Why I am a Filipino Political Apathetic

People close to me or know me very well might have noticed that I sparingly talk or even voice out about politics. That’s because I became politically apathetic, a notch higher from being previously politically neutral.

The last time I casted my vote was in 2016 Philippine presidential elections. I voted the late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, even I am fully aware that her chances of taking Malacañang was light-years from possible. It was a vote of admiration for the late stateswoman. If not for that, I was close to voting for Roy Señeres which meant that my vote for President will be void as Señeres died months before the election.

From then on, I pledged to myself that I will never cast my vote until the Philippines move to a better political system. The current political system just presents itself to weaken the power of a single vote.

So what are the things that must come altogether before I cast my vote once again?

1. Let us return to the four-year term presidency.

If you did not know, presidents prior to the current 1987 Philippine Constitution have four-year terms and eligible for a single re-election, similar to the US presidential term limits. I came across somewhere that the framers of the 1987 Constitution were torn keeping the 1935 Consitution limits, notably saying that: “Four years is too short for a good president, but eight years is too long for a bad president.” Hence, they reached at a compromise of a single non-reelectable term of six years.

But six years is just too much power for a head of state. If the framers of the Constitution were confounded with the 1935 Constitution term limits, they should’ve kept it. Let the people decide if a president is worthy of a second term. Otherwise, give it to somebody else. This argument is beautifully executed during the 2020 US presidential elections.

A four-year presidency also prompts the President to act more swiftly to enact reforms. If we take out one election year, that will equate to pragmatically three years of implementing policies which a less popular President will feel the time pressure to get things done quickly and make a good impression for voters to earn the people’s approval of a second term.

The current six-year term, less two years of election season is too much of a giveaway for a sitting President to become lax to implement changes since he got much time in his hands. Even when that President is a good one, the head of state won’t feel any time pressure to get things done unless strong political will comes in which is not a guarantee.

2. Let the people vote for a tandem of a president and a vice-president.

The current independent voting mechanism for the president and vice-president has created many political cohabitation in Philippine election history. The last time that the President and Vice-President were from the same political party was during the heavily contested 2004 elections where former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and Vice-President Noli De Castro were both from Lakas-Kampi-CMD.

The two most powerful people in the country not coming from the same party present itself trouble since unanimity or collaboration between two heads than one is already lost. The situation only gets worse when politicking gets in the way. The Vice-President remains as “a spare tire”, just waiting for the President to be incapable to do his/her duty. At least in the United States, the Vice-President can break up an evenly divided Senate, which facilitates policy-building even in a deadlock.

3. Let the country run in a bipartisan political system.

While many bipartisan governments around the world lament over their lack of choice, the country should definitely adopt bipartisanship. You might not be thinking over it, but many instances in Philippine political history wherein bipartisanship proves its potential.

Did you even wonder if Mar Roxas and Grace Poe actually joined forces and ran over a single ticket, the Liberal Party could have regained the Palace if you will consider the total votes for them would have more than the votes cast for Rodrigo Duterte. And to emphasize the point, the number of votes alone will tell us that Duterte is actually a minority president, contrary to what the people think because he got the most votes. There are actually more people who did not vote for Duterte than actually who did. And that’s the problem with a multi-party system, the winner doesn’t always assure a clear mandate of the people when he/she do not get the majority to support having it.

Bipartisan politics compel voters, especially the undecided ones to pick their side. And most of the time, even with narrow margins, the winner from a bipartisan election gains a substantial majority of voters to earn that mandate to run a government.

It is not new for media to refer to the ruling parties in the Philippines as mere “Administration” and “Opposition”. And given many political butterflies, crossing the other side is easy as pie. Unlike in bipartisan politics, going against from the stance of your party is tantamount to betrayal or even treason for some. Bipartisan politics will compel our politicians to run where they really stand and not just run from themselves with no principle in mind or to hold on.

4. Let the Philippines adopt a unicameral Legislature.

How many times have you heard in the news that necessary legislation is taking its time just because the House and Senate cannot agree in the nitty-gritty details over a piece of legislation? Not to mention that there are still bicameral conferences after the Senate and House separately passed their versions of the same law before endorsing it to the President. What a waste of time and resources.

Let the country have a unicameral legislature and if we already secured a solid bipartisan politics, I am very sure that checks and balances will remain for crucial pieces of legislature. But for ministerial laws or much-needed amendments for decades-old unapplicable laws, a unicameral legislature will speed things up.

A unicameral legislature will actually force voters to choose their lawmakers wisely since a sweeping majority from a party they don’t prefer will be very catastrophic. In that way, voters will feel that they had their say in influencing pieces of legislature.

5. Let the Philippines adopt a federal system of government.

While the concept of federalism was popularized by Duterte, a leading lawmaker who actually pushed for federalism was the late-Senator Nene Pimentel.

Federalism just fits the multicultural nature of the country. We are very much aware that culture in the Cordilleras and the culture of the Moros differ greatly from the Christian majority. Federalism also allows these cultural groups to reap the benefits of their economic activity by keeping most of their revenues to the state and compel their state politicians to deliver. One worry about federalism is that states might become turfs of political dynasties. However, if a solid bipartisanship exists, these crooked politicians will have to choose a side and convince voters that they stand with what the party believes in. They cannot just bring their family name into the race and get an easy fight. A solid bipartisan also gives opportunity for dissenting voices to have a place in mainstream politics.

You might feel that I am asking too much but I am a political apathetic not because of sheer indifference. The system is inherently inefficient that I feel my vote won’t make any voice until the system incentivizes judicious political decisions.