Thursday, June 25, 2009

A nation of presidentiables

Only in the Philippines do we talk of presidentiables, a term Filipinos often use to refer to individuals who are either potential candidates for the presidency or who may look like a president. Drawing the line between the two is not easy. In almost all instances, someone who may be a potential president by virtue of his résumé should also look like one in stature, demeanour and manner of speaking. The latter is really like a pretender while a true presidentiable has the wherewithal to become one.

Everybody seems a presidential contender in our country today. Despite all the talk of the town that won’t go away about changing the present government to a parliamentary system, many have already placed their names on the table hoping people will start betting on them. Elections or no elections, there’ll never be a dearth of presidentiables.

Being a senator is pretty much an automatic qualification. There are at least six senators being mentioned as presidentiables. Joining the fray are an ex-president, a vice-president, a cabinet secretary, a city mayor, and perhaps a sitting president who does not want to fade away like an old soldier.

In the olden days, there were only two major candidates for the presidency. Of course, there were also others running, but none were really contending, since most of them were nuisance candidates. Nowadays, the presidency is a toss-up, for anyone of the mentioned presidentiables can win it all.

No presidentiable is eliminated from the race unless one backs out voluntarily. Sex scandals or allegations of graft and corruption can’t torch any of the candidates. In a Catholic country where morality is a big thing, even infidelity, or the number of wives one has, cannot tarnish a candidate’s image. It’s the nature of Philippine politics: the more, the merrier. It’s like one big market where the people are given a grocery list of choices to select their president.

Incumbent president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo continues to be silent about her future plans whether to seek re-election under a new system of government or run for Congress in her son’s seat in Pampanga. Either way she will be toast. Amending the Constitution eleven months away from the presidential elections is next to impossible. Running for Congress is fraught with moral or ethical issues. Imagine a former president of the land running for a congressional seat in order to take refuge from possible criminal or civil prosecution the moment she steps down from the presidency.

Joseph “Erap” Estrada, the former president Gloria Arroyo replaced and pardoned after being forced to resign because of the sheer scale of his wrongdoings in less than two years in office, is also bent on running again for president. Is he really serious? Estrada sounded his interest to run only if the opposition could not unite and field a single candidate. Rumours are that he already bought two brand-new helicopters and 20 vans to be used for his political campaign. Many political analysts, including incumbent elected officials, admit that Estrada has the lead among the present crop of presidential aspirants because he is still a magnet that could make people in every corner of the land flock to him.

Those scared of Estrada are flouting the argument that he is barred by the Constitution from running again, which seems absurd because he is not the sitting president. In any case, the Supreme Court may be asked to intervene whether Estrada could take a stab again for the presidency. But the right question the people should be asking is whether the presidential pardon given by Arroyo really cleansed all Estrada’s guilt that he is now all but morally up to the task of president of his country.

Then there is the president-in-waiting, Vice President Noli de Castro. Just like his boss in Malacanang, the vice president is also mum about his presidential aspiration. De Castro believes he is the putative heir apparent and worries about Estrada as a possible tough opponent.

Among the opposition, those who have announced their presidential bids include Senators Manuel Roxas II, Manuel Villar, Panfilo Lacson (for the second time around), Richard Gordon, Loren Legarda and Francis Escudero, and Makati City Mayor Jejomar Binay. Defence Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, a former three-term congressman and a Harvard-educated lawyer, has also thrown his hat in the presidential circus.

The political opposition has been turned into a big tent. Everybody is a presidential contender. Being in the opposition guarantees a shot at the big pie. With Gloria Arroyo’s dismal record in office, anyone but her as a replacement seems acceptable.

Imagine Noli de Castro and Joseph Estrada sparring for the presidency. How many wives just between the two of them do they have?

Legarda-Escudero or Escudero-Legarda, which is the winning combination? That depends on who you’re talking to. But with Danding Cojuangco’s full blessings, either tandem would give their rivals a run for their money.

Senators Villar and Lacson are possible drop-outs. Villar is under probe by the Senate for his involvement in a controversial right-of way project, while Lacson continues to be hounded by allegations that he masterminded the murder of a publicist and his driver in 2000 when he was chief of the Philippine National Police.

