Press Release
November 22, 2012

(Speech at the Far Eastern University Central Student Organization lecture series
on 22 November 2012)

It is always my pleasure to return to this campus, recipient of the UNESCO Asia Pacific Award for Cultural Heritage for "the outstanding preservation of its Art Deco structure." I take particular pleasure that this university was established by my fellow UP alumnus, Mr. Nicanor Reyes, Sr., who was head of the UP department of economics. I also take additional pleasure in returning to the campus that produced President Corazon Aquino, Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, and leaders of business such as Henry Sy, Lucio Tan, and Ramon Ang. I refer to this campus which has been granted by the CHED with autonomous status - the great Far Eastern University.

The title of my speech is "The Problem with Elections." At the outset, let me summarize the problem with Philippine elections: Of the 50 million voters who will troop to the polls in May next year, the greater majority are not intelligent, they are not educated for voting, and the candidates they choose are not educated for serving. This problem is the result of the fact that our Constitution provides that no literacy requirement shall be imposed on voters. Furthermore, although the Constitution provides that a senator should be literate in that he should be able to read and write, the same Constitution does not require any educational attainment on the part of any candidate.

As I shall show a few minutes later, this is all very strange. Under the Police Act, no person can be appointed a policeman, unless he has a college degree. But any person can become president, vice-president, senator, or congressman of the country even without a college degree!

The Concept of Representation

Most of what I have to say is based on the classic book, Modern Politics and Government, by Ball and Peters, 7th edition, published in 2005.

The Philippines is called a representative democracy. But what does each candidate really represent?

Our political system observes two basic concepts of representation:

1. That sovereignty resides with the people and therefore the government is responsible to the people; and

2. That the will of the majority is more important than that of a minority.

In fact, our Constitution provides as a basic principle that "sovereignty resides in the people and all government authority emanates from them." But who are "the people?" They are some 50 million voters in our country who comply with the requirement that they are at least 18 years old, and have resided in the Philippines for at least one year. But I believe emphatically that the criteria of age and residence are no longer enough in the 21st century.

Our Constitution provides for a system for free public education up to high school level. Thus, at the outset there is no reason why the criteria for suffrage should not include at least a high school education. If a person is a borderline moron, why should his vote equal the vote of a college graduate?

The Constitution further provides for a system of scholarship grants, student loan programs, subsidies and other incentives. If this is the case, then a truly intelligent and hardworking person will be able to find a way to finish college. But again, as I noted earlier, the Constitution does not require candidates for public office to possess any educational attainment. If a policeman needs to have a college degree, why shouldn't we impose the same requirement on senators and congressmen?

The Liberal Democratic Theory of Representation

The essential principles of a liberal democratic theory of representation which the Philippines claims to observe, are the following:

First Principle: The importance of the individual's rights, specially his property, and the necessity of limiting the powers of government to protect those rights.

Second Principle: The principle of rationalism, under which it is argued that humans are creatures of reason. It is argued that humans are able to identify their own interests and their own opinions, and are aware of the wider claims of the community. Therefore, according to this argument, the individual will use his vote in an intelligent fashion, and is consequently entitled to share in the selection of representatives.

Really? This argument would be correct, if the voter and the voted are educated. But in our country, the masses tend to vote for the people whom they most often see either in movies or on TV. They apply only a visual test to candidates. If the candidate often plays the role of champion of the poor, then the uneducated poor will vote him to office for this reason only. Thus, they are voting for actors. Accordingly, when some of these TV and film personalities win in the elections, they continue their acting in the legislature.

Some of them are acting as senators or congressmen, merely relying on their legislative staff to feed them with the proper things to say during the sessions of Congress. In effect therefore, they are little better than talking dummies. And in addition, I worry that they might be more susceptible to the pressures exerted by lobby groups and other interest groups funded by the rich.

I agree with Thomas Jefferson that there should be a clear emphasis on the importance of an educated majority, as a prerequisite for Philippine representative government.

Third Principle: Sovereignty of the people, which is expressed through universal suffrage. The implicit goal of our electoral system is: "One person, one vote, one value." Again, I emphasize that this principle is observed in an educated society. But if, as in the case of our country, the majority of the voters are not educated, then there is no reason why one vote should be equal to another vote. Not all votes are equal.

As a politician for the past 15 years, I have grown increasingly anxious about what I perceive to be mob democracy. I support the suggestion of the great writer John Stuart Mill that we should limit the vote to the literate; and that we should increase the vote of the people with certain superior qualities. I am very anxious about the uneducated majority in the Philippines.

The Function of Elections

All over the world, elections are a means of choosing representatives. In the 1980s and the 1990s, there was a general increase in electoral choice. But while elections allow voter participation, this participation is distorted by lack of education among the voter and the voted. Elections are also distorted because under our system, the successful candidate might be the choice of only a minority. This was what happened when the people and I were robbed of the presidency in 1992. The person who claimed that he won the presidential election was admittedly only a plurality president.

