MANY capable candidates for senator failed to make it because they couldn’t send their messages across to the voters. They could be among the best and the brightest but in a nationwide election, they could easily lose to reelectionists or well-known athletes or entertainers.
In 1998, a much-decorated soldier, Gen. Lisandro Abadia ran for senator in the same ticket with action star Ramon “Agimat” Revilla Sr. In one particular sortie, I noticed a man clapping enthusiastically when the name of Revilla was called. When I asked him if he’d vote for Revilla, he answered “yes.” I then asked him why.
“Because he’s very brave. He’ll fight even when greatly outnumbered and still win,” the man replied.
“How about Lisandro Abadia? He’s a real hero. Will you vote for him?” I asked.
“Who’s he?” the clueless man said.
Abadia had been shooting and braving real bullets in true-to-life wars against dissidents and secessionists but his heroism was nothing compared to the make-believe derring-do of Revilla in the world of movies. He fared poorly in the polls, his heroism notwithstanding.
This former chief of staff of the Armed Forces isn’t alone. Who could question the intelligence and competence of the late Haydee Yorak and former NEDA Director-General Winnie Monsod? Yet, they lost when they ran for the Senate. And how about Roberto de Ocampo, once named the best finance secretary in Asia? The list could go on and on, and will remain endless as long as senators are elected at large.
I’ve covered all senatorial elections from 1987 until 2013 when I retired as reporter and I commiserate with candidates for senator for the adverse conditions under which they do their campaigning. On stage, they’re given 10 minutes at most to deliver their campaign speeches. Their speaking time becomes less when they share the stage with local candidates. How then could they, especially the newly minted politicians, get noticed by the voters, or make their advocacies known to the electorate?
The travails of senatorial candidates become even worse in a presidential election. Their names are seldom mentioned. Almost all campaign stories are devoted to the presidential candidates.
(Here’s a campaign anecdote. A senatorial candidate was getting desperate with her lack of media coverage. One day, she mustered enough courage to ask a man with a press ID why he wasn’t interviewing her. The man refused to talk to her and pointed to me, saying: “There’s Kuyang Efren. He’d be the one to interview you.” What she didn’t know was that the man couldn’t interview her. He was a photographer!)
The more moneyed and more politically savvy senatorial candidates don’t rely on rallies or on being covered by media. Neither do they have complete faith on the ability of their political parties to support them. It has been known that junking is a common occurrence in senatorial elections. A candidate who succeeds in convincing his followers to fill up only one or two names in the space for senator enhances his chances of winning.
Former Sen. Edgardo J. Angara, for instance, had parallel organizations to support his campaign. There was the Sigma Rho fraternity, the UP Alumni Association and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines. Angara wasn’t a compelling speaker – he speaks like a college professor – and yet his main focus on education and technology in the campaigns reached and got appreciated by the voters because of these parallel organizations. But, how many of the candidates have the support of nationwide organizations like Angara had?
Looking back at the past senatorial elections and noting the big number of worthy candidates who lost and the triumph of less capable candidates whose talents are only in athletics and entertainment, I’m more than convinced that this folly of electing senators at large should be stopped. There’s no honor in being known as the only country in the whole world to have a Senate whose members are elected nationwide.