Is It Time To Try Tandem Voting?
BY GODFREY T. DANCEL ILLUSTRATION BY MICO FELICITAS
DISCUSSIONS ABOUT WHETHER OR NOT TO ADOPT TANDEM VOTING FOR PRESIDENT AND VICE PRESIDENT MUST INVOLVE THE NEED TO CONSIDER OTHER IMPORTANT CHANGES IN THE COUNTRY’S POLITICAL SYSTEM.
Almost a year into their respective terms, President Ferdinand Marcos, Jr. and Vice President Sara Duterte- Carpio have maintained the spirit of unity that served as the main theme of their campaign for the top two elective posts in the country. This bodes well for the country, as the top two leaders could concentrate on fulfilling their mandate without having to deal with grave personal differences.
The Marcos-(Sara) Duterte tandem has avoided any major rift so far. The son of Ilocos and the daughter of Davao have made conscious efforts to not put themselves in situations that could trigger or fuel intrigues regarding their personal and/ or professional relationship.
The UniTeam victory in the May 2022 elections marked the first time in the post-EDSA 1 era that the winning candidates for the country’s top two positions garnered a clear majority of the votes cast. This reflects the overwhelming mandate given to them by the electorate. Marcos received 31,629,783 votes while Duterte garnered 32,208,417. While their tandem clearly won, the more than half million vote difference raises some interesting points. This means, among others, that more than half a million of those who did not choose Marcos still voted for his running mate. Conversely, more than half-a-million voters chose Duterte but not Marcos—either voting for another candidate or abstaining in the vote for president.
Those who voted for Duterte but not Marcos could have voted for then-Vice President Leni Robredo, supporting the RoSa (Robredo-Sara) tandem pushed by some quarters. They may also have voted for Senator Manny Pacquiao, opting for an all-Mindanao slate under the MaSa (Manny- Sara) tandem pushed by some Mindanaoan leaders. Whatever the actual reason for the vote difference between the president and vice president, it is perfectly normal and even expected under our present electoral system.
The Philippines presently follows the system of individual or separate voting for the top two officials of the executive branch. Under this system, voters are free to choose the president and the vice president they want to vote for. This means that they could vote for a presidential candidate and his (or her) running mate, a vice presidential candidate running with another presidential candidate, or even an independent vice presidential candidate. They could even choose to abstain from voting for a vice presidential candidate. A practice related to separate voting is vote-splitting or split- ticket voting. This refers to voting for a presidential candidate and vice presidential candidate who come from different tickets or slates. Of the six elections held under the 1987 Constitution, four resulted in split- ticket winning pairs, with the Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA)-Noli de Castro (2004) and Marcos-Duterte tandems as the exceptions. In the run-up to the May 2022 polls, various groups expressed support for split-ticket tandems, namely RoSa, MaSa, and Robredo-Tito Sotto (RoTi). None of these tandems, however, gained enough traction as all the formal tandems chose to stick with each other.
An alternative to individual voting is tandem voting. Simply put, the candidates for president and vice president campaign together and are elected together and not individually. This is the system that has been used in the United States since 1804, when the 12th Amendment was ratified. Prior to this, the presidential candidate with the second-highest number of votes became the vice president. This meant that they would have different political views, which could make governance difficult. The amendment sought to remedy this situation. As the top two leaders came from the same party, they shared the same political views and platform. Governance, thus, would be much smoother. The same view served as the basis for Senator Sherwin Gatchalian’s proposal for the adoption of tandem voting in the Philippines in late 2021. Admitting that this was a case of testing the water as the proposal came near the end of the 18th Congress, Gatchalian said he just wanted to present the topic for discussion.
In a nutshell, the senator’s proposal was meant “to ensure that the selection of the top two leaders will be based on platform and not on personalities.” “In choosing which presidential candidate to vote for, that candidate’s vice presidential running mate should already be a major consideration,” the senator said. He also stressed that the system could mean “better governance based on shared political views and platform, and assurance that the vice president would carry on with the president’s programs should anything happen to the latter during his incumbency.
SPLIT ON TANDEM VOTING
Then-presidential candidate and Manila Mayor Isko Moreno Domagoso, in the presidential debates repeatedly mentioned his preference for tandem voting. This will ensure better teamwork, and that more can be achieved, he said.Then-Senate President Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, who himself ran for vice president, did not agree with the idea, saying the current system helps provide checks and balances between the top two government officials.
The system of checks and balances refers to the system through which one branch of government can—and should—act to prevent another from abusing its powers. For example, the president may veto a bill approved by Congress if he sees infirmities in such. The Supreme Court, on the other hand, may declare a law enacted by Congress and signed by the president as unconstitutional. Sotto extended the concept to apply to the relationship between the president and vice president, implying that a president and vice president elected as a tandem could mean more harm than good for the country. As used in its original context, however, the system of checks balances does not rest on whether or not the leaders of the majority of one branch belong to the same party as (or are allied with) those of another.
THE DUTERTE-ROBREDO EXPERIENCE
A good argument against split voting could be based on the relationship between former President Rodrigo Duterte and former Vice President Leni Robredo. While it was not expected of them to really agree on most governmental concerns, there was hope for a good enough working relationship between them, at least during the very early part of their respective terms. In July 2016, Robredo was appointed as chairperson of the Housing and Urban Development Coordinating Council (HUDCC).
