Crossing thresholds

SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. - The Philippine Star

In a representative democracy, the question of who can run and who can vote has always been a thorny issue. Like most constitutional provisions, Article V on Suffrage is couched in simple and straightforward language. Like most provisions, also, it hides a complex history. In truth, suffrage belongs to a course on advanced citizenship.

The literacy requirement for suffrage was not originally meant to exclude the unschooled. From US constitutional history, imported together with the constitution we mimicked, we learn that the original literacy barrier was used for discriminatory ends. It was not intended for caucasian voters since “whites” could vote even if illiterate if their grandfathers held the franchise. The “no read, no write = no vote” rule was really code for disenfranchising African Americans, Native Americans, Latinos and Asians. Same with the property requirements. Non-whites were largely unschooled and not propertied.

Former Senate President Nene Pimentel and former Bohol Governor Victor de la Serna, members of the President’s consultative committee on constitutional change, have suggested that this literacy bar is not high enough, both for voting and to be voted for. They want educated candidates and educated voters. I can see now the next frontier: lowering the voting/candidacy age or imposing a ceiling for old voters/candidates.  

Foundational challenges. These propositions are interesting but they require empirical data and acceptable measures to prove the correlations between education/age and better public service; education/age and intelligent voting. That’s if we hurdle the threshold challenge of limiting a right that should be available to all in a democracy. Social contract or no, everyone is affected by the actions of elected representatives. Both the learned and the ignorant, equally. Hence, the equal right for everyone to vote, with a minimum of qualifications.

Don’t look now but theirs are not voices in the wilderness. It looks like the committee, and the con-ass or con-con has their work cut out for them. Federalism may yet turn out to be the least contentious of all the topics for debate. 

Ninos inocentes. The Dengvaxia fiasco has severely tested our faith in government, and shaken our core beliefs in the benefits of immunization. With Sanofi stonewalling on owning up to liability, we are primed for a highly public forensic examination of this latest strain of the corruption virus.

We should monitor developments in the Congressional hearings. Enough of attempts to scare people and point fingers of blame. We’re way past our panic threshold.

At this point, we benefit more from composure and understanding what went wrong. Greed and avarice need not be explained. But if its price is to negligently or deliberately put a generation of children in harm’s way, surely we need to know how we can protect ourselves in the future. 

Vanishing breed. The rate of civil annulments of marriage has risen exponentially in the past 17 years – we’ve seen a 40 percent hike (at least) from 2000. The stats of couples getting married has also been consistently decreasing – for 2005 to 2015, a drop of more than 20 percent. The Constitution enshrines marriage as the foundation of the family and mandates its protection by the State. Yet these numbers indicate the rapid erosion of that foundation.

With the latest Office of the Solicitor General’s report (2015) showing 96 percent of civil annulment cases ultimately granted, we may see in our lifetime that vanishing point for marital unions: no one getting married, no one staying married. In schools, children of married couples would be the odd ones out.

Violable. 203 members of the Lower House voted for H.B. 6779, the bill that gives legal effect to church annulments of marriage. A 96 percent civil annulment success rate behooves us to ask the question: what is H.B. 6779 meant to accomplish except to further speed up the annulment process? Yet none of the Congressmen were interested to know how this is consistent with the State’s constitutional mandate to protect the institution of marriage as an inviolable social institution.

The authors also invoke equal protection because the code of Muslim law, based on Shariah law, recognizes divorce. As worded, however, the bill is also open to constitutional challenge on, ironically, the very same equal protection grounds. It creates a favored class in religious unions, excluding purely civil ones. While all couples, regardless of religion, are subject to the same requirements for getting into a marriage, this bill makes it easier, depending on religion, to get out of one. 

The third constitutional challenge is the most obvious: separation of church and state.

Two hundred three Congressmen voted. No dissents. This should be a weather vane of where a con-ass would take this issue of State policy on marriage and family. Who knows? Maybe a new constitution would impose a literacy requirement for marriage.

Therapus wrecks. The nation had front row seats last Tuesday to a demolition derby, Pinoy style. Car enthusiasts would likely refer to it as the pre-Valentine’s day massacre. Thirty luxury, high end, pre-owned (three were brand new) vehicles went from 60 to 0 in a matter of minutes. Sixty as in P60 million.

This was not some therapeutic release for someone who needed anger management. It’s the classic one step backward, two steps forward pasa doble. Smuggled vehicles used to be auctioned off for additional revenues for government. Do we really know if the bids would cover the vehicles’ actual market value? Not fire sale prices where the smuggler even participates and ends up owning the car anyway? 

The President is right. The old way incentivized, rather than disincentivizing smuggling. Bring it. Anyway, if caught, you win it back cheap at auction. Duties were avoided by the simple tactic of undervaluation and false declaration.

Senate President Koko Pimentel suggests the auction of vehicles to collectors abroad. But isn’t that same dog, different collar? It still incentivizes smuggling but with the foreign collector benefitting instead of the local importer. For luxury vehicles, Duterte style tough love is the better way.

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