Another distortion is the control of political parties over the procedure by which candidates should be officially presented to the electorate. As you know, I challenged this system by running under my own independent People's Reform Party in 1992, and I succeeded.

The most notorious distortion of the people's choice is electoral corruption. There are still scientific doubts on the accuracy of the voting machines that we started to use in the last elections. But the most important problem is vote-buying. Rich candidates buy, and the uneducated masses are willing to sell, their votes. Rich candidates can afford to start campaigning earlier than poor candidates, particularly through the medium of television, where one thirty-second spot alone can cost over P300,000.

If you really think about it, election is an opportunity for TV companies to make money at the expense of our democracy. For, our Constitution provides as a state policy that: "The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunity for public service." Is there equal access to public service for the rich and the poor? Don't make me laugh.

To be able to institutionalize an open democratic system, the Philippines needs to establish norms of fairness and equal access in elections. Hence, the present problem of electoral corruption is crucial to our democracy.

What Does a Voter Vote For?

In countries with an educated majority, normally a two-party system will develop. One party, called the left, advocates that government should be very active by interfering in almost every aspect of society, including the regulation of the private sector. The other party, called the right, advocates that as much as possible, government should merely provide social services, but should not interfere with the private sector. In our country, there is no ideological distinction between parties. In our country, political parties are merely groups of self-interested individuals pooling their resources so that they can attract political contributors and thus win in the elections. They are not committed to any particular national policy.

As part of the educated community, you should be aware of the theory of rational choice, which was first developed in the extremely influential 1957 book, An Economic Theory of Democracy, by Anthony Downs. He said that in the political marketplace, a voter will cast his or her vote for the party that is most likely - given the information available - to serve the ends of the voter. Social position or party loyalty are less important factors than the rational search for the party or candidate that will serve the individual interest - often defined in economic terms - of each voter.

I agree with rational choice theory. In the Philippines, the voter chooses the candidate who will serve the voter's ends. But, unfortunately, the ends sought by the uneducated voter are usually: money in exchange for his vote; and an appointment in the civil service, so that he can have a job. The uneducated majority are merely seeking their selfish individual interest, particularly in economic terms.

Role of Mass Media

In our democracy, the principal source of political information is the mass media, specially TV. Newspapers used to be the chief source of political information, and some newspaper columnists grew arrogant, abusive, and corrupt. But now with the growth of TV and internet, the importance of newspapers has declined.

Today, in political advertising, TV takes the major share. This means that a candidate with little money will most likely lose to a candidate with big political contributors that will allow him to buy as many TV ads as possible. One bad effect of this development is that TV provides less political information than newspapers. According to Ball and Peters: "TV emphasizes personalities and images to the detriment of informed political analysis." Thus, on TV we see candidates singing, dancing, and looking comical in their desperate attempt to appeal to the TV audience. The voter who watches TV obtains no clue about the candidate's character and qualifications.

TV has become preeminent in the dissemination of public information. But it has also become more open to political interference on the part of the government. What is the effect of the media on political attitude and voting behavior? Ball and Peters give this answer: "The media may reinforce pre-existing opinion when they exist, but can shape opinion when there are not already firmly held values."

I now come to my favorite topic - the internet. In Philippine elections, consumption of political information from the internet is now increasing rapidly. But the internet presents several problems to the political system, as follows:

1. The internet represents "narrowcasting" rather than broadcasting. I refer to the phenomenon that each political group accepts only information that supports its own views.

2. The information contained on the internet is unmediated and not reviewed by professionals. Thus, it happens that internet sources lack objectivity or accuracy.

The problem with elections is that Filipino voters, if they are uneducated, are often swayed by the personal appeal of a candidate. Public opinion is often shaped by conscious efforts of political elites and the media. It is a myth that Philippine voters make rational choices of candidates. Often, the uneducated voter is merely expressing support for the system, or merely expressing emotional attachments to certain symbols.

For this reason, I invite the FEU Central Student Organization to start a social media campaign to encourage smart voting among the uneducated. You could call this campaign "smart vote" and give a score of Yes or No to each candidate as political issues develop. You could insist that candidates should have a record of academic and professional excellence, as well as a record of moral positions on national policy issues. For example, you should campaign so that voters will say Yes to candidates who favor the bills that I have filed, such as the RH bill, sin tax bill, Magna Carta for internet freedom bill, and freedom of information bill. Conversely, you should campaign so that voters will say No to epal candidates, political dynasties, and premature campaigning.

Unfortunately, there is no scientific test for the most important criterion of all: honesty. What we really need in a corrupt country are honest leaders - with character borne out of higher education - will not steal the people's money; will personally study national policy issues; if necessary, refuse to compromise; and will remain stubbornly noble and idealistic. In short, we need a person with the courage of his convictions. I am depending on you to provide this kind of leadership in the future, characterized by honesty, competence, and efficiency.

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