She resigned from the position after five months, after being asked to stop attending Cabinet meetings. In her resignation letter addressed to the president, she stressed that she had done her best to “put aside our differences, maintain a professional working relationship, and work effectively despite the constraints.” However, she also pointed out that the directive to “desist from attending all Cabinet meetings” had made it impossible for her to do her job, and that remaining in the Cabinet had become untenable. Robredo’s second stint as agency head came in November 2019, as she was appointed as co-chairperson of the Inter-agency Committee on Anti- Illegal Drugs. Her stint lasted no more than three weeks. By 2020, Robredo had dismissed any possibility that she and the president could work harmoniously, although she reiterated her readiness to carry on with the Office of the Vice President (OVP)’s flagship Angat Buhay program.
The present reality notwithstanding, being political allies at the time of election does not guarantee a smooth relationship for the country’s two highest officials. Neither does having strong personal relationships. Take the case of President Corazon “Cory” Aquino and Vice President Salvador “Doy” Laurel, who were swept into power after the February 1986 People Power uprising. After uniting to unseat President Ferdinand Marcos, their relationship turned sour, with Laurel resigning as Foreign Affairs secretary in September 1987. Laurel accused Aquino of incompetence and corruption, and failing to deliver on the kind of leadership she had promised. Eleven months later, Laurel called on Aquino to resign and call for new elections, saying that the administration had failed to live up to its promises. Aquino, meanwhile, accused him of withholding support during the November 1986 and August 1987 coup attempts—by then two of the bloodiest attempts to topple the Aquino presidency.
CURRENT EFFORTS AT THE LOWER HOUSE
With Charter Change efforts in full swing at the Lower House, a couple of resolutions regarding tandem voting have also been filed. Resolution of Both Houses (RBH) 0001 filed by Deputy Speaker Aurelio “Dong” Gonzales (Pampanga 3rd District) includes a provision that says a vote for the president shall also be a vote for the vice president who belongs to the same political party. Meanwhile, RBH0005 filed by Congressman Gus Tambunting (Parañaque 2nd District), argues that tandem voting would enhance national unity and avoid situations wherein the elected president and vice president come from different political parties.
SOME IMPORTANT QUESTIONS
Will tandem voting be enough to solve long- standing problems in Philippine governance and politics? While the system may have enough positive points to merit congressional consideration, a number of questions need to be answered up front. What if a presidential hopeful does not have a running mate? In the 2004 elections, both Senator Panfilo Lacson of Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) and Bro. Eddie Villanueva of Bangon Pilipinas ran without a vice presidential running mate.
Norberto Gonzales of Partido Demokratiko Sosyalista ng Pilipinas (PDSP) and independent candidate Ernesto Abella did the same last year. With tandem voting, will it be compulsory for presidential hopefuls to have a vice presidential running mate? Related to the above, if a presidential or vice presidential candidate withdraws anytime between the filing of certificates of candidacy and the day of the elections, what happens to his or her running mates’ candidacy?
Then again, even as lawmakers have their eyes set on constitutional change—whether by Constituent Assembly or Constitutional Convention—as the way to make tandem voting the new standard in presidential elections, some members of the academe are saying that this is not necessarily the case. A position paper released in January 2023 by faculty members of the University of the Philippines (UP) Department of Political Science on the congressional initiative to amend the constitution says that since “the constitution is silent on the joint election of the President and the Vice President, a constitutional amendment is not required to reform the election rules and include a provision for tandem voting for candidates on a common ticket.”
In a separate paper, Professor Jorge Tigno of the aforementioned academic unit also points out that “the Constitution does not specify that the president and vice president have to be elected separately.” Consistent with some of the reasons cited by lawmakers for pushing for tandem voting, he says that “Electing these two separately has led to discontinuities and intrigue. Promoting tandem voting for president and vice president, while not specified in the 1987 Constitution, can lead to higher levels of continuity and cooperation between the two highest executive positions in the country.”
REFORMING PHILIPPINE POLITICAL PARTIES
Clear political ideologies and platforms of governance are the main anchors of tandem voting. With this, the proposal to adopt the system begs an important question: how ready are our political parties for such? Being links between the people and the government, political parties must be able to perform essential functions that facilitate entry into the political system and improving governance. These include representation and integration of voters into the political system; political education; recruitment and training of political leaders; as well as exercising control over government administration on one hand and organizing opposition on the other.
Recent developments at the Lower House have highlighted the fragility of our political parties. The supposed plot to unseat House Speaker Martin Romualdez reportedly involving his fellow party leaders Vice President Sara Duterte and GMA has revealed cracks within Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD). A strong and stable party would have been able to solve the issue internally, if not prevent it from arising in the first place. Meanwhile, the impending conversion of Kilusan ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) into a political party could affect the once-dominant Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) as well as Partido Federal ng Pilipinas (KFP), which served as the vehicle for Marcos’presidential run. Formed last year as a socio-civic group supporting Marcos’call for unity, KNP initially listed 200 members.
Accreditation as a party would open the floodgates for more members, many of whom are expected to come from PDP-Laban, from where most of the KNP’s founding officers come. With PFP a non-entity in the Lower House, could we see the president eventually becoming KNP chairperson and using the new party to consolidate his influence in Congress by fielding congressional and senatorial candidates in 2025? Will Lakas-CMD be able to weather other storms to come its way, and will KNP be able to gain enough steam to come up with viable presidential and vice-presidential tandems for 2028? The possibility that piecemeals changes in the way we choose our national leaders could still possibly have significant effects on governance cannot be disregarded. However, adopting tandem voting without predicating it on the existence of a strong and stable party system could bring about nothing but false hopes for most Filipinos.