President B. S. Aquino 3rd appears to have become the first casualty in the brouhaha about the participation of Sen. Grace Poe Llamanzares and Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in the 2016 presidential election. Former National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales observes that PNoy has rarely made the news since the two presidential wannabes started hitting the headlines. It appears that not even his fiercest critics would like to talk about him anymore. To them, he has become simply irrelevant. For anyone who thinks the solar system revolves around him, this is cruel and unusual punishment. So PNoy has tried to insert himself into the ongoing conversation by highlighting the unknown qualities of LP presidential candidate Mar Roxas and throwing brickbats at his rivals during his meeting with Filipinos in Rome.
No doubt Roxas could use a little bit of selling, given the negative reaction he has been getting from almost everyone everywhere. But was PNoy saying the right things about him, or was he the right person to do the selling? By downgrading Vice President Jejomar Binay, after Malacanang’s attack dogs in Makati and the Senate had failed to destroy him, did he think he was helping Roxas, or was he not simply helping Binay show his resilience and staying power? It appears that in the last few weeks, the pendulum had swung—the more Malacañang and the LP camp unleashed their fury against Binay, the more he seemed to recover from the injury he had sustained earlier.
Nobody understood why PNoy had to perform this number on the presidential contenders. He had gone to Paris to attend the summit on climate change, and later to Rome to pay a call on the Holy Father, whom he had tried to offend with an ill-mannered statement during his pastoral visit to the Philippines. No one expected PNoy to say anything substantial or memorable in Paris or in Rome, but neither did they expect him to make an ass of himself by his completely unpresidential behavior there.
Even though everyone knew he was on an official junket, which was not expected to achieve anything meaningful, they had hoped he would at least pretend to be a statesman trying to sow and win goodwill among his countrymen abroad, rather than act as an unreconstructed demagogue trying to divide his audience along partisan lines. Not only was it not proper; it was also completely out of season. A total of 130 presidential candidates had filed their certificates of candidacy, and one of them—Mrs. Grace Poe Llamanzares—is facing four disqualification suits for lack of the required citizenship and residency status, while another—Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte—has yet to perfect his CoC as a substitute for an earlier candidate who has since withdrawn. But we have not quite entered the official campaign period, which begins in February next year.
It was, therefore, much too early for PNoy to make that campaign speech, assuming he has decided to shed off his presidential dignity to become Mar Roxas’s foot soldier. Proper decorum should have prompted Aquino to speak of other things more useful to his countrymen abroad. One such issue has to do with the Filipinos’ use of their “middle name” in all their personal documents. This is an important issue to them. Just because the Italians do not use their maternal surname when writing their full name, the Philippine embassy at the Quirinale had agreed that Filipinos in Italy would follow the Italian practice.
This was vehemently opposed by some Filipinos, who pointed out that they use their maternal surname to honor their mother, and should not be prohibited from doing so. It was also one way of avoiding confusion between two persons having the first and family names. A Filipino tour operator in Rome has almost single-handedly kept this issue alive, even after the Italian government and the Philippine embassy had virtually declared it a closed case. Those who persist in this cause would certainly have appreciated hearing PNoy say something about it. But he had lesser things in mind.
He could have campaigned for greater OFW participation in the next elections by assuring the Filipino expatriates about efforts to ensure the holding of clean, honest and credible elections. But there are no such efforts, so he could not lie about it, and he didn’t. That’s one admirable thing in his favor. But his premature campaigning merely underlined the massive premature campaigning taking place all over the country right now, to which the election law has turned a blind eye.
My young daughter complains that the last thing she sees on TV before going to bed is a paid TV ad by a presidential candidate, who is not supposed to be campaigning yet, and the first thing she sees on TV when she wakes up is the same TV ad by the same or some other candidate who is not supposed to be campaigning yet.
The Court has ruled that there is no distinction between the pre-campaign period and the official campaign period, so candidates are free to campaign without the legal restrictions governing the official campaign period. The ruling allows a candidate to spend hundreds of millions of pesos on TV advertising and on propaganda surveys without having to report the same as part of his authorized expenses.
In the eyes of the Court, so long as a particular ad or campaign material does not ask anyone to “vote for” a particular candidate, it cannot be part of the campaign whose cost should be charged against the candidate’s authorized expenses. The ruling is based on a fat presumption that we are a nation of muttonheads who cannot see that someone with tons and tons of TV ads about himself in the run-up to an election is not running for the papacy or for sainthood, but for a more lucrative earthly position.
Whatever reason the Court had for doing it, it must now recognize the ruling as a grave and ruinous error and should revoke it forthwith. This is the only way to help compel candidates not to spend beyond what they will earn from the position they seek. The principle is absolutely indispensable to ensure an incorrupt and dedicated public service.
How do we deal then with the hundreds of millions of pesos certain candidates have incurred in the last few months on self-promotional expenses? We cannot pretend they don’t exist, nor can we simply write them off. I propose something more practical than a write-off. I propose that all the expenses incurred during the pre-campaign period should now be charged against the candidate’s authorized expenses should he remain in the race; otherwise, they should be written off if he eventually withdraws from the race.
This reform is long overdue, and Aquino should think about it. Without it, our elections will remain a farce–the winning candidate will have been totally corrupted even before he enters public office. The oligarchy that owns the government and its leaders will continue to own them, without any hope for the ninety-nine percent. But, there may be far worse things than an electoral farce. And they now constitute the deadliest threat to our Republic.
At this writing, there are strong indications from the Commission on Elections that the holding of the May 2016 elections may be indefinitely imperilled for a variety of technical reasons. The intervention of the Supreme Court to make sure the Constitution is followed is being cited as one of the reasons for a possible postponement of the elections. On the other hand, our usually highly reliable Malacañang sources inform us that PNoy’s innermost political circle is inclined to reconsider its support for the May 2016 election in favor of an option that would allow Aquino to hold on to power “until a worthy successor is found.”
I am not prepared to discuss this now, but I am not prepared to dismiss it either. Since August of last year, the National Transformation Council has been saying that we need system change, not just regime change; that we must temporarily do away with our corrupt elections, and allow a nonpartisan transition council to fix the broken constitutional order before we conduct legitimate and honest-to-goodness national elections under normal political conditions.
This, however, was premised on Aquino stepping down. It now appears that some parallel thinking has been going on inside Malacañang, except that the basic premise there was not national transformation, but Aquino’s perpetual hold on power.
We shall return to this later.