Presidential, congressional, provincial and local elections were held in the Philippines on May 9, 2016. All executive and legislative offices at the national, provincial and local levels of government were elected, with the exception of the lowest-level village (barangay) officials. The most important election was for the President and Vice President, followed by elections for half the seats in the Senate and all the seats in the House of Representatives.
Electoral and political system
The Philippines are a presidential republic, and its political and electoral system bears many similarities to that of the United States, but there remain some key differences.
The President of the Philippines (Pangulo ng Pilipinas) is the head of state and government of the Philippines, directly elected by voters to serve a six-year term by FPTP. The letter of the Constitution states that “the President shall not be eligible for any reelection”, which clearly bans immediate reelection for an incumbent elected to the office. The next sentence reads “No person who has succeeded as President and has served as such for more than four years shall be qualified for election to the same office at any time.” This allows someone (such as the Vice President) who has acceded to the presidency and served less than four years of the term to seek reelection, as President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo did in 2004. It remains unclear whether non-consecutive reelection for a former president is also banned, given that one former president (Joseph Estrada, 1998-2001) ran for president in 2010. Estrada’s case was brought to the Supreme Court, but the issue was heard after the election (which he lost), so it was dismissed.
The President’s powers are comparable to those of other presidents in most presidential system – appointment, commander-in-chief of the military, control of the executive branch and imposition of martial law.
The Vice President of the Philippines (Pangalawang Pangulo ng Pilipinas) is the first in the constitutional line of succession, and assumes the presidency in case of the death, permanent disability, removal from office, or resignation of the President. The VP is elected in the same manner, but separately from, the President – a fairly rare working, which sets the Philippines apart from other presidential system. The VP cannot serve for more than two consecutive terms. It is possible and in fact not uncommon for candidates from different parties to be elected as President and VP (as happened in the last election, in 2010). The Constitution does not establish any mandatory official duties for the VP besides presidential succession – the VP is not, for example, President of the Senate – but does allow for the VP to be appointed as a member of cabinet.
Only natural-born citizens over the age of 40 who have resided in the country for the ten years immediately preceding the election are eligible to be elected President or Vice President. The President, VP and some other senior officials (such as Supreme Court members) may be impeached for “culpable violation of the Constitution, treason, bribery, graft and corruption, other high crimes, or betrayal of public trust.” The House of Representatives initiates impeachment cases, although a main difference from US impeachment proceedings is that only a third of the House is required to approve articles of impeachment for them to be transmitted to the Senate for trial. In the Senate, presidential impeachment trials are presided by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (non-voting member), and like the US, a two-thirds majority is required for conviction.
The Congress of the Philippines (Kongreso ng Pilipinas) is the country’s bicameral national legislature, consisting of the Senate (Senado) as the upper house and the House of Representatives (Kapulungan ng mga Kinatawan). Congress’ powers are similar to those of the US Congress – general legislative powers, confirmation of appointments (by a joint commission), veto override (with a two-thirds majority in both houses), control and supervision of the executive, senatorial approval of treaties, declaration of war by joint session and impeachment.
The Senate has 24 members elected at-large for six-year terms through plurality at-large voting (block vote), with half of the seats up every three years. Senators may not serve more than two consecutive terms. In senatorial elections, parties or coalitions run a ‘ticket’ or slate (which are sometimes incomplete), which they sometimes complete with so-called ‘guest candidates’, or candidates who are members of another party.
The House of Representatives, after the election, will have 297 representatives serving three-year terms. Representatives cannot serve for more than three consecutive terms. 80% of all representatives (in 2013, 234, in 2016, 238) are elected in single-member legislative or congressional districts by FPTP. Seats are apportioned among the provinces and cities on the basis of their population, but Congress has shirked from its constitutional responsibility to reapportion legislative districts following every census, with the result being that there has been no national reapportionment since the Constitution was adopted in 1987 and the only changes to district boundaries have come as a result of the creation of new provinces or cities or piecemeal redistricting. The population of the districts currently runs the gamut from 16,600 to over 1 million.
The remaining 20% of the seats (in 2013, 58, in 2016, 59) are called party-list seats, which are for purportedly under-represented sectors (labour, poor, women, women, youth etc.). The country’s political parties do not run for the party-list seats, which are disputed between hundreds of small parties (or glorified lobbies/interest groups) which nobody really seems to care or know very much about. The distribution of the party-list seats follows an odd and arcane method – essentially the Hare quota, with several important modifications. Firstly, there is a 2% threshold, but it doesn’t amount to much: parties which pass the threshold automatically win at least one seat, but in successive rounds of allocation, any unfilled seats once all parties over 2% have received their seats are distributed to the parties until all seats have been filled. In addition, no party may win more than three seats. Wikipedia attempts an explanation, although it tough to get your head around it. Over 40 parties won party-list seats in 2013 – one won three seats, another 14 won two seats. The biggest party won just 4.6% of the vote, the smallest party to win seats won 0.86%. Over 31% of the votes cast in the party-list election in 2013 were invalid or blank votes.
