The Manila Times - VP election recount: A proving ground for PH democracy

22 April 2017

By Yen Makabenta | The Manila Times 

First word
HERODOTUS, the Greek historian who is considered the father of history, defined a political democracy as “the rule of the people.” This definition of democracy as a process of selecting governments is widely used by scholars.

In The Third Wave, his landmark study of the three waves of democracy in world history, the eminent political scientist Samuel P. Huntington explains why this Greek conception of democracy abides:

“Elections, open, free and fair, are the essence of democracy, the inescapable sine qua non. Governments produced by elections may be inefficient, corrupt, shortsighted, irresponsible, dominated by special interests, and incapable of adopting policies demanded by the public good. These qualities make such governments undesirable, but they do not make them undemocratic. Democracy is one public virtue, not the only one, and the relation of democracy to other public virtues and vices can only be understood if democracy is clearly distinguished from the other characteristics of political systems.”

In his book, Huntington lists the Philippines as a democracy that emerged during the second wave of democratization at the end of World War II. But he also cited the Philippines as a democracy which was reversed in the course of its development – in much the same way that the advanced democracies of Europe at one time also experienced reversals.

I had this thought in mind in choosing the vice-presidential election protest before the Supreme Court as the subject of my column today. The subject is in the news. The issue is timely and urgent.

A year after 2016 elections
In 19 days, on May 10, a year will have already passed since the Filipino nation held its last presidential, vice- presidential, legislative and local government elections

It is not just another day in the calendar. It signifies a world of difference for many. For the contending parties in the vice-presidential election protest, it dramatizes the length of time that has been frittered away by the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) without bringing the VP electoral contest to resolution. For the individual citizen, it is an acute reminder that the 2016 elections were not conducted forthrightly by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) with the connivance of Smartmatic.

For losing candidates in the 2016 balloting, the date means that they can now be legally considered for appointment to a post in the government service, from the Cabinet to the bureaucracy to the foreign service – to anyplace where the President‘s appointing power has potency.

By May 10 also, there will be an acute sense of urgency and public concern about the vice-presidential election protest of former senator and vice-presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., who contends that he was illegally deprived of victory at the polls through the fraudulent tabulation of the election returns, and that the proclaimed victory of Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo is a miscarriage of the people’s will, and the result of deliberate manipulation by the past administration of Benigno S. Aquino III.

All requirements for the hearing process and election recount to move forward have been met. Marcos has filed the necessary papers and evidentiary bases for his protest before the high court. He deposited the initial sum of P36 million on April 17 as ordered by the court. Significantly, VP Robredo has failed to comply with the deadline for her own payment of costs involved in the protest.

The real factor that is now preventing the process from moving forward is the trepidation of some about the possible result or protest outcome.

Most Filipinos, if asked, will readily say that they want the high court to move resolutely forward and resolve this case once and for all – by deciding through a ballot recount who actually won the vice- presidential election on May 9, 2016 by the majority vote of the Filipino people.

You would think that by now, with almost an entire year passed, every Filipino, including Vice President Robredo herself and her supporters, would want the issue to be resolved. The very idea that the protest could outlive you is too scary to behold. Better to let the end come now than to spend your energies stonewalling what is inevitable.

I have no wish to sweet-talk Leni into giving way for the recount to proceed. I will only point out that her official stance, exemplified by the dilatory tactics and maneuvers employed by her lawyers, has painted her in a bad way before the public. She is perceived as a consequence as a usurper of the vice presidency.

Unless her electoral victory is vindicated by the electoral tribunal, she could face a fate similar to that of the Wandering Jew — the man in the legend who is said to have taunted Jesus on the way to the Crucifixion and was then cursed to walk the earth until the Second Coming.

Biting the bullet or a duty to the nation
Bongbong Marcos and his camp do not suffer from the same stigma.

Marcos was faulted at first for refusing to concede defeat in the election, and for filing an election protest instead. The yellow cult and the Liberals urged him to be a gentleman and yield. They wanted him to follow the example of US Vice President Al Gore, who in the cliffhanger election contest with George W. Bush, involving some chad votes in Florida, opted to “bite the bullet” for the sake of his country by conceding to Bush and accepting the Supreme Court ruling on the contest.

Marcos is under no compulsion whatsoever to make such a sacrifice for the country. Indeed, it is felt by a good majority of Filipinos that pursuing the election protest is a duty on his part. Many fervently believe that the election fraud and vote manipulation in 2016 were too brazen and rampant to be forgiven. They hope that the ballot recount, when undertaken by the high court, will show how Comelec and the entire apparatus of government were mobilized to execute President Aquino’s order to prevent a Marcos victory. There are those who also believe that the VP ballot recount will lead to a similar recount of the voting in the senatorial elections. Many do not believe that Senator Leila de Lima, the 12th placer in the Senate election, won her seat fairly.

Supreme Court must act
I will make bold to urge the honorable justices of the Supreme Court and the electoral tribunal, to transform the hearing of the Marcos election protest into a proving ground for our democracy.

With all due respect, I urge the justices to:
1. Use this opportunity to inquire into the extent of Smartmatic‘s influence on the election results, and how specific actions it illegally took may have distorted the results of the balloting.

2. Use the protest hearing as an instrument for inquiring into how the National treasury was used by the past administration to influence the results of the election.

3. Utilize the protest hearing as an opportunity to review the work of the Commission on Elections. Is it really up to the task of conducting free and fair elections in our country? Can it stand independently from the administration during a national election, in the same way that election bodies do in advanced democracies?

All this is to say that the high court justices should approach the task of hearing the Marcos election protest in total disinterestedness and impartiality, each justice forgetting for once which President appointed him or her to the high court, and acknowledging no obligation but the service of the common good and the nation.

No instrumentality of government can write finis to the great question of the vice presidency in the way that the Supreme Court can.

When it concludes the process and rules, the nation will hear and all will obey.

The nation will have a legitimate and functioning vice president. Considering the rigors and emotional toll of the protest, President Duterte will not be loath to give her or him an assignment in his administration.