LAST week was particularly entertaining for us at The Manila Times. The beginning of a national election campaign is of course a momentous occasion for anyone in the media business, but it is especially enjoyable for us because our offices happen to be within spitting distance of the Palacio del Gobernador where the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is headquartered, giving our staff and visitors a front-row seat for the festivities attending the filing of candidacies.
There is exactly as much sarcasm in that observation as you wish to perceive, because last week’s events were a display of both the best and the worst of our democracy. On the one hand, it is remarkable that so many are able to participate in the electoral process, no matter that more than a few of them are evidently not humanity’s best and brightest. Despite our system’s manifold dysfunctions, our people have an infectious enthusiasm for participating in it, and we must believe that so long as we defend our freedom to do that, the consequences will ultimately strengthen our country.
But as many have pointed out, including several of our own columnists, our loose laws that allow dozens of nuisance candidates into any electoral race are not really doing the country a practical service. We in the media give them attention we should be directing to more important matters, and each one is a diversion of government resources, and of course, our own taxes; every one of the candidates for each of the more than 18,000 elective offices up for grabs next May generates a stack of paperwork and an administrative process involving a couple dozen people.
The celebratory atmosphere is not all bad, and probably even helpful in raising awareness and giving new energy to the national conversation. We cannot after all do much to improve our system of governance if we do not participate in it. But the party’s over. For there to be any point to the celebration, we must make the most of the election campaign by focusing on issues that matter, and compelling our candidates to focus on them as well.
Arguably the biggest issue, and the one that the people must demand be resolved at once, is whether or not we are even capable of efficiently conducting a transparent and credible election; despite its being condemned as inaccurate and easily manipulated, the automated election system equipment Comelec has insisted on using is enough to make many believe a clean election is impossible. We are inclined to that view as well, and would like to hear what positions the candidates for national office, now that they are officially candidates, have on the matter. It may be too late to avoid using the questionable systems entirely, but by keeping the problem at the top of the national agenda, perhaps we can prevent those systems from being misused.