Why not upgrade qualifications of voters?

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Monday, March 24, 2014

ISN'T it awkward, a listener asked Frankahay Ta! yesterday, that while a police applicant has to be a college degree holder, there is no minimum educational qualification required of candidates for public office?

I didn’t know that the bar for entry to the police force has been raised; my father only got as far as Grade VI and he was our town police chief. I thought that the current academic requirement of a policeman is a high school diploma.

But the listener has a point: if a policeman has to meet a certain standard in education, shouldn’t, say, the mayor, who, under the law, has supervision over him, at least have the same level of education?


It’s the same point raised by a Sun.Star Cebu reader, Tony Padua, in a letter sent to this corner last Sunday. Tony wrote with a good amount of sarcasm: “Some baseline awareness, such as a two-year city college degree in what is not good governance would
be a good start.”

I explained to the listener that the disparity in the basic educational requirement between the mayor and the policeman may have something to do with the process of selecting them or, more accurately, who selects them. A police applicant is screened by a panel of presumably not more than ten men and if he passes, is appointed by a single person.

The public official, on the other hand, is chosen by the people, or at least those who, under the Constitution are qualified to vote. What higher authority can there be than the voice of the people?

But the “voters cannot be relied upon to know who is qualified to lead after they gain entrance to city hall,” Padua argues. Our experience, alas, supports that view.

Perhaps, the problem is rooted in the Constitution. Article V says the right of suffrage is available to all Filipino citizens, who are not otherwise disqualified by law, who have lived in the Philippines for at least one year and in the place where they want to vote for at least six months before the election. The Constitution is very clear that no “literacy, property, or other substantive requirement shall be imposed on the right of suffrage.”

There was a time when one has to be able to read and write, among others, in order to be qualified to vote. That requirement has been removed because the framers of the current Constitution wanted to democratize the electoral base.

The democratization is a failed experiment, if you look at the quality of officials that we have been electing. No wonder, Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago chose the students as her audience when she called on the voters to let out their anger against crooked politicians.

I wished that the good senator had included among her objects of rage the politicians who are inept and who know nothing about governance because in a way they also steal the people’s trust.

Santiago’s call for rage will most certainly find fertile ground in the hearts of the students but I seriously doubt whether it would resonate among those who are not similarly equipped with basic education, the same people who have voted into office the corrupt and the incompetent.

In the light of all these, shouldn’t the approach be to upgrade the qualifications – and quality – of the voters? Instead of providing that a senator or a congressman should be a college graduate, shouldn’t we require that a voter should at least have completed elementary education?

Those who think that the proposal is elitist should be told that elementary education is not only offered free in public schools, there are certain programs that allow one to earn an elementary school diploma without having to attend classes regularly.
But even if it is elitist, if it is the only way we can create a more discerning and engaged electorate, it is still worth trying.


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 25, 2014.


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