For vice president no more

AS EASY AS ABC - The Philippine Star

President Aquino himself said during an interview at the APEC Summit not to expect fireworks from candidates until after the Christmas season. He said the season brings goodwill and the candidates will be feeling kind and magnanimous, but expect an all-out war among them as we usher in 2016. He may just be right about the Christmas mood despite the duel challenges that no one took seriously. The duel challenges started with a challenge against a candidate’s résumé. What I veer to however is not what candidates voluntarily disclose but what they do not, as they are considered not legally obliged to do so even by implementers of the law.

What is the true state of health of an individual running for president? The current school of thought is that the Commission on Elections is only mandated to implement election laws and there is nothing in the law that requires aspirants for public office to submit validated information about their state of health. After all, individuals in general have a right to privacy and one’s medical circumstances is about as private as it could get.

What election history has shown us is that, at least in the relatively recent past, two losing candidates succumbed to illness soon after the presidential election. Loneliness that a lost presidential bid can bring is a killer. One died of a stroke, but one died from the big C (God bless their souls). They could have won.

The current presidential lineup, already unfortunately marred by possible disqualifications, is not exactly spotless, medically speaking. Who knows the real story anyway? What we know is that one candidate is potentially now already stricken with the fatal C, one candidate has a serious heart ailment that can limit his lifespan, and one candidate was rumored to have a kidney problem.

It is a malady in itself to say that these presidential candidates cannot be required to disclose their medical condition. What good can presidential credentials be, if God forbid, they are not able to serve their mandates due to undisclosed illness? It is not only sad; it is large scale deception through non-disclosure to the uninformed public who become the real losers. Such disclosure is a moral obligation that we cannot expect candidates courting for votes to fulfill. Indeed, nothing is expressed in the election law that requires candidates to disclose this arguably private matter. They are, however, so vested with public interest that they become legally accessible to the public.

The Philippine Constitution expressly states in Article III, Section 7 that “The right of the people to information on matters of public concern shall be recognized”. These are not just adornments to our most important law; they are important words. The Election Code and related laws may not expressly state so, but I believe they are inherent powers of the Commission incidental to validating the eligibility of presidential candidates and protecting public interest. They may not be disqualified under the law, but the public should know what they are bargaining for. The public will then appreciate more that the vice-presidential candidate does not only complete the ticket – that may be their very vote for president in this term. No one really pays much attention to spare tires in their cars. That’s because they may never be needed anyway, and you can go back to your original tire once it’s fixed. Not quite for a VP who permanently replaces and becomes the president.

The same requirement of disclosure applies to pending cases filed against the candidate. Sure, unless they are convicted with finality of an offense punishable by life imprisonment, they can still run for office. Civil rights and political rights run parallel. We’ve seen political figures jailed but are still senators, for instance, pending trial. But they can only move within the corners of their cells and therefore cannot fully discharge their functions even if they still have the political titles. This can happen to a winning presidential candidate who gets incarcerated later on serious crimes, and then of course the VP takes over. Are cases filed against them important disclosures? Yes, to avoid a mockery of the election process.

It is ironic though, that sometimes, worse than being uninformed could be being informed. They say if you forget history, it will be as if it never happened. What could be worse is that one does not forget history, but rather fully remembers what corrupt leaders can do to our country, but elects them to office anyway, and then history repeats itself. Indeed, our choices are not ideal. It has become the battle not of the most qualified, but the battle between lesser evils. While reflecting this Christmas and New Year on presidential and vice-presidential candidates, may we “gift” ourselves and our children with choices that can preserve our nation’s newfound hope and brilliant future, and certainly not those that can steer us back to the dark parts of our history.

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Alexander B. Cabrera is the chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. Email your comments and questions to aseasyasABC@ph.pwc.com. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.

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