The presidentiables from the senators’ rank are either scions of political dynasties or have close links with big business and the Philippine Roman Catholic Church. Mayor Jejomar Binay shares a track record with Joseph Estrada for surviving charges of graft and corruption. Defence Secretary Teodoro shares a political dynasty with his wife who is also a representative of the province of Tarlac in Congress.

There used to be a poignant image of a former president with his sleeves rolled up to his elbows, his pants folded up to his knees, and his feet deep in the mud while planting rice with farmers on a ricefield. Perhaps, we should also ask all the presidentiables to dive in the mud and do the same, or de-flea a carabao, at least, as a test of their preparedness for the presidency. With all these presidentiables, God knows there are worse possibilities.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Gloria Arroyo’s conundrum

“Stop titillating the nation,” former Philippine President Fidel V. Ramos admonished President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

It was like telling her to make up her mind whether she intends to push through with the Charter Change initiative in Congress as a constituent assembly or run in the 2010 elections for her son’s congressional seat in Pampanga.

But in fairness to Gloria Arroyo, whatever last ballyhoo she has in mind is for her alone to ponder. She is no under legal obligation to disclose what her plans are after her term of office expires in 2010. Suffice it to say that the present Constitution has taken care of this issue. Her term expires; she cannot run for office again. She can spend her retirement in teaching or in writing her memoirs, or through joining the lecture circuit as other former presidents are wont to do.

Yet, Gloria Arroyo keeps sending confusing signals. The merger of Kampi-Lakas-CMD administration parties means she is consolidating her political base. Congress House Resolution 1109 was rammed through by her followers to amend the Constitution by convening a constituent assembly which could postpone the 2010 presidential elections, overhaul the legislature, and transform it to a parliament, and for all intents and purposes, keep her in power beyond her present term of office. Plus, all this talk about her son giving up his congressional seat in Pampanga so she could run in next year’s elections only adds fuel to the fire than extinguish the rumours of her desire to stay in office.

Everyone knows why she wants to amend the present Constitution. But it is next to impossible now to achieve what she wants, legally and based on public acceptance. The Supreme Court, in the meantime, has refused to hear a petition to disallow the congressional initiative to convene a constituent assembly, deciding to wait and see if Congress would go ahead with its plan. It seems likely that this initiative will fizzle out and so goes Gloria Arroyo’s fervent wish to overhaul the government that will give her the chance to lead the country one more time under a parliamentary system.

But why would Gloria Arroyo even think of running for Congress? If she was scared of being sued for her wrongdoings in office after her term expires, a seat in Congress does not give her the immunity from being sued. The Constitution only gives her temporary freedom from arrest while Congress is in session, but she could still be charged criminally or sued in a civil action for damages. Being a member of Congress gives her immunity from liability for making speeches, but that’s not what the people are demanding that she be prosecuted for. The massive cheating and fraud during her re-election and the brazen graft and corruption in her government are almost akin to the crimes for which her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, was charged with, especially plunder which carries the death penalty. No wonder that Gloria Arroyo is scared to death after her term is over because executive immunity ends the moment she steps down.

It seems understandable, although not an appropriate excuse, that someone would crave for more power in order to cover her sins in office. But why a person in the first place could be motivated to be dishonest and corrupt remains a beguiling concept.

The daughter and first child of a former Philippine president to hold the post as president, Gloria Arroyo seemed destined for the presidency. Well-qualified with an academic degree in economics, she has the tools to understand why the country is poor and the wherewithal to redeem the country from the mire of poverty and misery.

During an interview with Time International upon taking over the presidency in 2001, Gloria Arroyo cited her father and former President Cory Aquino as her role models: “I will follow my father’s footsteps in doing what is right, and God will take care of the rest. My father is my role model. My living role model is Cory Aquino. I am prepared.”

In The Power and the Glory: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Her Presidency by Isabelo T. Crisostomo, Arroyo was quoted thus: “I dwell on what must be done. I am a very focused person. I don’t focus on laurels, on feeling secure, feeling comfortable. Even on the day I was sworn in as president, I didn’t say, ‘Wow, I am now president,’ I said, ‘What should I do now?’”

