Official seal of the Philippine Senate today
The official website of the Senate say that
the Latin words in the seal meant:
"Law Serves Peace, Let It Be Done"
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia 
If we are to believe Wikipedia (the fifth most visited site in the world, although not among the most reliable), there are eight countries with a legislative body known as Senate in Asia, including the Philippines. In Southeast Asia, Thailand and Cambodia join the Philippines in the list. Now, out of these eight countries in Asia, only the Philippines vote their senators in national elections (Thailand conduct national elections for half of the Senate seats only). The others, by national assemblies of councilors or by appointment. Thus, the question raised in this article today is: Why only the Philippines?

Maybe the Department of Tourism can also add this to their list of fun things in the country - Senate elections: More Fun in the Philippines.


Anyway, tackling the question historically, we cannot trace this practice of at-large voting to the United States, because even if the supposed gift of democracy came from the American nation, they vote their senators by state. Spain voted their senators by province. So, we can assume that this method of senate election in the Philippines is not influenced by the foreign powers that invaded us (Japan had no Senate. When they invaded the Philippines during World War II, the Japanese abolished the Senate and created a National Assembly). Is this a local invention, then?

When we first had Senate (under American occupation) in 1916, the Philippines was divided into 12 senatorial districts with two senators each. One seat had a six-year term, while the other a three-year term. This kind of system saw the first and only Kiram in Senate, Sulu Sultan Jamalul Kiram I, in 1925. Maybe his infamous (of course, for his critics) descendant wanted to follow his example, thus the 2007 candidacy of Sultan Jamalul Kiram III. National elections for senators began in 1941, shortly before the Japanese invasion.

I have here a theory on why the Philippines maintained this system. Many people, until today, see the Senate as a stepping stone to the pinnacle of public service, the Presidency. This is, of course, a theory. Ten of the fifteen past presidents were from the Senate. I think that the Commonwealth leaders (Quezon, Osmeña, etc) saw that regionalism prevails in the archipelago (which was why the Quezon-Osmeña tandem won in 1935. You can't expect Quezon to win for the Presidency by himself if he is to face Osmeña), and the only way to maintain power to the Luzon-Visayas bets (Quezon - from Luzon, Osmeña - from Visayas) than the regional bets alone is to make the elections for Senate national. That is one reason why few of the Mindanao bets (like Miguel Zubiri or Salipada Pendatun) make it to the Senate today (example, 2007 candidacy of Jamalul Kiram III - even though he was the top bet in almost all Mindanao provinces, he did not win a seat).

I believe that this is also a reason why Muslims in Mindanao wanted the Bangsamoro political entity to push through. There, they can consolidate more power than they can in the present system (e.g. they can levy taxes, and have a separate election and government system). Maybe the Luzon-Visayas alliance discriminated Muslim Mindanao for far too long (actually, even before the Spanish era, though Luzon and Visayas did not yet see themselves as allies until the Spanish era. Still, that will be a different story).

Once more, it is a theory anyway.

I must admit to myself though that I have some fear on returning the Senate into regional than national, despite the recent trending topic I am Muslim, I am not a terrorist. But maybe the Luzon-Visayas alliance can still turn it to their favor by making the number of Senate seats proportional to population. Still, I feel that any developments is still far away.

What can I say today then? Vote wisely, discern thoroughly, fellow Filipinos! Go out and vote on May 13, 2013. Remember, elections show the peak of the people's power in the country.


Philippine senatorial election results from 1946
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia