Choos­ing sen­a­tors


Four out of ev­ery 10 adults sur­veyed by Pulse Asia last De­cem­ber said they had al­ready picked the 12 Se­nate as­pi­rants they would vote for in May 2019. That’s im­pres­sive.

In the midst of all their hol­i­day obli­ga­tions and er­rands, these adults had found the time and en­ergy to think about who, from a field of 70 as­pi­rants, de­served their sup­port. Al­though I was not among the sur­vey re­spon­dents, I would be in the same boat as one per­cent of vot­ers in the Visayas who have cho­sen only three as­pi­rants so far.

Of my three early choices, two were not among the top 20 as­pi­rants in that sur­vey, and a more prag­matic in­di­vid­ual might say that vot­ing for them would be a waste of my bal­lot. I dis­agree. Since I have nei­ther a busi­ness nor a po­lit­i­cal ca­reer to pro­tect, I am free to choose can­di­dates whose qual­i­fi­ca­tions and track records are con­sis­tent with my val­ues and my hopes for this coun­try. I don’t have to vote for personal ad­van­tage, as sanc­ti­mo­nious as that may sound.

I wish the Pulse Asia team had asked their re­spon­dents what made them de­cide to sup­port the as­pi­rants who’d landed on their personal lists. How, for ex­am­ple, did 49 per­cent of re­spon­dents in so­cioe­co­nomic class E or the 52 per­cent of re­spon­dents in Min­danao se­lect the 12 per­sons they’ll vote for this year? What cri­te­ria did they set? What were their deal-break­ers? How did they get the in­for­ma­tion on which their de­ci­sions rested?

Of po­ten­tial deal-break­ers in the sen­a­to­rial elec­tions, I have two, so far. First, I think the Se­nate’s abil­ity to check any abuse of ex­ec­u­tive power is cru­cial, so I will not vote for can­di­dates whose pro­nounce­ments and track records sug­gest that they will prob­a­bly not choose to ques­tion any of Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte’s ac­tions or leg­isla­tive priorities. That au­to­mat­i­cally re­moves two as­pi­rants from my list.

Se­cond, I have doubts about the sound­ness of ex­tend­ing mar­tial law in Min­danao un­til the end of De­cem­ber 2019. It smacks of horse-trad­ing, and I sus­pect that some of those who voted for it did so in the in­ter­est of po­lit­i­cal sur­vival and not be­cause it was some­thing the coun­try truly needed. Un­for­tu­nately, five of the seven sen­a­tors who are run­ning for re­elec­tion voted to ex­tend mar­tial law for an­other year. Three of them are on my short list, but I shall have to re­view their ac­com­plish­ments and pub­lic pro­nounce­ments more thor­oughly be­fore de­cid­ing whether to vote for them or not.

Among the is­sues the Se­nate will have to grap­ple with are con­sti­tu­tional re­form (par­tic­u­larly the shift to a fed­eral govern­ment) and tax re­form. As­pi­rants with ex­per­tise in these ar­eas—or at least the hu­mil­ity and in­tel­li­gence to con­sult oth­ers who are more in­formed than they are—will prob­a­bly gain my vote. An­other is­sue I will have to study are the as­pi­rants’ po­si­tions on the dis­pute over the West Philip­pine Sea.

The ex­clu­sions were eas­ier to de­cide. This year, I am not vot­ing for any ac­tor, not be­cause they are ac­tors, but be­cause this par­tic­u­lar cast has shown no out­stand­ing qual­i­fi­ca­tions that would make them wor­thy of a place in the Se­nate. And their in­tegrity would get only mixed re­views, at best.

An­other cri­te­rion for ex­clu­sion is the as­pi­rant’s po­si­tion on the rule of law, ac­count­abil­ity, and hu­man rights. Any­one who has dis­missed these ideals, by their words (in­clud­ing jokes) or ac­tions, is au­to­mat­i­cally off my list. So, too, is any­one who has tried to gloss over the atroc­i­ties of mar­tial law un­der Fer­di­nand Mar­cos.

Free­dom and equal­ity form “the moral core of mod­ern lib­eral democ­racy,” the au­thor Fran­cis Fukuyama wrote in his 2018 book “Iden­tity: Con­tem­po­rary Iden­tity Pol­i­tics and the Strug­gle for Recog­ni­tion.” While there’s still time, let’s think about the choices we’ll need to make in less than four months, as free and equal cit­i­zens with “the abil­ity to share in the ex­er­cise of power.”

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