Well, Gloria Arroyo might as well ask herself the same question, ”What should I do now?” in the face of her present conundrum.

To run or not to run, that’s not even an issue that should bother her, if she’s only willing to save her presidency or whatever is left of it. Respect the Constitution, and she must because this seems the only moral choice. The Filipino people have a large and forgiving heart. Otherwise, we could have a revolution in our hands soon.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

An article of faith

It’s a grave misfortune that Filipinos think of their Constitution as no more than a convenient tool to acquire political power. Every time an opportunity arises, revising the Constitution becomes the ultimate objective of those who wish to pursue selfish interests such as staying in power beyond a term limit.

For one, the current initiative by members of Congress to amend the Constitution, apparently under marching orders from Malacanang, is obviously aimed to postpone the holding of the scheduled presidential elections in 2010, overhaul the government, and impose a new political structure that allows the incumbent to remain in power.

Yet, the Constitution is not just an ordinary document. It commands the legislature and the State as a whole to give the highest priority to enact and implement laws that will protect and promote the right of the people to human dignity, reduce social, economic and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good. The exact words lifted from the Constitution as enshrined in Article XIII.

Even years before the Constitutionally-mandated presidential election in 2010, the current government has already been plotting several schemes to alter the present political structure so the president and her minions could keep power indefinitely in their hands. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has all the time in the world to lead the country out of its economic doldrums when she took over from Joseph Estrada (who was ousted in 2001) and after her election to the presidency in 2004. Exactly nine long years, yet what has Gloria Arroyo accomplished?

Gloria Arroyo could have achieved so much in nine years if she had only been faithful to the Constitution. Unlike her predecessors who served only the term limit of six years, she has an extra three years to spare, more than the two terms a U.S. President could possibly have. If she only read Article XIII of the Constitution, she could have understood well the gravitas of the presidency of the Republic. Article XIII of the Constitution embodied everything that needs to be done: the protection of the rights of the people so that everyone can live with dignity and in equality, where wealth and political power are used for the common good. This was perhaps in the minds of the framers of the 1987 Constitution why they inserted this very important provision so every president elected after the dark period of the Marcos dictatorship will be guided accordingly.

For the past eight years Gloria Arroyo has chosen to ignore Article XIII and has focused her sights on staying in power longer than her term limit. Nearing the completion of her term, Arroyo continues to subvert the Constitution.

In addition to honouring the obligations of the State in Article XIII of the Constitution, Gloria Arroyo and her advisers could have also taken some time to read and heed the report prepared by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in 2005 on Poverty in the Philippines: Income, Assets, and Access. The ADB report is a country poverty analysis which identifies the structural causes of poverty in the Philippines and provides a roadmap for the government’s response to poverty.

Among the important highlights of the ADB Report are:

• The poverty incidence of families increased from 31.8% to 33.7% between 1997 and 2000, which means that there more hungry families.

• Sustained economic growth from 2000-2003 has not been pro-poor. Although there was sustained GDP growth from 2000-2003, there was a 10% drop in real average family incomes. The real average income of the bottom 30% of the population contracted by about 6% from 2000-2003, indicating an increase over 2000 poverty levels.

• Official poverty lines have not kept pace with inflation, thus poverty lines have been worth less and less in real terms since the mid-1980s.

• The proportion of Filipino families who rate themselves as poor is a great deal higher than the official poverty incidence.

• Access to various assets such as human capital, physical capital, natural capital, financial capital, and social capital, that can help reduce vulnerability and to keep people out of poverty is a major problem.

• Health challenges include high maternal mortality rates, a very high incidence of tuberculosis (ranked 8th in the world by the World Health Organization), and poor quality and inaccessibility of public health care services.

• Only 70% of the poorest households have access to safe drinking water.

• Forest cover has been reduced to less than one fifth of total land area, with logging, mining and encroachment of settlements in critical watersheds to blame.

• Urban air quality is very poor.

• The Philippines is ranked one of the five hottest “hotspots” on the planet, meaning one of the most threatened areas.

• The poorest are unable to save, so access to credit and remittances become important areas of financial capital. Despite high and growing levels of remittances, the poorest are largely excluded from the benefits of overseas migration. International migration and remittances may actually exacerbate the inequality problem in the Philippines.

