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The three ‘ronins’ mark decay of Philippine political system

This has never happened before, and something like this would be laughed at if it happened in any other presidential system in the world.

Three senators – Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., Antonio Trillanes 3rd, and Alan Peter Cayetano – have declared or will be declaring that they are running for vice president in next year’s elections as “independents.” That’s a very kind term for what they are: candidates who either have been rejected by viable presidential candidates (in Cayetano and Trillanes’ case) or “cant’ get along” with one (Marcos, apparently).

Their desperation for a higher post is pathetic.

One word that describes them best is that old Japanese term from the feudal era for masterless samurai warriors – ronins. Romantic as that may sound, remember that the Japanese equivalent of the mafia, the Yakuza, traces its origin to ronin.

Where are they getting the gall to ask us, the voters, to elect them to the second highest office of the land, or become de facto President in the event of death, resignation, or removal from office of the elected President, who dislikes them and with whom they disagree on basic principles of governance?

They are exploiting our broken political system, for all or one of the following ulterior, selfish motives:

• To feed their inflated egos, especially in Trillanes’ and Cayetano’s cases, by elevating themselves to a higher post – that of the vice presidency;

• To use the vice presidency to heighten their name-recall, before they aim for the Presidency in 2022; and

• As an excuse to get funds from businessmen, a big part of which they’d just use for their own personal savings.

“Master less”? Marcos, Cayetano, and Trillanes
“Master less”? Marcos, Cayetano, and Trillanes

There is, of course, another major reason for running as Vice President: If anything happens to the President, they’d be winning the political equivalent of the lotto, and in this case – given the average lifespan of Filipinos – the odds aren’t really too high.

The US learned early enough in its history – in 1804 to be precise – that its previous system of declaring the winning candidate with the most number of votes as the President and the runner-up as Vice President, would result in a President and a Vice President coming from opposing parties. That could increase the likelihood of continuous infighting in the highest levels of government. The 12th amendment to the US Constitution was passed in 1804, which, through a complex system of electoral colleges of electors, made voters choose only the President, who designates his vice presidential candidate.

By making it a “package-deal” of sorts, that they vote for the President with his Vice President, this system made sure that the vice presidency would be treated as a serious, crucial post, and the Vice President would have all – or at least most – of the qualifications for replacing the President. Isn’t that a necessary requirement to ensure the continuity of a Republic in case its President is incapacitated?

The other benefit of such a system is that taxpayers’ money and talent are not wasted. Since the Vice President really fulfills his job description only when the President is incapacitated, he is given other crucial tasks “in the meantime” – a Cabinet post, and under the US Constitution the Senate president, although a non-voting one.

In our case, the warning that our system of direct vote for the President and the Vice President could be a big problem occurred in 1957, when for the first time, the vice presidential candidate of the Liberal Party, Diosdado Macapagal, won although it was the opposing Nacionalista Party’s Carlos P. Garcia who was elected President.

The decision of President Cory Aquino and the drafters of the 1987 Constitution not to revive the pre-martial law two-party system meant in practice that parties no longer mattered, only personalities.

That became the norm for the election of Presidents and Vice Presidents from opposing coalitions during the polls.

Losing presidential candidate Eduardo Cojuangco’s running mate, Joseph Estrada, won as Vice President in 1992. The winner, President Fidel Ramos, however, tried to make use of him, and appointed him as his anti-crime czar, a practice his successors followed. Losing presidential candidate Jose de Venecia’s VP running mate, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, won in 1998, and was given the post of social welfare and development secretary by Joseph Estrada.

Only the victory of Arroyo and her running mate, Noli de Castro, in 2004 broke that dominant pattern of post-martial law national elections. In 2010, Jejomar Binay, the guest candidate of losing candidate Estrada, won as Vice President, and was given the post of chairman of the Housing Urban Development Coordinating Council.

Did this mean that our system worked, that presidents and vice presidents of opposing parties worked harmoniously? Certainly not, it was more of that Machiavellian keep-your-enemies-close-to-you idea. Worse, it lulled us into thinking that nothing’s wrong with our system of choosing the highest two officials of the land.

What all these meant was that for the winning Vice President, it didn’t matter who won the Presidency. Something’s deeply wrong with that, a prescription for continuous infighting at the highest levels of our government.

This is especially so as celebrity politics – the power of name recall – without the gauntlet of a party system to expose their idiocy, now tends to make it easier for demagogues and celebrities to get votes in national elections. We may yet see the day when the likes of Kris Aquino, Vice Ganda, or Yaya Dub become Vice President.

After all, their “pakiusap” will not be for you to vote them to the presidency, but “just” to the vice presidency, which is what Marcos, Cayetano, and Trillanes, and Leni Robredo are really all asking you to do.

The three ronins have taken the post-martial law pattern to its most absurd level: They’ll run for Vice President, the heck with whoever wins the presidency.

Isn’t it so pathetic for Cayetano and Trillanes – who served Aquino well as his attack dogs against Binay – to be rejected by him, and then run for Vice President without a presidential running mate? For Marcos it is a tragedy: Obviously he hasn’t got the political smarts his father had.

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