Only natural-born citizens can serve in Congress, but there are different age qualifications – 35 for the Senate, 25 for the House – and residency requirements – no less than two years in the country for the Senate, no less than one year in the district for district representatives.
The local government units in the Philippines are the provinces, independent cities, component cities/municipalities and barangays. There is one autonomous region, the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), which stands above the provinces and cities. Local governments enjoy local autonomy under presidential supervision. There are 81 provinces and 38 independent cities (cities which are independent from provinces and do not vote, with some exceptions, for provincial offices) – but, to make matters confusing, official maps do not generally distinguish provinces and independent cities, and some independent cities are still grouped with their former provinces in congressional districts (while some component cities, not separate from provinces, form their own congressional districts). Provinces and cities are grouped into regions, but with the exception of the ARMM, these are purely administrative divisions without any form of regional/local government. All elected local officials (except barangay level) serve three-year terms and are limited to three consecutive terms.
Provinces have directly-elected governors, vice-governors and provincial boards (Sangguniang Panlalawigan). Provincial boards have elected members and three ex oficio members, and elected members are elected from single or multi-member districts which correspond to congressional districts except in lone-district provinces which have two districts for provincial board elections. Cities have directly-elected mayors, vice-mayors and city councils (Sangguniang Panlungsod) ranging in size from 10 to 36 seats, elected either at-large or in multi-member districts. Municipalities, which are part of provinces, have directly-elected mayors, vice-mayors and municipal councils (Sangguniang Bayan). In 2013, 143 city mayors/vice-mayors and 1,491 municipal mayors/vice-mayors were elected; 766 provincial board members, nearly 1,600 city councillors and nearly 12,000 municipal councillors were elected. The ARMM has a directly-elected governor, vice-governor and legislative assembly.
Political history and background
The Republic of the Philippines gained its independence from the United States in 1946. Its history of relative political instability, endemic corruption and weak economy compared to other Asian countries earned it the moniker “the sick man of Asia”. The Filipino economy has improved in recent years and, since the late 1980s, it has re-consolidated itself as a democratic country though it naturally continues to face major problems. Corruption remains deeply ingrained in the political system, and patronage remains central to Filipino politics (and has a local term: the Padrino system). The Philippines ranked 95th out of 168 in the 2015 Corruption Perceptions Index, lower than China, India, Indonesia and Malaysia. Elections, in many ways, continue to be the arena where the country’s elite families – political dynasties – compete for power, the wealthiest of them at the national and provincial levels (this despite the 1987 Constitution calling on a law to prohibit political dynasties).
The 2015 edition of the Freedom in the World report noted that “while open and competitive, elections in the Philippines are typically marred by fraud, intimidation, and political violence, though conditions have improved in recent years.” The report said that political parties have weak ideological identities, that legislative coalitions are “exceptionally fluid” and that the distribution of power is still strongly affected by kinship networks (political dynasties). The report lamented widespread corruption and cronyism, and an associated culture of impunity. Other major problems cited by the report include arbitrary detention, disappearances, kidnappings, abuse of suspects, police and military abuses (corruption, torture, extrajudicial killings) and grave dangers to journalists (the Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists). Nevertheless, the Philippines have a vibrant and outspoken private media, robust civic activism, many active human rights groups and the country has made progress on gender equality despite a very socially conservative culture and a politically active Catholic Church.
Roots of modern Filipino politics (1907-1946)
Under American rule, first as a territory (1907-1935) and later as a protectorate (the Commonwealth, 1935-1946, except for the Japanese occupation), the Philippines had a one-party dominant system monopolized by the Nacionalista Party, a conservative pro-independence party established in 1901 under a program of “immediate independence”. The Nacionalistas won the first elections to the lower house in 1907, and won every election thereafter until 1946 (with the exception of the 1943 elections under Japanese occupation), although the party was split on two occasions (1922 and 1934). The party represented the interests of the landed elites, and was led for the entire era by Sergio Osmeña and Manuel Quezon (whose social background was somewhat unusual, as he rose to prominence because of his academic merit), allies at times and rivals at other times. Osmeña and Quezon were pragmatists who used the appeal of independence to win votes but who otherwise pursued highly accommodating policies towards the Americans, adopting a conciliatory and evolutionary approach towards independence.