What kind of picture emerges from all of these findings? Only one powerful but very depressing image comes across, that of a poor country.

A social weather survey was also conducted across various sectors nationwide in 2008 asking whether Filipinos think of themselves as poor. The survey showed that 79.3 per cent of the total respondents thought of themselves as poor, thus validating the earlier perception of most Filipinos in the ADB Report.

Yet, Gloria Arroyo and her loyal followers would continue to disregard the true conditions in the Philippines. Their answer to rising joblessness and poverty is to amend the Constitution in order to open up the economy to more foreign investors by allowing them equal ownership of our natural resources, and by overhauling the government structure and changing it with a parliamentary system that would make it possible for Gloria Arroyo and her faithful flock to remain in political power indefinitely.

In Development as Freedom, the Nobel prize-winning economist Amartya Sen wrote: “Development requires the removal of major sources of unfreedoms: poverty, as well as tyranny, poor economic opportunities as well as systematic social deprivation, neglect of public facilities as well as intolerances or overactivity of repressive states.” Exactly the meaning and purpose of Sections (1) and (2) of Article XIII of the Philippine Constitution, which reads as follows:

Article XIII


Section 1. The Congress shall give highest priority to the enactment of measures that protect and enhance the right of all the people to human dignity, reduce social, economic, and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good.

To this end, the State shall regulate the acquisition, ownership, use, and disposition of property and its increments.

Section 2. The promotion of social justice shall include the commitment to create economic opportunities based on freedom of initiative and self-reliance.

If ever a new President is elected in June 2010, he or she, together with all elected members of Congress, must be required in addition to the oath of office to recite the provisions of Article XIII as an article of faith and a fitting reminder of their solemn obligation to the Filipino people who have elected them.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Toying with the Constitution

We, Filipinos, seem to love and hate our Constitution.

The Philippine Constitution has been rewritten seven times starting from the Biak-na-Bato Constitution to the present day 1987 Constitution. Each time, a significant event precipitated the change.

The Biak-na-Bato Constitution was inspired by the Filipino revolution and independence from Spain. Two years later, the Malolos Constitution was adopted to establish the first Philippine Republic with a strong government.

In 1935, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt approved the Commonwealth Constitution, an instrument drawn by a constitutional convention presided by Senator Claro M. Recto. During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, a provisional Constitution went into effect in 1943.

After the liberation from the Japanese, the 1935 Constitution was restored and revised for the ensuing republic until 1973 when President Ferdinand Marcos convened a constitutional convention to draw a new Constitution for his New Society and the foundation for authoritarian rule. When Marcos was ousted in 1986, the new government under President Corazon Aquino promulgated what is now known as the Freedom Constitution which restored the presidential form of government. The new Constitution took effect in 1987 and is now the subject of another rush to amend it in order to accommodate incumbent President Gloria Arroyo’s lust for power.

Last June 2, 2009, called by many as a “night of rape” and “ignominy,” allies of President Arroyo who control more than the majority of the members of Congress approved House Resolution 1109 creating a so-called constituent assembly to amend the Philippine Constitution. While the original intent of the proponents of this assembly is to amend the economic provisions of the Constitution, most critics say that HR 1109 would also pave the way for an amendment allowing Arroyo to stay in power beyond 2010.

Arroyo’s allies in the House of Representatives have declared their intention to convene a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution without the Senate when Congress reopens in July despite public protestations and outrage. According to Representative Mauricio Domogan, one of the authors of HR 1109, the assembly would proceed even if senators refused to cooperate and they would only stop if the Supreme Court rules that HR1109 is unconstitutional.

The 1987 Constitution of the Philippines provides three options for amending or revising the Constitution, namely, (1) by Congress, upon a vote of three-fourths of all its members, (2) by a constitutional convention, and (3) through initiative upon a petition of at least 12 per cent of the total number of registered voters.

A constitutional convention was assembled to frame the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions. In 2006, a people’s initiative was undertaken to overhaul the structure of government by changing the government from presidential to parliamentary and the form of the legislature from bicameral to unicameral. It had the required percentage of signatures of voters but the Supreme Court overruled the initiative on the following grounds: only amendments are the subject of an initiative to change the Constitution, not revisions, and Republic Act 6735, the enabling law passed by Congress, prohibits petitions containing more than one subject.

