The dysfunctionality of the American and Philippine political systems can best be comprehended in their contrasting definitions of political compromise. In one system, it’s a sin; in the other, a virtue.
In Washington DC last September 17, the US Senate voted 58 to 40 to pass the American Veterans Jobs Bill that would provide $1 billion over 5 years to create a Veterans Job Corps that would put tens of thousands of veterans back to work at a time when one in four of them are unemployed.
On March 29, 2012, the US Senate voted 51-47 to remove $4 billion in annual tax breaks to the big oil companies at a time when these companies are reaping record profits and have no need for this form of “corporate welfare”.
On April 16, 2012, the Senate voted 51 – 45 to pass the Buffet Rule which requires that people making over $1 million a year should pay at least 30% in taxes. It was named after billionaire Warren Buffet who complained that his secretary was paying more in taxes, as a percentage of her gross income, than he was.
On December 18, 2010, the Senate voted overwhelmingly (55-41) in favor of the Dream Act that would allow undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children to gain legal status. One Filipino American newspaper estimated the number of Filipino children in the US who would benefit from this bill at 500,000.
Though all these bills received the votes of the majority of senators, they failed to pass because the Republicans in each instance invoked the cloture rule that required a vote of 60 senators to avoid a Republican filibuster.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell candidly explained to Fox News’ Bret Baier that his goal from the first day of President Barack Obama’s administration has been to make him a one-term president. “That’s my single most important political goal, along with every active Republican in the country,” he said. More important to Sen. McConnell than getting the US economy back on track or providing jobs to millions of unemployed Americans.
Political scientist Barbara Sinclair reported that during the 1960s, threatened or actual filibusters affected only 8 percent of major legislation in the US Senate. By the 1980s, it had risen to 27 percent. But under President Obama, Republican filibusters have soared to over 70 percent.
In sharp contrast to the uncompromising take-no-prisoners attitude of US Republicans, the candidates of the major Philippine political parties are interchangeable and their principles highly flexible.
On October 1, Philippine President Benigno S. Aquino III unveiled his administration’s National Unity Party (NUP) senatorial slate composed of candidates from a loose amalgamation of political parties (Liberal, Akbayan, Nacionalista, Nationalist People’s Coalition and Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino).
The administration slate includes: Rep. Cynthia Villar, the wife of Aquino’s 2010 presidential opponent, Sen. Manny Villar; Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, the son of the late Sen. Rene Cayetano, and brother of Sen. Pia Cayetano; Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, son of Sen. Edgardo Angara; former Sen. Ramon Magsaysay II, the son of former president Ramon Magsaysay; Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, the son of former Sen. Nene Pimentel; and Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV, the nephew of Aquino.
On that same day, Vice-President Jejomar “Jojo”Binay unveiled his own United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) senatorial slate which included Rep. Jack Enrile, the son of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile; Rep. JV Ejercito, the son of former Pres. Joseph Estrada and brother of Sen. Jinggoy Estrada; and Binay’s own daughter, Nancy Binay (a late addition).
Each slate boasts its own notorious coup plotter with Sen. Gringo Honasan – who led 7 coup attempts against President Corazon “Cory” Aquino from 1997 to 1999 – on the Binay slate and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV-who plotted a military coup in 2003 against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo – on Aquino’s ticket. This just proves that if you want to be a Philippine senator, plot a coup.
Both slates include three common candidates: Sen. Chiz Escudero, Sen. Loren Legarda, and Mary Grace Poe-Llamanzares, the daughter of 2004 presidential candidate Fernando Poe, Jr.
None of the candidates from either slate hails from the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which once again leaves out a significant portion of the country’s population from participating in the political bargaining table of the senate.
Aside from the common candidates, both slates are composed almost entirely of members of the political dynasties that have dominated Philippine politics for four decades. This practice is in violation of Article II Section 26 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution which states that: “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.”
Conveniently for the dynasts who dominate the Philippine Congress, no enabling legislation that defines political dynasties has ever passed and likely never will. There have been noble attempts in the past to pass such legislation, notably Senate Bill 2649 (sponsored by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago) which would prohibit any spouse or person related to the second degree of an incumbent elective official seeking re-election from holding or running for any elective office in the same province in the same election.
If such a bill had passed, more than half of the current crop of senate candidates would be disqualified. Such a law would also affect Jinkee Pacquiao, the wife of Sarangani Rep. Manny “Pacman” Pacquiao, who filed her papers to run for Vice-Governor of Sarangani Province when she accompanied her husband to the local office of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) when he filed to run for reelection.
Among the rare exceptions in the dynast-ridden senate slates is former Akbayan party-list Rep. Rissa Baraquel-Hontiveros, an activist opposed to China’s annexation of the Scarborough Shoal, who, incredibly, is running on the same NUP slate as Sen. Trillanes, China’s “Manchurian candidate”, according to Senate President Enrile.
What is the difference between the senate slates of the administration and the opposition?
Aquino claims that his slate is composed of NUP allies who would ensure the passage of his legislative agenda. But the opposition’s secretary general, Rep. Tobias Tiangco, described his UNA senate slate as composed of candidates “whose support for the reform agenda of Aquino is beyond doubt.”
Politics is the art of compromise. The dysfunction in US politics is the gridlock-inducing lack of any willingness to compromise. The dysfunction in Philippine politics is the opportunistic prevalence of total compromise.
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