A Proposed Voting System
How to temper the tyranny of the Philippine masses
by Manuel Gallego III
31 August 2001
“The Commonwealth requires the education of the people as the safeguard of order and liberty.”
Board of Trustees, Boston Public Library, 1890-1982
“Participation in the suffrage is not of right, but is granted by the state on a consideration of what is most for the interest of the state.”
Thomas M. Cooley, United States Jurist, 1824-1898
The recent socio-political phenomenon in the Philippines, generally known as “EDSA III” or “the bastardization of People Power I and II,” has exposed the divided state of the Philippine Nation. Allegedly, one side constitutes the rich and the other is composed of the poor. However, the dividing line is more appropriately drawn across another dichotomy. For how does one explain the opposing clamor of two individuals coming from the same squatter community? One was tired of ERAP’s empty promises and wanted him out; whereas, the other was an ERAP psychophant who wanted him back. Moreover, what differentiates the influential Makati Business Club, a supporter of People Power II, from an alleged clique of Binondo-based businessmen who bank rolled EDSA III?
One cannot deny that the overall composition of EDSA III was from a lower economic stratum of Philippine society compared to the overall composition of People Power II. However, such societal divide has more fundamental causes than the mere disparity of economic wealth. More appropriately, it is the disparity of education and its effects on members of society that are the root causes of the divisiveness in the Country. The situation is not so much of the rich versus the poor but of the educated mindset misunderstood by or beyond the grasp of the uneducated.
Under any standard of reasonableness, no one can refute that the educated should lead the uneducated, especially on matters of nation building. Unfortunately, the opposite applies in the Philippines. The supermajority of the voting population does not have college degrees, yet they determine the leadership and the fate of the Nation. As such, Philippine democracy is analogous to the blind leading the sighted. Making matters worse is the demographic reality of population growth in the Country. Today, the Philippines has a total population of about 77 million and is increasing at a rate of 1.6 million each year. Most of the 1.6 million would be the offsprings of the least educated sectors of society, who are likely to increase the majority of less educated voters. Such has been and continues to be the evolution of a misdirected Philippine democracy.
Over time, Philippine leadership would be composed of more movie stars, basketball players, aventureros, opportunists, and charlatans. Patronage politics would be de rigeur and dole outs would be the means to subjugate the masses. Public governance would lack strategic vision and professional management. It would be riddled with graft, corruption, influence peddling and cronyism. In short, the Philippine Government would become completely ineffective and counter-productive. Already, Filipinos have had a prelude of this bleak political scenario with the ERAP Administration and continue to experience this regressive trend in the local political landscape like a festering plague.
Before the Philippines sinks into the contemptible status of an undesirable third-world nation, it is imperative that courageous measures are implemented to reverse the ongoing political death spiral led unknowingly by the least educated sectors of Philippine society. The solution rests upon the very essence of democracy—freedom with responsibility, freedom with accountability, freedom with restraint, freedom with prudence, freedom with understanding, freedom with discernment, freedom with discipline. Every right and privilege enjoyed under a free society should be accompanied by a corresponding obligation. In particular, the privilege to vote should obligate voters to be informed, to know the candidates and to understand their platforms. More fundamentally, voters must exercise the utmost care and diligence in honing their conscience and judgement, which should be manifested in action throughout the election process. To effect this most basic democratic trust, those who are more likely to vote responsibly should be given a greater weight of the vote while those who are less likely to vote responsibly should be given a lower weight of the vote. Under this simple implementing strategy based on the underlying principle of responsible democracy, various types of anomalies committed throughout the entire election process (e.g., vote buying and selling, “flying voters,” wholesale falsification of ballots, deliberate miscounting of ballots, tampering of ballot boxes and election returns, etc.) would be minimized.