There has been no experience with regard to the other option of convening Congress as a constituent assembly to amend the Constitution. At most, the experience of the United States in amending its Constitution is probably very persuasive as a reference because both the Philippine and U.S. Constitutions are very much alike on the issue of the constitutional amendment process.

While the U.S. Constitution specifically refers to both houses of Congress, the Philippine Constitution only mentions the words “Congress” and “its members.” But it would be a folly to restrict the word “Congress” to the House of Representatives only because it is both common knowledge and practice to refer to the Senate and the House of Representatives as the Congress of the Philippines. In other words, amending the Constitution through Congress means both houses being able to propose amendments to the Constitution, and approval by Congress of proposed amendments by three-fourths of all its members also means all senators and House representatives voting separately.

Does the House of Representatives need to convene separately as a constituent assembly for the purpose of amending or revising the Constitution?

The present 1987 Constitution is silent on this. All it says is Congress may propose amendments or revisions of the Constitution by a vote of three-fourths of all its members. In other words, members of Congress may constitute themselves as an assembly for the purpose of amending or revising the Constitution. The 1935 and 1899 Constitutions were more explicit as to how to convene the members of the legislature in order to amend or revise the Constitution.

A constituent assembly was first mentioned in the Malolos Constitution of 1899 which provided for its convocation after the President of the Republic had dissolved the National Assembly. The 1935 Constitution spoke of a joint session assembled by a vote of three-fourths of the members of the Senate and House of Representatives voting separately. Amending or revising the Constitution is similar under both the 1973 and 1987 Constitutions except that each called its legislature by different names, National Assembly in the 1973 Constitution and Congress in 1987.

It is therefore instructional to look at the American experience in constitutional amendments. Considering that many provisions of the Philippine Constitution were patterned after that of the U.S. and also the historical fact that the Philippines was under American tutelage for more than 50 years, the U.S. experience would be a useful reference.

There are essentially two ways to amend the U.S. Constitution.

The first method is for a bill to pass both houses of Congress, by a two-thirds majority in each house. Once the billed has passed both houses, it goes on to the states’ legislatures for ratification. All 27 amendments to the U.S. Constitution have taken this route and been approved, six had been disapproved, and thousands of proposals had been discussed.

The other route is by application of the legislatures of two-thirds of the several States for a constitutional convention for proposing amendments, but this option has never been used.

Following the American experience, there is no need for the Philippine Congress to convene a constituent assembly for the purpose of amending or revising the Constitution. A proposed amendment may be initiated in either house and if approved by three-fourths of all its members voting separately, such amendment can then be referred to a plebiscite for ratification by a majority of votes.

Our own constitutional experience suggests that a constituent assembly refers to a National Assembly or Congress that can be dissolved to turn it into a body for proposing amendments to the Constitution as provided by the 1899 Malolos Constitution. But the legislative body under the Malolos Constitution was a unicameral one, unlike the present Congress which is similar to the structure of the U.S. Congress.

The three-fourth’s vote of each house voting separately to pass a proposed amendment was also envisaged by the 1935 and 1973 Constitutions, thus the requirement for each house to vote separately has a precedent. This calls for both houses to vote instead of one house voting alone despite its numerical superiority in membership.

There are thousands of proposed amendments to the U.S. Constitution that have been tabled and discussed in the U.S. Congress since 1787 but to date only 27 amendments have been successful. This indicates that constitutional amendments should not be taken very lightly, that they should go through debates no matter how long they take, through rigorous examinations and extensive public hearings. Because of some long- outstanding amendments, the U.S. Congress has also put a time limit, typically seven years, for the bill to be approved as an amendment.

The position of Gloria Arroyo’s allies that they can proceed to convene a constituent assembly without the Senate participating is definitely without merit. There is no need for a constituent assembly; the present Constitution is silent about it. But ignoring the Senate as a co-equal house in Congress for the purpose of amending the Constitution is a brazenly stupid mistake.

