Educational Attainment as Qualification for Candidates

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”Sovereignty resides in the people…” (Article II, Section 1, Constitution of the Philippines)

The debate on whether a certain level of education should be a requirement for elected officials has been going on for quite some time. The late Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has long argued that a education should be an additional requirement for elected officials and not just the plain: “must be able to read and write”. In support to this argument, many believe that for a person to be an effective administrator or legislator, one should at least be a college graduate since an elected official has to deal with laws and even author them. This seems very practical. For how can a person become an effective legislator for example if he only knows how to read and write? The present state of Philippine governance has been often blamed on this lack of a more stringent requirement for elected officials so much so that in the proposed Federal Constitution, national officials will have to be college graduates. As if being a college graduate is a good indicator for character or ability.

I do not agree. I hold the view that a certain level of education is not an assurance for efficiency or effectiveness as a public official for it does not mean that a college graduate is more honest or less corrupt than an elementary graduate. More importantly, our Constitution declares that “sovereignty resides in the people…” In our democratic system, the “people” are the sovereign and being so, they have the absolute power or prerogative to choose who will lead them and govern the affairs of the state. This prerogative of the people cannot be limited by requiring a candidate to reach a certain level of education. This prerogative of the people in choosing their leaders is a shining reminder that indeed they are the real sovereign. This is also the reason why the government spends billions of pesos to protect the integrity of the ballot during elections. The will of the people expressed through the ballot is a very sacred one since it is an act of the sovereign so it must be protected.

The Constitution and the Local Government Code only require that a candidate “must be able to read and write”. For others, this is to blame for the inefficiency or corruption among the elected officials. But for me, there is no proof that elected officials who did not graduate from college are less efficient or effective or more corrupt than those who did. It is very unfair for anyone to say that having a college degree is an assurance for competence or even integrity. These qualities are questions of character and principle and not education. I have heard stories about elected officials who despite not having graduated from college, have become great leaders. But in case these leaders commit corrupt acts while in office, there are mechanisms provided to hold them accountable for their acts.

I admire those who hold an opposite view for behind their argument is their desire to have good leadership or governance. This is our ultimate desire. This should be the demand from our leaders instead of providing the requirement of a college degree as if it is the silver bullet that can make incompetence and corruption go away. Perhaps the people, who are the sovereign need to actively participate more in governance to help leaders perform their duties, for in the end all these are for their own good and welfare. Vigilance among the populace and active participation in the programs of the government can greatly help in having an effective government and less corrupt elected officials.

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