Who are those who are more likely and less likely to vote responsibly? Those who have achieved a higher level of formal educational attainment (the “Educated”) and those who have achieved a lower level of formal educational attainment (the “Uneducated”), respectively. This is not to say that the Educated are immune from voting irresponsibly or from behaving unethically or that the Uneducated are incapable of voting responsibly or are entirely void of ethical discernment. Likewise, no one suggests that education can be derived from formal schooling alone or that an educated individual could result only from years of attendance at institutions of higher learning. Notwithstanding the flaws of exception typically associated with generalizations, the fact is, those who have a higher level of formal educational attainment are more likely to be responsible voters; whereas, those who have a lower level of formal educational attainment are less likely to be responsible voters. The diagram below illustrates the Philippine Societal Divide resulting from the systemic effects of education and the lack thereof on Philippine voters.
Common wisdom dictates that individuals below a certain age are not allowed to vote. It is not surprising, therefore, that the Philippine Constitution disallows individuals below 18 years of age to vote. This is not to say that a person 18 years and above is immune from voting irresponsibly or that a person below 18 years is incapable of voting responsibly. However, all things being equal, an older individual is likely to vote more responsibly than a younger person. This, at least, is the basic rationale of the Philippine Constitutional Commission of 1986 in establishing an age threshold, below which an individual is not allowed to vote. Today, the Philippine Legislature should refine the same principle of responsible voting under a slightly different, if not more important, context—not of age but of educational attainment. In the past, an age threshold was established for responsible voting, based on the assumption that older individuals are probably more responsible voters than younger individuals. Today, an educational threshold must likewise be established for responsible voting, based on the assumption that Educated individuals are probably more responsible voters than Uneducated individuals.
The Philippine electoral system, which was patterned after the contemporary United States (the “US”) electoral system, failed to consider that US elections during the past fifty years have been dominated by the so-called middle-class—see Graph A below. Generally speaking, the US middle-class is the work horse of the US economy, is composed of individuals and families that are gainfully employed taxpayers who take their votes seriously, and constitutes the majority of the US population (and therefore determines the leadership of the US). “Motherhood and apple pie” or “the moral fiber of the US” are phrases that have been used to characterize the US middle-class. The same could be said about the Philippine middle-class except that, in the Philippines, the middle-class does not constitute the majority of the voting population (and therefore does not determine the leadership of the Country)—see Graph B below. This apparent oversight in the establishment of the Philippine electoral system, indeed in the establishment of the overall framework of Philippine democracy, has taken its toll on Philippine progress or, more appropriately, the lack thereof during the past half century.
The problem with the Philippine electoral system lies in the blind mimicry of the contemporary US electoral system, resulting in a virtually plagiarized system devoid of any cathartic benefits of social evolution. The following examples on the evolution of suffrage provide a compelling argument that the Philippine electoral system has granted voting privileges to its citizenry too much too soon.
In early Western society, suffrage was limited to the heads of a few families or clans. Only the leading chieftains were privileged to discuss and decide vital issues, or to be consulted by the tribal chief. Birth, or heritage, was the qualifying criterion for suffrage, although generally the ownership of property tended to be a factor in the grant of suffrage.
In ancient Greece the territorial unit of the city-state was often so small that the question of the scope of suffrage was not a divisive issue. For a long time, Athens, the most advanced and forward-looking of the Greek city-states, took the lead in developing a more democratic approach to the question of suffrage. Early in the 6th century B.C., distinctions of birth gave way to distinctions of property. This change expressed the transformation of the Athenian social system from a hereditary aristocracy into a commercial civilization based on a rising middle class and the developing intellectual attitudes of rationalism and individualism. The gradual development of critical political analysis, particularly during the great period of Periclean government in 5th century Athens, led to the establishment of suffrage based on citizenship rather than on property. However, neither slaves nor women were included in the Greek concept of citizenship.
In ancient Rome, at first only the patrician families, endowed with property and social prestige, had the right to vote. But the Roman lower classes resented the denial of suffrage based on lack of property, and after centuries of often bitter social conflict they attained suffrage. As the Roman polity expanded to the Italian peninsula and to the whole Mediterranean basin, Roman citizenship was gradually broadened and, in 212 A.D., all free inhabitants of the Roman Empire were given the status of full-fledged Roman citizens. By that time the government of the Roman Empire had been transformed into an absolute monarchy, so that suffrage was more important in local and vocational, or guild, elections than in matters affecting imperial policy.
