Plaridel’s proposed electoral system

Time to foray into history:  31 May 1890, in the lead story of “La Solidaridad,  editor   Marcelo. H. del Pilar (a.k.a Plaridel ) argued the obvious.  How can the Cortés (Spanish parliament) legislate in favor or against the Philippines without first-hand knowledge of what is happening there, without hearing the voice of the natives through “freely elected” representatives?  Where can the  Cortés get accurate and timely   information about the Philippine colony? Certainly not from the Governor-General whose term of office usually lasts no longer than 3 years, much too brief for him to make inspection tours around the archipelago and get a glimpse of what was going on in Spain’s farthest domain.

Not from the media either, in those days press freedom was virtually unknown in the colony. Neither was there a “sociedad civil”, citizens groups that advocated  public welfare (like the recent community pantries). Logically, the bureaucracy could have been a reliable source of information, but the tenure of colonial public servants was just as fleeting as the Governor’s.

Of course, the most constant source was what Plaridel called the “frailocracia”, the bloat of friars of the religious orders who wanted to keep the colony frozen in the Middle Ages. However, Plaridel never failed to acknowledge their contributions: “We wish to accept the sincerity, loyalty and religiosity of these elements.”  But, with the same pen he wrote, “we cannot ignore that they are the most determined class in society, and as such they have a fixed interest …” The vested interests of the “frailocracia” were fiendishly difficult to overcome.

Cuba and Puerto Rico had regained their rights for representation, but not the Philippines. Spain (whether liberal or conservative) seemed wary of granting the Philippines 17 seats, the number of representatives in proportion to its population.   Puerto Rico which is no bigger than Negros island had more delegates to the Cortés. Plaridel commented: “She [Puerto Rico] may be more advanced in culture compared to Negros, but she is not above the entire Archipelago in this respect.” How infuriating that the amendment in favor of the Philippines authored by the Granada delegate, Mr. Francisco Calvo Muñoz was shelved for being “untimely.”

At that point, the Propagandists had not lost hope; in anticipation of the restoration of our rights to representation,  Del Pilar suggested 5 electoral districts:

  1. Manila, with 5 delegates and composed of the following: Manila, Bataan, Batangas, Bulacan, Cavite, Nueva Ecija, Infanta, Laguna, Mindoro, Morong, Pampanga, Principe Tarlac, Zambales.
  2. Ilocos, with 3 delegates and composed of Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, La Union, Pangasinan, Abra, Benguet, Lepanto, Bontoc, Cagayan, Isabela, Nueva Vizcaya, Batanes islands.
  3. Camarines, with 2 delegates and composed of Camarines Sur and Norte, Albay, Tayabas, Masbate, Ticao, Burias.
  4. Cebu, with 3 delegates and composed of Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, Samar, Marianas and the districts of Mindanao.
  5. Iloilo, with 4 delegates and composed of Iloilo, Capiz, Negros, Antiqiue, Calamianes, Romblon.

Palawan was not listed.  M.H. del Pilar did not explain whether he consulted any of the other propagandists when he made these 5 electoral districts. But he did indicate that to facilitate voting, each district could be further subdivided into sections, depending on whether the population was urban or rural but that sections should not have more than 500 votes and not less than 100.

Voter’s qualifications were as follows:  Spanish nationality (which was not explained), of legal age, with a permanent address, at least 25 pesos paid for taxes on land or industries.  However, Plaridel indicated   that there were non-tax payers who were qualified to choose the representatives of the people, so they should be voters.  He listed 9 categories which included members of the Economic Society of Friends of the Country, military officers with certain ranks, university professors, teachers in normal schools and, notably, painters and sculptors who had obtained first and second prizes in national and international expositions.

Plaridel’s voters ‘qualifications are totally unacceptable by today’s democratic standards.   How those thoughts came to roost in his head is bewildering.  The following statement in his lead article in “La Solidaridad” may help explain: “The eternal argument of the uncultured state and poverty of the Filipinos loses merit the moment the right of suffrage is given only to the educated and the propertied class of society.” Now that is polemical, especially today.