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SEARCH FOR TRUTH - Ernesto P. Maceda Jr. (The Philippine Star) - October 24, 2020 - 12:00am

For several minutes Thursday night, the most powerful man in the world was not the Republican President debating a former Democrat Vice President at Belmont University in Nashville. Rather, it was the technician who worked the controls on muting the candidates’ mikes.

To avoid a replay of the first US presidential debate’s raucous, unmitigated interruptions of opponent’s spiels, the non-partisan Debate Commission mandated that in each candidate’s two-minute opening statement per segment, only the speaker’s microphone will be “hot.” The other will be muted. Thus, the man who controls the President’s microphone effectively shuts the President’s mouth.

Scenarios like this, where even the strongest in the room yields to the weakest, prove to the world why the American showcase of law’s supremacy is the enduring benchmark.

The rule proved unnecessary as President Donald Trump and Vice President Joseph Biden debated on good behavior. The evening’s best exchange was on the response to the pandemic. Trump touted that people were learning to live with the coronavirus. Biden countered: “People are learning to live with it? People are learning to die with it.”

The great equalizer. Presidential debates are a defining feature of the elections we grew up with since the first one in 1935 won by Manuel L. Quezon. Historically, the Tejeros convention face-off between Emilio Aguinaldo and Andres Bonifacio was our first presidential election. But only Katipuneros voted.

Elections continue to be litmus tests of democracy, the reflections of our true faces. America boasts of the freest but they don’t always get everyone to the polls. Hence, the continued campaigns to get out the vote. At Trump v. Clinton in 2016, only 55.5 percent turned out. In contrast, at our 2016 presidential elections, 81 percent voted.

Elections in the middle of a pandemic? Who would’ve thunk? The logistical challenges are mind boggling. But the system corrected itself. Elections commissions have facilitated mail-in and early voting. At least 84 percent of eligible voters will be able to mail in their votes. The polls have also opened early for in-person voting in certain states in response to crowding concerns.

Historically, those most vociferous in asserting their individual rights have not matched rhetoric with ink on ballot. But in jurisdictions with early voting, the results have been extraordinary, specially at a time like this. “It’s unprecedented,” per Prof. Michael McDonald of the United States Election Project. “Ten times more mail ballots have been returned than at this point in 2016 and twice as many people have voted in-person.”

Battlegrounds. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, among others, which all swung for Trump in 2016, are back in play. Polls show that Vice President Biden has statistical leads in most of these states. To affect the outcome, these margins should be north of 5 percent. Otherwise, the electoral college decision becomes significant again and we may see a repeat of 2016.

Passing the ball to the electoral college makes for an anti-democratic system which continues to be widely second guessed. The electoral college is a firewall which, according to Alexander Hamilton, “affords a moral certainty” that only men with the requisite qualification end up in the office. It was meant as an antidote against mob will, a safeguard against the rise of demagogues.

Mambo of No. 5. The House episode of men behaving badly has further diminished our estimation of public servants. If parched by the arid desert  of government service, take one look at the Supreme Court and be refreshed. Two years from their own annus horibilis part 2 (or 3?), they’ve confronted their demons and flourished under the nation’s highest ranking Manong, Chief Justice Diosdado M. Peralta. This is no mirage.

There is nothing like a crisis to unleash a leader’s inner Godzilla. When CJ Peralta took over from good friend and fellow Manong CJ Lucas Bersamin last year, he inherited a dynamic office deep into recovering what the Court had lost: prestige, confidence, sense of direction in the aftermath of their public dirty linen washing session. Chief Dado accepted the baton without a fumble and ran his amazing race.

At his one-year finish line, the Peralta Court has opened up access to courts, declogged dockets, expedited proceedings and minimized disruption of operations despite the periodic closures. The health of stakeholders, including PDLs, was prioritized. He has been decisive and his judiciary has been energized and responsive. Just this week, the first ever Judiciary Integrity Board was appointed. Led by retired Justices Romeo Callejo and Angelina Sandoval Gutierrez, this 1-2 punch of paragons promises to weed out misfits and keep all on the straight path.

The CJ has a good working relationship with Congress and Malacañang. It’s clear that this role of a lifetime is one he was born to play. Congratulations, Manong, on this milestone as Chief Justice.

Landmark. Pope Francis has added his powerful voice to advocate for the recognition of same-sex civil unions by law. This is a watershed moment for inclusiveness and for love. From tolerance, acceptance. “They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it.”

The leader of the world’s Catholics spoke notwithstanding variance with established dogma. His remarks are not seen as altering Church doctrine, which the office can only do by formal ex cathedra declarations from the papal throne, deemed infallible. Neither is it even an exercise of his ordinary magisterium, as his teachings on faith are referred to. He has alienated certain quarters of the Church. But by his words, he has spellbound our world.

Whether the same will be seen as personal opinion or a cry of Balintawak, we will surely know within our lifetime as the Church of 2000 years transforms before our very eyes.

COVID watch. The Philippines has dropped from 19th to 20th in the list of countries with most infections. This is welcome news.

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