Medieval and Modern Evolution
In the Middle Ages, both rights and obligations of a person were determined by his social status. The possession of land, or at least rights of tenure in land, generally determined the kind of suffrage a person possessed. Later on, as the landed economy merged with the commercial and industrial economy, ownership or tenure of land was replaced by other property qualifications, such as the payment of minimum taxes.
Even in England, the mother of representative government, the progress from limited to universal suffrage was slow. Until 1832, the suffrage was so designed that a few hundred landowners were heavily represented in Parliament, while large urban areas were either not represented at all, or only very inadequately. The phenomenon of the small "rotten boroughs" led to discontent and political agitation. As a result, the Reform Act of 1832 broadened the suffrage by including a larger share of the urban middle classes. Urban workers were added to the electorate in 1867 and farm workers in 1884. In 1918, all male voters 21 years old were given the suffrage. Women were also granted the vote, but the minimum age was 30 years. In 1928, the higher age requirement for women was lifted.
The history of the US electoral system, another bastion of representative government, can also be characterized as a prolonged yet progressive inclusion of constituents under the US Constitution—see the illustration below.
The growth of the suffrage in the US was slow, though it was more rapid than in any other major democracy. The promises of equality contained in the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution did not materialize at once. Religious qualifications, often required in colonial times, disappeared shortly after the American Revolution, but property and literacy qualifications continued for a long time. The first breakthrough in American suffrage came in the 1830's, the period of Andrew Jackson's radical democracy based on the equalitarian outlook of the Western frontiersmen, who increasingly asserted themselves in national politics. By 1860, universal suffrage for white males had become an accomplished fact. The 14th and the 15th amendments sought to ensure suffrage for blacks, but these constitutional provisions were not fully enforced in some states, where poll taxes and literacy tests kept most blacks from the polls. The 19th Amendment (1920) granted the suffrage to women, though some states had given women the suffrage long before. The 24th Amendment (1964) barred the use of a poll tax in federal elections. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 strengthened the hand of African Americans seeking to register in the South. The 26th Amendment (1971) and subsequent legislation granted suffrage to persons 18 years old or older.
In summary, all evolving democracies were initially quite restrictive in granting voting privileges to their citizenry. Only over time and due to significant social changes were voting privileges eventually granted to more stakeholders.
In the case of the Philippine electoral system, which was patterned after the contemporary US electoral system, voting privileges were granted to everyone of age from the very start—depriving the burgeoning Philippine democracy of the opportunity to evolve under Her own unique socio-political environment. Unfortunately, what has been generally effective in highly evolved democratic societies like England and the US has become a disability in a budding democracy like the Philippines.
Today, civilized societies have certain thresholds with respect to granting of voting privileges. For example, it would simply be inappropriate to restrict voting privileges to a particular race or gender in this day and age. As such, the Philippine electoral system need not be reinvented from scratch or, for that matter, need not reenact the entire evolutionary gamut of other more mature democracies. Instead, its current form should only be refined to address a specific deficiency—in this case, the disenfranchisement of the Educated sector.
In the Philippines, those who have a lower level of educational attainment (i.e., those who have a higher probability of having the negative traits in the Philippine Societal Divide diagram) constitute the majority of the population. It is no wonder that the leadership structure in the Country has evolved into a quasi-feudal system of political patrons and doting serfs. Today, the modus operandi of politicians is one of funding from spurious business interests, well-oiled propaganda machines shamelessly built on empty promises, endless sessions pre-granting petty and not-so petty favors (political and otherwise), and a “steal those coffers dry” and/or “kickback” mentality upon the assumption of power. These regressive practices could be changed for the better, provided those who have a higher level of education attainment (i.e., those who have a higher probability of having the positive traits in the Philippine Societal Divide diagram) are given the opportunity to determine the leadership of the Country. Because this Educated sector of Philippine society is so overwhelmed by the population of the Uneducated sector, the weight of the Educated vote should be reinforced while the weight of the Uneducated vote should be diminished. The following table illustrates the “before” and the “after” effects of the proposed weighting system of votes (the “Proposed Voting System”) on the percentage weight of each category of educational attainment.
