Thirty years ago in February 1986 the Philippines saw a bloodless revolution that ousted President Ferdinand Marcos and his wife Imelda Marcos from Malacañang Palace. This revolution was known as the EDSA Revolution and the non-violent tactics of the masses became known as ‘People Power’. These events are embedded in the political psyche of the Philippines. The Philippines has a vibrant civil society and elections are a time of celebration but also violence. The stakes are high as political office at all levels equates to power and control over a chaotic and deeply unequal society. Philippine politics runs on a bicameral system, an arrangement that is hardly surprising given its history as an American tutelage (and a Spanish colony before that). Philippine politics also tends to lack ideology (notwithstanding leftwing or feminist parties such as Bayan Muna or Gabriela respectively) and politicians frequently defect to other parties for personal gain as opposed to ideological commitment.
The official 2016 presidential election campaign starts on 9 February and will run until election day on 9 May. The President of the Philippines can sit in office for one six year term only. The out going president in the May 2016 elections is Benigno ‘Noynoy Aquino III, the son of President Cory Aquino who assumed office upon Marcos’ forced departure in 1986. Meanwhile Marcos’ son, current Senator Ferdinand ‘Bong Bong’ Marcos Jr., is standing for the Vice Presidency. Politics in the Philippines is dynastic and oligarchic. A phenomenon that Dante Simbulan has called; ‘The Modern Principalia’.
There are five main candidates in the 2016 elections. The first is Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas, the standard bearer of the ruling Liberal Party. He is the grandson of former President Manuel Acuña Roxas who served from 1946 until his death in 1948. Roxas had intended to run for president in 2010 however, he stepped aside in favour of his friend Noynoy Aquino when it became evident that the national grief felt at the time of Cory Aquino’s death in 2009, looked to set to propel her son to the presidency. This calculation bore fruit as Noynoy secured nearly 43% of the popular vote. Noynoy has endorsed Roxas as his successor however he has been plagued by a series of gaffes during his tenure as Secretary of Interior and Local government. These include being caught on tape telling Tacloban Mayor Alfred Romualdez (nephew of Imelda and cousin of Bong Bong) that he should remember that ‘you are a Romuladez and the President is an Aquino’, as they discussed strategy in the aftermath of Typhoon Yolanda in November 2013.
Rodrigo ‘Rody’ Duterte is one of Roxas’ main challengers. He served seven terms as Mayor of Davao City in Mindanao. Under Duterte’s watch Davao has been transformed from a lawless violent city to one of the most orderly in the Philippines. However this order has come at a cost. Human rights organizations are crying foul over Duterte’s presidential bid as he has been linked to vigilante killings and sees no particular problem with shoot-to-kill as a response to drug dealers and criminals. This has led to him being labeled ‘The Punisher’ by Time Magazine in 2002. Duterte’s hard man approach is attractive to Filipinos that are fed up with high levels of criminality however Duterte might end up being a case of be careful what you wish for.
Jejomar ‘Jojo’ Binay is the current Vice Present of the Philippines and was the first to declare his ambition to become president in 2016. Binay draws on the populist orientation he developed based on his humble beginnings, achievements during his four terms as Mayor of Makati City and more importantly, his strong appeal to the plight of the Filipino masses as credentials for winning in the elections. Binay’s ascension to political power nonetheless, has been beset with numerous controversies such as allegedly maintaining non-existent employees in the Makati City payroll, purportedly not remitting the proper withholding taxes to the Bureau of International Revenue, and more recently, accusations of overpricing in the construction of a parking building for Makati City Hall. Despite of these challenges, he has managed to maintain popularity by remaining silent, developing his political machinery and refocusing the debate on poverty alleviation.
With the intention of continuing her father’s footsteps, Senator Grace Poe is another presidential aspirant. Given the limitations of her political campaign, Poe was initially dependent on her prominent background, efficient public service and strong ideals as selling points that would sustain her presidential campaign. This strategy however, has not been effective against criticisms regarding her lack of experience and more significantly, questions about her eligibility to stand for the presidency. This latter point has consequently led to problems with the status of her candidacy. While Poe still seems to be a viable presidential candidate, her fate will be decided not just by judicial philosophy alone but also by external pressures, and the personal interests of the justices of the Supreme Court.
Miriam Defensor Santiago is arguably the most experienced presidential candidate, having served in all three branches of government and participated in two presidential elections in 1992 and 1998. Moreover, her expertise in international law and election as judge to the International Criminal Court, makes her the most qualified to deal with crucial foreign policy issues. While Santiago continues to campaign based on her longstanding advocacy of anti-corruption, there are concerns about the sustainability of her candidacy due to her life-threatening health condition, questionable choice of running mate, and the absence of a practical political organization. Notwithstanding these issues and her continuous low ratings in the surveys, Santiago is determined to follow through with her campaign and is confident that she is still the best person to make the Philippines a much better country.
According to a Pulse Asia a pre-election survey of 1,800 voters undertaken nationwide between 24-28 January 2016 Poe is leading the presidential race with 30%, Binay is second with 23%, Roxas and Duterte are on with 20% and Santiago has 4%. However, these figures belie previous peaks and troughs in the ratings and there is still everything to play for in the presidential race.
The School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham and the Department of Political Science at the University of the Philippines, Diliman and invited bloggers from around the world will be running a non-partisan joint election blog over the three month election period. Our blog will cover the elections from local, regional and national perspectives. We will address key issues such as dynastic politics, Filipino voting behavior, automated voting, the campaign tactics, campaign platforms, ‘clean’ elections and critical political issues at stake including poverty, the economy, peace and order, national infrastructure, national security and foreign policy.
Pauline Eadie is an Assistant Professor in the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham. She is Deputy Director of the Institute of Asia Pacific Studies (IAPS). Francis Domingo is an Assistant Professor of International Studies at De La Salle University in Manila and a doctoral candidate at the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham. Image credit: CC by Ree Dexter.