Amending or revising the Constitution in order to overhaul the structure of government is usually prompted by a major and critical social event such as a civil war, a war of independence against foreign invasion or colonial rule, or liberation from an oppressive or authoritarian regime. The 1987 Constitution was called the Freedom Constitution because it was drafted after the end of oppression under Ferdinand Marcos. Marcos might also be justified in drafting his own 1973 Constitution to embody the vision and ideals of his New Society. The 1935 Constitution was adopted to bridge the transition from U.S. colonial tutelage to Philippine independence in 1946. Autonomy from Spain spawned the Malolos Constitution in 1899.

What would justify amending or revising the present Constitution but to entrench Gloria Arroyo’s lust to remain in power and control of the government beyond 2010? This was obvious from the beginning of time when she supported Charter change after she assumed the presidency. Plus, the timing of the House Resolution to convene a constituent assembly, a year away from the 2010 elections, is suspect.

On the other hand, House Resolution 1109 could be a decoy to provoke the people to rally against it and cause public mayhem and breakdown of peace and order. Amending the current Constitution to further ensconce Gloria Arroyo in power could be a sure recipe for a civil war. This could be Gloria Arroyo’s cue to declare martial law.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Philippine elections: Thinking outside the box

Good morning, Honourable Jovito Palparan, Member of Congress of the Philippines.

From a major general in the army, linked by no less than the Supreme Court of the Philippines in the kidnapping and torture of two suspected New People’s Army sympathizers, to a person of honourable standing in the legislature of the land.

That’s how easy one can pervert the present party-list system of the Philippines. Maybe, General Palparan should also change his name to “Palaparan” just to prove how close and wide his network of influence is in the axis of power in the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo regime. Now, everyone should call him Honourable Congressman, representing BANTAY, which Palparan claims is a party-list group of security guards and victims of the New People’s Army. Actually, BANTAY is founded on the eradication of communism in the Philippines, including legal and peaceful protests. It represents the “True Marcos Loyalist (for God, Country and People) Association of the Philippines.”

To add insult to injury, Ma. Lourdes Arroyo, a sister of President Gloria Arroyo’s husband, Mike Arroyo, will also sit in Congress as the representative of a party-list group called KASANGGA, loosely meaning “ally” or “comrade-in-arms.” According to Mrs. Arroyo, she represents the party list of small entrepreneurs, which include “balut” vendors.

The elevation of both General Palparan and Mrs. Arroyo to their seats in Congress is a shameful act and a mockery of Republic Act 7941 (the Party-List System Act), which was passed by Congress to “enable Filipino citizens belonging to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties, and who lack well-defined constituencies but who could contribute to the formulation and enactment of appropriate legislation that will benefit the nation as a whole, to become members of the House of Representatives.”

A party-list system underscores proportional representation in which voters choose among parties rather than among candidates. It’s a system that opens up the political process beyond one or two dominant political parties, thus helping create a healthy democracy and provide a citizen’s voice in Congress and in local government by allowing representation of marginalized and underrepresented sectors.

Article VI, Section 5 (1) and (2) of the 1987 Constitution, adopted after the end of the repressive Marcos government, expands democratic representation by giving seats to “marginalized and underrepresented sectors” that cannot ordinarily compete with entrenched political parties and dynasties. In 1995, RA 7941 was passed by Congress declaring it the policy of the state to promote proportional representation through a party-list system.

This purpose of the Constitution was reiterated by then Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban when he said that “The intent of the Constitution is clear: to give genuine power to the Filipino people, not only by giving more law to those who have less in life, but more so by enabling them to become veritable lawmakers themselves.”

However, the Philippine experience with the party-list system has been a tragedy, if not a travesty, of the intent of the 1987 Constitution. Aside from genuine representatives of marginalized and underrepresented sectors like Satur Ocampo and the late Crispin Beltran, Congress has party-list representatives who are actually surrogates of political dynasties, vested interests, political parties and powerful blocs. Just look at the 50-plus party-list representatives in Congress and you will see that many of them are not marginalized, underprivileged or neglected, as envisioned in the Constitution. The recent proclamation of General Palparan and Lourdes Arroyo only betrays the hijacking of the party-list system by the same political dynasties, thus confirming that the Party-List System Act merely fortifies the stranglehold of political dynasties and powerful vested interest groups on the House of Representatives.

