By: Criselda Yabes

Lately in the Philippines, there’s been talk about God and the elections. Grace Poe, the presidential candidate leading the pack so far in a tight race, was coincidentally in a church in Quaipo when she heard the long-awaited Supreme Court decision allowing her to run over a disqualification case.  It was in a church in Iloilo where Poe was found after her birth mother apparently abandoned her.

“Perhaps God wants us to receive this news on this day,” Poe said. To a largely Catholic nation, this sounded appealing.

But God’s wish or not, the final ruling made last week provoked internal fissures in the 15-member Supreme Court, going against the Commission on Elections (Comelec), which had previously turned down Poe’s candidacy on the basis that she was a foundling unable to prove her citizenship and for failing to fulfill the residency requirement after having spent most of her adult life in America.

The justices who dissented had wanted to stick to the words of the constitution on natural-born citizens and give Poe the burden of proving herself right, as opposed to the majority that were said to be liberal about interpretations.

Added to that, Comelec has had to wrestle with the court handing out another order that polling machines should deliver receipts for the voters to ensure minimal cheating. This has put the commission in a tight spot. There is little time left to change codes and suggesting the May 9 elections might be postponed for a few more weeks.

In this jittery runup to the national elections, Comelec said it has reached a critical point. In sorting out the matter and the quirks in the logistical nightmare, the chairman raised his finger upward seeking divine intervention, hoping to give 54 million voters peace of mind on the day of the polls.

Such unexpected turns, steeped in belief, are the stuff of the usual confusion in the country’s political life. Eventually they are weathered out and things fall back into place.  In this year’s voting however, a mixed bag of candidates has brought a heightened sense of unpredictability on whether the Philippines will remain true to its style of democracy.

The rationale of political parties setting the course, honing new leaders, institutionalizing reforms, has been eased out of the game in the imperfect American-style democracy. In their place now are personalities (usually celebrities with great name recall) and dynastic families that have doubled in numbers in the past three decades. 

The current pool of candidates has a bit of everything.

Grace Poe represents the best and the worst of Filipino sensibilities. She won the highest number of votes for Senate seat riding on the name of the late movie icon, Fernando Poe Jr., who had adopted her. She was a political neophyte who did her homework, impressively topping popularity surveys.

When she decided to run for the presidency after failing a deal with the incumbent administration of President Benigno Aquino III, the issue of her American citizenship shot to the fore: how could a nation vote for someone who had once renounced her own country to live in the United States? 

She returned upon her adoptive father’s death, from which time her residency and intent to stay was questioned by Comelec. A majority of the justices took her side supposedly on the framework of human rights that must be accorded to foundlings, and therefore free to run for the highest seat of the country. This decision has likewise created societal rifts.

If she wins, it would be the first for an independent candidate. That will then have defied the stakes on political machineries and coalitions. 

“Should the people elect Senator Grace Poe to the presidency, this may be a signal of the Filipino people’s approval of the (court) decision,” said legal analyst Mel Santa Maria, writing for the news website InterAksyon.  

“But if she is not elected,” he warned, “it is not entirely wrong to say that the nation, the people themselves, has made known their abhorrence to what to them may have been unwarranted unconstitutional judicial over-reach.”

For a long while, it was the old dynasties that ruled, the few that ran the country. President Aquino is cut from that cloth, along with his chosen successor Manuel Roxas II, whose grandfather, his namesake, was a post-war president. Both are from landed families. Both their fathers were political friends.