Before the Proposed Voting System, the categories having a four-year college degree and a two-year associate degree constitute approximately 19.5 percent weight of the voting population; whereas, the categories having a high school degree and below constitute approximately 80.5 percent weight of the voting population—see Graph C below. In contrast, after the Proposed Voting System, the categories having a four-year college degree and a two-year associate degree constitute approximately 54.5 percent weight of the voting population; whereas, the categories having a high school degree and below constitute approximately 45.5 percent of the voting population—see Graph D below. Evidently, under the former scenario, the more educated sector is marginalized; whereas, under the latter scenario, the more educated sector is given the appropriate leadership vote while the less educated sector still maintains a significant minority vote.
For the avoidance of doubt, the Proposed Voting System simply espouses the following weighting system of votes according to the category of educational attainment of a particular registered voter:
Although the weight of votes of the less educated sector may be diminished under the Proposed Voting System, the same allows the less educated sector to maintain a significant minority vote. Further, based on the demographic trend in the Philippines, in which the percentage of the voting population of the less educated sector will probably increase over time, the majority vote of the more educated sector under the Proposed Voting System will probably be reduced to a minority vote over time. Consequently, the less educated sector is far from being disenfranchised. On the other hand, if the Proposed Voting System is not implemented, then the percentage of the voting population of the more educated sector, which is now approximately 19.5 percent, will probably be diminished to an even lower percentage over time. At the very least, the Proposed Voting System should provide an opportunity to improve the leadership in the Country, but only over a limited period of time. Afterwards, the majority vote would probably revert back to the less educated sector. Ideally, the Proposed Voting System would reinforce the desire of every Filipino family to achieve the highest level of educational attainment for each of its member and, possibly, even initiate a demographic shift in terms of lowering the increase of the population of the less educated sector.
Members of the Philippine Legislature are expected to be reserved, at the very least, about the Proposed Voting System. After all, it is the majority of their constituents today (i.e., the Uneducated) whose votes will be diminished under the Proposed Voting System. However, the Philippine Legislature also has a higher calling, which is to exercise foresight and leadership for the betterment of the Nation—even if the manifestation of such leadership may be unpopular with the Uneducated majority. From a practical standpoint, members of the Philippine Legislature, in considering the Proposed Voting System, need only be concerned about whether or not they have the mettle to be accountable to a new Educated majority, which is bound to raise the bar of performance of all public officials.
The implementation of the Proposed Voting System would be relatively simple in the context of the Government’s long-awaited plan to computerize and automate Philippine elections. Before the next national elections in 2004, over 36.5 million Philippine voters will register with the Comelec. Upon such registration, each voter will be required to indicate his or her category of education attainment (i.e., 4-year college, 2-year associate, high school, below high school) and furnish proof of such educational attainment. Upon acceptance of the proof of educational attainment, the Comelec will input such category of educational attainment together with the other basic information of the registrant (i.e., name, gender, age, etc.) into a central computer database. Henceforth, all registered voters in the Philippines would have a designated category of educational attainment and a corresponding weight of vote. The voting results in the form of “softcopy” election returns could then be used to calculate the weighted vote of the entire voting population by matching each voter result with the individual’s designated weight of vote contained in the central computer database. Again, this scenario assumes that Philippine elections will be computerized and automated; otherwise, the Proposed Voting System will be too onerous to implement manually.
The Philippines deserves the best leaders the Country can offer. Today, the vote of the Educated sector is virtually unheard, resulting in the Uneducated sector determining the leadership and the fate of the Country. It is time for a drastic change in the Philippine electoral system and courageous measures must be taken by the Philippine Legislature to effect a positive transformation. The vote of the Educated sector must lead the voice of the people. This may be effected through the Proposed Voting System. Failure to do so would perpetuate the political death spiral that plagues Philippine politics today and lead to the irreversible deterioration of the Philippine Nation. On the other hand, success in implementing the Proposed Voting System would increase the Country’s chances of better leadership and accelerated progress.