With a subservient and graft-ridden COMELEC that is entrusted by law to certify party-list groups, perhaps, it’s time for others to join the gold rush, with the likes of SINGAW (Samahang Inampon Ni Gloria Arroyong Walang-kaparis), PIGSA (Pangmalawakang Inisyatiba Ni Gloriang Sariling Atin), or BANGAW (Bagong Alyansa Ni Gloria Arroyong Walang-katumbas).

Or maybe, we don’t really need elections in the first place to choose our members of Congress.

How about experimenting with demarchy? In his book, Is Democracy Possible? the Australian philosopher, John Burnheim proposed the idea of demarchy as a hypothetical political system run by randomly selected decision-makers selected by sortition.

Don’t laugh now but sortition is not a new process at all. It was used in 6th century B.C. by Athenian democracy through randomly selecting representatives with nearly all government offices filled by lottery rather than by election. Sortition was also used as recently as two years ago in the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Ontario when a group of citizens was randomly selected to create a Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform to investigate and recommend changes to the provinces’ electoral systems. Both citizens’ assemblies eventually proposed a system of mixed proportional representation in the election of members of parliament but the initiative was stymied in an ensuing referendum.

In Book 4 of The Politics, Aristotle wrote that “it is thought to be democratic for the offices to be assigned by lot, for them to be elected, oligarchic.” Perhaps, our ancestors of the democratic form of government were a lot wiser, and even less corruptible than today, hence why sortition worked for them.

If anybody but those closely allied with the present government or powerful political blocs can be elected through the party-list system, in addition to those elected through the dominant political parties—the “trapos,” or traditional politicians, opening up the election of representatives in Congress by lottery could turn out to be more efficient and democratic. No need for “balut” vendors or security guards to enlist as members of a party-list group. By simply putting their names on the lottery, candidates can still be randomly selected. That way, they don’t have to owe their loyalty to General Palparan or Lourdes Arroyo but only to themselves, and who knows, even to the general public.

Under the demarchy system, everyone has an equal chance to be elected as a representative in Congress, including the marginalized and underrepresented, as envisioned by the 1987 Constitution. The present party-list system is prone to manipulation by special interests, such as those of the “balut” vendors. Burnheim’s model of politics makes it easier for ordinary citizens to meaningfully participate, and harder for special interests to corrupt the process.

Furthermore, in a demarchy, there’s no need to fret about minimum qualifications such as level of education, experience, criminal record or age, etc., thus making it open to any one—from movie actors to sports heroes like Manny Pacquiao or to common folk like Juan and Maria de la Cruz. Under demarchy, the group Mamamayan Against Droga, also known as MAD, will have a fighting chance to elect its first representative.

Politicians, including lobbyists, in present day democracies expend so much time and effort in trying to gain support and political strength. They spend a good deal of time influencing others in order to achieve their political goals. Demarchy works differently. It selects decision-makers randomly so the time and effort spent on political machinations and manipulation would be limited. In theory, demarchy may become a more efficient system of democracy than elected officials.

But whether it’s going to work is a big question. No modern nation has attempted to use demarchy as a system for political decision-making, although it has been proposed previously by members of the U.S. House of Representatives. For one, it could be very difficult to convince incumbent politicians and political parties to give up power voluntarily. Some amendments to a national constitution may also be necessary. The closest example of demarchy in most democracies is the use of a jury of peers in criminal trials, a system that has worked for hundreds of years in criminal cases. On second thought, juries would probably work in the Philippine Congress since most of its members have to be tried for crimes against the people anyway.

What is clear is that the process of developing and trying out alternatives is essential for all those seeking a more participative society. The old channels of electoral politics are inefficient and, to some extent, broken; the quest for reforms calls for creative and innovative forms and structures.

Philippine politics is held captive by well-oiled political machines, vested interests and powerful blocs, thus demarchy seems to be the closest alternative to an efficient democratic system for choosing our political representatives. The absence of observed evidence of its utility and efficiency does not mean it’s not going to work. Demarchy could be our best option in selecting representatives in Congress to make it more democratic and on a level playing field. Since we’re quite good at copying or adopting new or untested ideas, here’s our chance to prove ourselves.