Relevant experience as qualification for the presidency


The current system of choosing the presidential candidates to lead the nation is provided in the 1987 Constitution.

In the 2022 election year, the electorate has to choose from five major candidates for president who have been vetted by the Commission on Elections. (Actually, Comelec has included 10 candidates to be printed on the ballot, but the other five will not get any substantial votes, so for all that, they are essentially a nuisance.)

Relevant public experience of candidates. If relevant experience in public office is an important qualification in the making of a successful leader, how would the five candidates – in alphabetical sequence, Panfilo Lacson, Bongbong Marcos, Isko Moreno, Manny Paquiao, and Leni Robredo – fare comparatively with each other as they face the election year in this regard?

Briefly, I will say that only three of them possess adequate and relevant experience. Mayor Isko Moreno and Manny Paquiao are lacking in that credential.

Moreno is only on his first year as mayor of Manila and cannot claim success and big achievements in that role. It is too early to tell. Prior to his election in this position, his political experience was as a councilor in the municipal board and as a one termer vice-mayor.

Paquiao is, well, a world class boxer who is revered by Filipinos, including myself. But he was mostly absent in his legislative duties as congressman and senator while training and fighting in the ring until recently, when he retired from boxing.

For the rest of the column, I will explain in historical context why or how we confront this situation as an electorate. Then I will comment on the preparatory qualifications of the previous presidents in comparison to the 2022 candidates.

The weakened party system after 1987. After the People Power revolution, the 1987 Constitution reset the political process of Philippine democratic practice by broadening the party system.

As Article IX, section 6, on the Commission on Elections provided: “A free and open party system shall be allowed to evolve according to the free choice of the people.”

Further, on the provisions of the membership of the House of Representatives, aside from the representation of regions of the country by the standard rules of proportional representation, some members of Congress (not to exceed 20 percent of them) would come from a system of party-list. The provision for a party-list system of registered national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations representing labor, peasant, urban poor, cultural minorities, etc. would be developed.

Several consequences of these provisions have reshaped the political practices and landscape of Philippine politics. (1) The dominant party system – or the two-party system – has evaporated. (2) The political parties or groupings and alliances increase in numbers. (3) But party alliances are mainly points of convenience that could easily be broken. (4) At the end of an election, party alliances shift toward the winner; “balimbings,” or party-changings, happen in big numbers so that the elected leader gets convenient support to pursue his programs. This has happened regularly after each presidential election, but most acutely during the presidencies of Fidel Ramos, and of Rodrigo Duterte.

(5) Toward the end of a presidential term, these alliances break up and the ambitious politicians position themselves for a potential electoral run for high office. (6) The opening of candidacies for high office becomes possible through self-selection since political party groupings can be controlled by dominant politicians or political families.

Relevant experience of early presidents. Under the 1935 Constitution where all presidential elections before 1965 were undertaken, a more limited process of selecting candidates for the principal offices of the land was in place. A potential candidate for president had to win the nomination by a major party. In that context, it was not easy to become a candidate.

Under that setup, it was customary to have two parties because those opposed to the policies of one party would normally put up an alternative political party. If there were more opinions, third parties were also tolerated. However, their chances of winning in an election were often low.

In our young democracy, relevant political experience as preparation for high office has declined greatly if we are to judge the profiles of most presidential candidates from the first time the Filipino nation engaged in presidential electoral politics in 1935 under the Commonwealth when Manuel Quezon became the first popularly elected president.

Quezon was the quintessential highly qualified political leader before he became president. He had distinguished himself through many years of political experience as a local leader before he sought the office in 1935. He had experienced decades of political trench warfare against other astute local political leaders. He also spent more than a decade as Philippine resident commissioner in the US Congress where he learned much about US politics in action through participation (as a non-voting Philippine delegate) and through observation.

All the Philippine presidents after Quezon, with a few exceptions, were exceptional political leaders with varied long experience in public office. In general, the contest for the presidency in our electoral politics in those early days was undertaken by candidates who had tested themselves in public office before seeking the highest prize.

Two early exceptions because of their limited political experience before becoming president were Ramon Magsaysay and Diosdado Macapagal. Magsaysay was a guerilla leader who was elected to Congress after the war. His most intense preparation on public office was when he served as defense secretary. He was drafted to run for president after that by the Nacionalista party in the election of 1953.

Macapagal’s prior political office was that of congressman when he was drafted to become the successful vice-presidential running-mate of Jose Yulo who lost the presidency in 1957. He became president by defeating Carlos P. Garcia under whom he served as vice president in the succeeding election cycle of 1961.

The big break in presidential electoral experience as far as preparation for political office came in the snap election of 1986. In that election, Corazon Aquino, with practically no background in political preparation except as the wife of the late Ninoy Aquino, became the challenger to Ferdinand Marcos. This election set the stage for the People Power revolution.

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For archives of previous Crossroads essays, go to: https://www.philstar.com/authors/1336383/gerardo-p-sicat. Visit this site for more information, feedback and commentary: http://econ.upd.edu.ph/gpsicat/


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