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Rule of the minority

By: Antonio T. Carpio – @inquirerdotnetPhilippine Daily Inquirer / 05:07 AM November 12, 2020
In a democracy, the leaders of the state are chosen by the majority of voters in an election under the one person, one vote principle. Under this majoritarian concept, the Philippines is not a democracy. Since the first presidential election in 1992 under the 1987 Constitution, all our five presidents have been chosen by plurality vote, which constitutes a minority of all those who voted. This means that the Philippines actually follows the rule of the minority, whose votes outweigh the votes of the majority.

To ensure that the leaders are chosen by the majority of voters, the electoral system should require a run-off election if none of the candidates secures a majority vote. A run-off election is necessary in a multi-party system like what our 1987 Constitution instituted but unfortunately failed to provide. The framers of the 1987 Constitution believed that it is too costly to hold a run-off election.

Many developing countries, however, some even poorer than the Philippines, have a run-off election despite the cost. Among many others, these countries have a run-off in the election of their presidents: Afghanistan, Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, East Timor, Ecuador, El Salvador, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Indonesia, Liberia, Malawi, Peru, Senegal, and Zimbabwe. What is more important to these countries is to elect national leaders with a clear mandate from a majority of voters. Such a mandate is often needed to provide political stability to the country and to ensure that a majority of the people support the platform of national leaders.

There is a creative way of simulating a run-off election while holding only one election, thus avoiding the additional cost of an actual run-off election. Under the instant run-off or alternative voting system, voters are asked to rank their preferences if there are more than two candidates. If the first ranked candidate secures a majority of the votes, then he wins the election. If no candidate secures a majority of the votes, the last candidate is eliminated and the second preference of those who voted for the eliminated candidate will be counted, and so on until a candidate receives a majority of the votes cast. The instant run-off system is followed at the national level in Australia, Ireland, Malta, and Papua New Guinea, and at the municipal level in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand.

Our 1935 Constitution provided for a plurality election system, but a unique provision in the election law developed a two-party system that ensured majoritarian rule. The election code enacted by Congress created a three-member board of inspectors, tasked to administer the election at the precinct level, in every precinct throughout the country. The two largest political parties nominated two of the members of the board of inspectors while the third member was a Commission on Elections official who served as the chairperson. This setup gave the two largest political parties a government-salaried representative in every precinct throughout the country, entrenching the two-party system. This setup is no longer possible under the 1987 Constitution, which expressly prohibits political parties from being represented in the board of election inspectors, board of canvassers, or similar bodies.

The US presidential election is in a worse situation under its Electoral College system where the candidate who secures 270 electoral votes wins even if such candidate fails to win the nationwide popular vote. Five US presidents won the electoral vote but lost the nationwide popular vote, namely: Presidents Adams, Hayes, Harrison, Bush Jr., and Trump. To correct this flaw in the US presidential elections, the legislatures of 15 states and the District of Columbia, with a combined 196 electoral votes, have adopted the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact (NPVIC). Under the NPVIC, states will award all their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the nationwide popular vote. The NPVIC will take effect once state legislatures adopting the NPVIC have a total of 270 electoral votes. This will ensure that the presidential candidate who wins the nationwide popular vote also wins the electoral vote.

In the Philippines, the flaw in the presidential electoral system that results in the rule of the minority can only be corrected by a constitutional amendment. The correction of this flaw is a worthy subject of a constitutional amendment.

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