Those who are “not educated for voting” are choosing from those who are “not educated for serving.”
This, in Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s typically trenchant view, is what ails the Philippine body politic.
Speaking before students of the Far Eastern University on Thursday, Santiago said the “greater majority” of the country’s 50 million voters who will troop to the precincts in May “are not intelligent … not educated for voting.”
And, as there is no educational requirement for candidates vying for elective posts, voters are likely to end up choosing among many who “are not educated for serving,” she said.
Compounding the problem is the lack of a literacy requirement to qualify voters so that the “uneducated poor” invariably vote the actors they see in films and television, thinking their screen persona would translate into what they could be or deliver in real life.
And if not to actors, these voters will sell their votes to the “rich candidates,” or those moneyed enough to buy 30-second spots on television in this season of premature campaigning.
Is it any wonder we are where we are?
The problem with elections
Santiago presented her observations in a speech, “The Problem With Elections,” at FEU. Copies of the speech were e-mailed to Senate reporters.
Lest she be charged with plagiarism, Santiago said that “most of what” she said were taken from “Modern Politics and Government” by Alan R. Ball and B. Guy Peters (the 7th edition released in 2005).
The Constitution, said Santiago, bestows sovereignty on the people and that “all government authority emanates from them.”
Problem is, the “people,” or the 50 million voters in this country who are given the right to choose their leaders only need to comply with the “at least 18 years old” age requirement and residency in the Philippines for at least one year.
These are criteria that she believes “are no longer enough for the 21st century.”
Criteria for the 21st century
If the law also provides for free public education up to high school level, why not make this the mandatory educational requirement for voters? Santiago asked.
“If a person is a borderline moron, why should his vote equal the vote of a college graduate?” she said.
It does not help that the law also does not require that a candidate for public office possess a minimum level of education.
She wondered why a policeman needs to have a college degree but the same requirement is not imposed on those aspiring to become senators and congressmen.
In the liberal democratic theory of representation that follows the principle of rationalism, humans are considered creatures of reason who can identify their own interests and opinions and are aware of “the wider claims of the community,” the senator said.
A person would then be expected to “vote in an intelligent fashion, and is consequently entitled to share in the selection of representatives,” she said.
But, whoa! There is a caveat, said Santiago.
This would only be correct “if the voter and the voted are educated,” she said.
Applying visual test
In the case of candidates that voters choose only because they are the ones they see in movies or on TV, Santiago said the voters are only applying “a visual test to candidates.”
If the candidate 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 … (who will) continue their acting in the legislature,” she said.
Santiago said there are instances where actors voted to office “are acting as senators and 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,” she added.
Santiago has four colleagues in the Senate who were actors before they became senators: Senate President Pro Tempore Jinggoy Estrada, Majority Leader Tito Sotto and Senators Bong Revilla Jr. and Lito Lapid, the latter two being huge action stars.
Of course, the deposed President and convicted plunderer Joseph Estrada was a hugely popular movie star whose real and reel lives intersected on the public stage, beginning with the screen name by which he is largely known.
Revilla continues to make fantasy-based action movies that earn big at the tills while Sotto still hosts the noontime show “Eat Bulaga” on days when the Senate is not in session.
There are reports that Lapid will soon star in a teleserye based on his popular “Leon Guerrero” character in ABS-CBN.
Not all votes are equal
Santiago lamented that the democratic vision of “one person, one vote, one value” during elections has been largely wasted.
“If 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,” she said.
“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,” Santiago said.
She said she also supported the suggestion of the 19th-century British philosopher and political economist John Stuart Mill that the right to vote be limited to the literate, and that “we should increase the vote of the people with certain superior qualities.”
Mob democracy at work
The senator said her exposure to politics for the past 15 years has made her really anxious about what she perceives to be a “mob democracy” at work in the country.
“I am very anxious about the uneducated majority in the Philippines,” she said.
She said these conditions have created “election distortions” that eventually translate to undeserving candidates winning in the polls and the decision of the uneducated prevailing over that of the educated ones.
Santiago referred to her loss in the 1992 presidential election to former President Fidel Ramos. While she did not name Ramos directly, she talked about “the person who claimed that he won the presidential election (but who) was only a plurality president” in her speech.
She said the “most notorious” of all election distortions is “electoral corruption” committed by rich candidates.
And it does not help that the media also commit distortions, especially in playing up the images of those who can afford to place costly ads on TV.
She exhorted her student audience to begin a social media campaign that would encourage “smart voting among the uneducated” by insisting that candidates adhere to “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 favors the bills that I have filed such as the reproductive health bill, sin tax bill, Magna Carta for Internet Freedom bill and the freedom of information bill,” the senator said.
Santiago also urged the students to rally against “epal (credit-grabbing) candidates, political dynasties and premature campaigning.”