates.

Because of it, issues are not being debated. The Senate has sunk into deep slumber. Candidates do not even bother to explain why they have inexplicably placed their names in the race for the presidency.

The word does not exist in the English lexicon of political scientists and pundits.

Winnability should be used to describe the election, not the candidate, because it means “capable of being won.” An election is winnable, in the same way that a sports title or a lotto prize is winnable.

On the other hand, candidates are gauged and assessed on the basis of their “electability” – which means the capability to get elected.

The late Speaker Ramon Mitra memorably raised the issue of “electability” when he called his critics, “unelected and unelectable” back in 1990.

I suspect that it was political consultants and PR operators who started the use of “winnability” – to telegraph the prospects and appeal of their clients.

As usually happens, the media uncritically adopted the term. And they applied it liberally on every aspirant who came along. The term became entrenched when political parties and coalitions adopted it as a yardstick for candidate selection.

It was the senatorial election that cemented the niche of winnability in national politics.

It was by the same shoddy process that the terms “fiscalization” and “salvaging” were uprooted from their English meanings and became common usage in this country.

So what’s my point here?

We should be studying the electability of candidates, not their so-called “winnability,” because winnability points the public and our political class in the wrong direction. We should be studying issues, statistics and data, not PR points.

How can we have a real working democracy, if our politics cannot even be grammatical?



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  1. A dark horse, Duterte, giving the dark guy, Binay, a run for his money. Can we bet on that in 2016? Abangan.

  2. I agree with one of the readers. Why Ken did not mention the automated elections curse, I don’t know. Was it an inadvertent mistake ? The factors mentioned that supposedly will effect the so-called watershed election will all go for naught if the PCOS curse is allowed to persist and not exorcised together with ALL Comelec officials and employees past and present who contributed to its nurture since 2010. What election is Ken talking about if the PCOS is still in use by 2016 ?

  3. The winning Syriza Party of Greece, as soon as their victory became official, said that they were going to destroy the Oligarchy system of Greece. Thats the kind of party we need to turn things around in this country.

  4. Good writing and analysis–except one thing, Mr. Makabenta. You forgot to say that all this attention to “electability” is for nought if the anti-Philippine-Republic band of Comelec Chair Brillantes and the Venezuelan Smartmatic and their PCOS machines continue to rule over the elections in 2016.
    Mr. Makabenta, by writing analyses like this, you are unwittingly helping maintain the see-no-evil hear-no-evil speak-no-evil attitude toward Smartmatic and the PCOS machines that Brillantes and his gang have succeeded in establishing in our poor country. PLease listen to the enlightened Catholic bishops, Protestant pastors and Muslim scolas and clergymen who are supporting the citizens’ wish to have Aquino RESIGN and have a National Transformation Council to clean up the Comelec and prepare our country to have honest, transparent and credible elections that became impossible in 2010 and 2013 with the illegal and super-expensive Smartmatic Automated Election System using the PCOS machines.

  5. On this subject, much is expected from the media, foreign and local, for the future of the Philippines. With all the accusations and counter-accusations of corruption, the Filipino people are confused. Writers should be talking about “electability and not on “winnability”. of all major candidates, especially those running for national offices, i.e., for president, vice president, senators, etc.

    Unless the majority of the electorate are ‘enlightened’ on “who-did-what”, or “who-did-nothing-but”, majoritity will just be taken by the hubris, rosy promises and money of the candidates. There should some sort of a movement to digress from the “politics as usual” from all fronts of the media. Interests of candidates in establishement they control, or are active in, should be exposed, by all means. Unless this happens, the majority of the Filipino people will just fall to the trap of politics as usual.

    I just hope many more Filipinos who live abroad will be registered as voters and vote by then. At least they are moire objective and detached from PR moves of candidates. Overall, this is everyone’s concern; this is our country.