Thursday, June 20, 2019

Amante: Choosing senators

(Illustration by John Gilbert Manantan)

FOUR out of every 10 adults surveyed by Pulse Asia last December said they had already picked the 12 Senate aspirants they would vote for in May 2019. That’s impressive.

In the midst of all their holiday obligations and errands, these adults had found the time and energy to think about who, from a field of 70 aspirants, deserved their support. Although I was not among the survey respondents, I would be in the same boat as one percent of voters in the Visayas who have chosen only three aspirants so far.

Of my three early choices, two were not among the top 20 aspirants in that survey, and a more pragmatic individual might say that voting for them would be a waste of my ballot. I disagree. Since I have neither a business nor a political career to protect, I am free to choose candidates whose qualifications and track records are consistent with my values and my hopes for this country. I don’t have to vote for personal advantage, as sanctimonious as that may sound.

I wish the Pulse Asia team had asked their respondents what made them decide to support the aspirants who’d landed on their personal lists. How, for example, did 49 percent of respondents in socioeconomic class E or the 52 percent of respondents in Mindanao select the 12 persons they’ll vote for this year? What criteria did they set? What were their deal-breakers? How did they get the information on which their decisions rested?

Of potential deal-breakers in the senatorial elections, I have two, so far. First, I think the Senate’s ability to check any abuse of executive power is crucial, so I will not vote for candidates whose pronouncements and track records suggest that they will probably not choose to question any of President Rodrigo Duterte’s actions or legislative priorities. That automatically removes two aspirants from my list.

Second, I have doubts about the soundness of extending martial law in Mindanao until the end of December 2019. It smacks of horse-trading, and I suspect that some of those who voted for it did so in the interest of political survival and not because it was something the country truly needed. Unfortunately, five of the seven senators who are running for reelection voted to extend martial law for another year. Three of them are on my short list, but I shall have to review their accomplishments and public pronouncements more thoroughly before deciding whether to vote for them or not.

Among the issues the Senate will have to grapple with are constitutional reform (particularly the shift to a federal government) and tax reform. Aspirants with expertise in these areas—or at least the humility and intelligence to consult others who are more informed than they are—will probably gain my vote. Another issue I will have to study are the aspirants’ positions on the dispute over the West Philippine Sea.

The exclusions were easier to decide. This year, I am not voting for any actor, not because they are actors, but because this particular cast has shown no outstanding qualifications that would make them worthy of a place in the Senate. And their integrity would get only mixed reviews, at best.

Another criterion for exclusion is the aspirant’s position on the rule of law, accountability, and human rights. Anyone who has dismissed these ideals, by their words (including jokes) or actions, is automatically off my list. So, too, is anyone who has tried to gloss over the atrocities of martial law under Ferdinand Marcos.

Freedom and equality form “the moral core of modern liberal democracy,” the author Francis Fukuyama wrote in his 2018 book “Identity: Contemporary Identity Politics and the Struggle for Recognition.” While there’s still time, let’s think about the choices we’ll need to make in less than four months, as free and equal citizens with “the ability to share in the exercise of power.”


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