THE Philippine nation, the oldest democracy in Asia, is now on the road to deciding whether it should continue to remain with the present form of government or shift to a federal system. This could also be the right time to consider another important question: whether the current process of electing the head of state and legislators by plurality is the best, or should a clear majority through run-off polls choose them?
The run-off process is expensive, of course. However, the question is important in a country over which the oligarchs and local community chiefs hold sway and buy votes. Electing the head of state and others by a clear majority will strengthen the stability of government and discourage vested interests from attempting to destabilize, if not overthrow, the government that the people have democratically elected.
Some have said before the election that it is not in the nature of Filipinos to choose a killer as their President. Similar views have been heard, but in a different context, when Joseph Estrada ran in the1998 presidential election.
Currently, some in disagreement with President RodrigoDuterte’s maverick way of dealing with drug lords and drug pushers argue that 60 percent of the almost 45 million Filipinos who exercised their democratic right did not vote for this self-confessed killer and a socialist.
They are arithmetically correct. Of the 45 million that voted in the latest election, only 16.6 million, or just over 39 percent, voted for Duterte. In fact, counting the Presidents after Cory Aquino, whose electoral support is still debatable, Duterte is the least popular, after Fidel Ramos, who won the presidency with less than 24 percent support.
In the past half-a-century, only one man has won the presidency with a clear majority. That was Ferdinand Marcos.
In 1965, challenging the incumbent Diosdado Macapagal, who was seeking reelection, and 10 others, Marcos won with nearly a 52-percent lead. The total number of voters for that election was just under 10 million and more than 76 percent of them had voted.
Four years later, in 1969, Sergio Osmeña, Jr. and nine others challenged Marcos seeking reelection –like his predecessor Macapagal. The voting population then had expanded to over 10.3 million. This time, the voting percentage had increased to nearly 80 percent, and Marcos won with 61.47 percent support – significantly larger than in 1965 – to become the country’s only two-term President, to the shock of the oligarchs who were against him. Mind you, Marcos in his youth was also convicted of murdering his father’s political rival but was later acquitted by the Supreme Court on appeal. The stigma, however, stuck with him, even after he left office.
Maybe, considering the chatter about 60 percent of the voters voting against Duterte, a group of Filipino social researchers – some of them based in the United States – teamed up as Survey Ng Bayan (@surveyngbayan), carried out a study as Duterte was approaching his 60th day in office. The methodology the team used was distinctly different from the methods other popular survey organizations use. To say, Survey ng Bayan did not send its question to a pre-selected sample of respondents. Instead, it sent the question by SMS blasting to 100-200 thousand mobile phone numbers randomly extracted from over 137 million mobile numbers across the archipelago. As the Philippines is the texting capital of the world, with 80 percent of the population believed to own a cell phone, this appears to be an efficient way to gather public opinion.
Survey Ng Bayan’s SMS blasting on Aug 27-29 was to find out this: Since no one in the presidential election has won a clear majority, who would the people support if a run-off poll is held with the top two candidates – Duterte who finished with 39.01 percent support and Mar Roxas, who garnered 23.45 percent.
One significant factor to take into consideration here is that between June 30, when Duterte was sworn in as President, and August 26, the day before the question was blasted out to the people, nearly 800 individuals, an average of 13-14 a day, have fallen victim to extrajudicial killings due to Duterte’s war against illegal drugs. These are shocking figures, especially in a largely religious nation where the influence of the Catholic Church is extensive.
However, Survey Ng Bayan’s findings could throw all those critics of Duterte off their seats; particularly those who point out that 60 percent of the people did not vote for him. The response of the survey was overwhelmingly (almost 83 percent) for Duterte; which meant a large section that voted for Roxas and others now support Duterte!
These are people expressing their views with the knowledge that nearly 800 people have fallen victim to extrajudicial killings, by the police and by vigilantes, after Duterte took charge of the nation.
Apparently, the masa is shouting out that they have become fed up with all the Presidents that came after Marcos, and they will give the self-confessed killer and socialist a chance.