Looking for a Better System

The Philippines is a young democracy. We are still finding ways and systems that best suit the needs of our nation. I wrote a letter to the Inquirer: a suggestion to improve the way we choose our presidents. The paper printed it and here it is.

It’s election time again. And the dominant media topic is the political exercise of choosing our public officials. Many opinions about the defects in our electoral system have been articulated.

As a priest, I don’t want to engage in partisan acts or endorse any political party, policy or candidate. I would just like to comment on one defect, which I think should be remedied because it defeats a very basic principle of democracy.

I’m referring to our current system of choosing our president. We usually have several—three, four or five—presidential candidates who are viable—meaning, they could muster sufficient number of votes to win the contest. In recent past, we had presidents who got to Malacañang by simply garnering the most number, but short of 50 percent, of votes cast.

I suggest the following reforms: First, there should be a process of screening and choosing the candidates for president; second, the process should end with only two candidates being presented to the people. This way, either of the two is sure to get more than 50 percent of votes cast.

We become the laughingstock of the world when our system churns out 130 candidates for president, and only then is the Commission on Elections thinking of how to screen them. I think the screening should have been done before they are allowed to file. We are so strict about giving licenses to doctors, lawyers, engineers, teachers and accountants, or with the qualifications of persons occupying appointive executive positions in government. But we do not have qualifying exams for those want to be president. A doctor can affect only so many lives, but a president, with a single decision, can affect the lives of millions of Filipinos.

The second requirement is just a logical result of the process that ensures the election of a majority president.

It is not my intention and neither is it within my capacity to flesh out the mechanics of the reforms I am suggesting. That is the work of our country’s lawmakers and jurists. What I am pointing out is that our electoral system is very flawed, such that our elections look like circuses. We must seriously think of reforming it.

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