The nature of party politics in this period laid the foundations of the modern Filipino party system. Political scientist Carl Landé described Filipino parties as organized “upwards” rather than “downwards” – that is, national coalitions were put together by party leaders who worked in conjunction with local elites (in many cases, the descendants of leading families during Spanish rule) who controlled constituencies in patron-client relationships. At the local level, notables garnered support by exchanging support for votes. Reciprocal ties between inferior and superior usually involved repayment of debts and kinship ties, and they were the basis of support for local-level factions which decided political affiliation. Unsurprisingly under such a party system, local issues were of greater importance than national ones and patronage was vital to the retention of a following. Despite the expansion of suffrage in 1916 and 1938, the elite was largely successful in monopolizing the support of the newly enfranchised and checking the rise of populist alternatives.
Under Nacionalista hegemony, a conservative consensus precluded discussion of even moderate social and economic reforms. The status quo in landlord and tenant relationships was maintained and disparities in the distribution of wealth grew, but patterns of social control changed as the elite left the countryside to become absentee landlords.
Nevertheless, Quezon and Osmeña’s commitment to independence was sincere. Under a Democratic administration in the United States, the Philippines gained increased autonomy with the Jones Act (1916), which contained the first formal and official declaration of the US’ intent to grant independence as soon as a ‘stable government’ could be established. The law also provided for both houses of the legislature, including the upper house (Senate), to be directly elected although executive power remained in American hands with the governor-general.
Under another Democratic administration in 1934, the Tydings-McDuffie Act was passed, setting a ten-year transition period for independence in 1946 and establishing the Commonwealth of the Philippines, with the first directly-elected President of the Philippines. The Commonwealth was self-governing in all matters except foreign policy, immigration, currency and foreign trade, but the relationship between the Philippines and the United States remained an highly unequal one. Under the act, the 1935 Constitution of the Philippines was written. The original document created a unicameral legislature and limited the president to a single non-renewable six-year term but it was amended in 1940 to allow the executive to serve two consecutive four-year terms and reestablish a bicameral legislature with a Senate.
The debates preceding the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Act had divided the Nacionalista Party between Manuel Quezon, opposed to the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act of 1933, and Sergio Osmeña, who supported the bill. Quezon successfully managed to kill the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act in the Senate, and renegotiated the Tydings-McDuffie Act with the US Congress, resulting in a bill slightly more favourable to Filipino interests. Following the passage of the Tydings-McDuffie Act and the 1935 Constitution, Quezon and Osmeña reconciled, ran on a Nacionalista ticket and were elected president and vice president, respectively. In 1941, both were reelected by landslide margins. During this period, the Nacionalista Party lacked any serious opposition. Quezon’s administration launched a ‘social justice’ program and passed a rice share tenancy law in 1933 to improve the lot of tenant farmers, but in the end both achieved meagre results due to insufficient funds and local-level sabotage by landlords. In fact, in 1940, thousands of cultivators were evicted by landlords as they insisted for enforcement of the 1933 law, and rural conflict became only more acute.
During World War II following the Japanese invasion and occupation of the islands, Quezon and Osmeña led the Filipino government-in-exile but several Nacionalista personalities, chief among them José P. Laurel (an associate justice of the Supreme Court), collaborated with the Japanese occupiers and provided the Filipino political personnel for the Second Philippine Republic, the Japanese-sponsored regime (which nevertheless sometimes faced down the Japanese). The issue of collaboration with the wartime occupier became a major point of political debate in the post-war Philippines.
During the war, hundreds of thousands of Filipinos – many of them tenant farmers and peasants who had already been opposing landlord practices – joined guerrilla units which prevented the Japanese from fully occupying the territory. The largest of these guerrilla forces were the Hukbalahap, a communist-inspired resistance movement formed in central Luzon. The Huks had fought alongside the Americans during the liberation of the Philippines, but there was much mutual distrust between the two, and after the war, many Huk guerrillas were forcibly disarmed, arrested or massacred by the US military or Filipino forces. After the war, the Huks, who resumed their guerrilla campaign in 1948, were painted as communists by the government and the US, but the Communist Party (PKP) gave its support to the Huk rebellion only in 1950 and historians have agreed that the Huks were a peasant movement driven largely by landlord-tenant conflicts in which Marxist-Leninist doctrine had little place.
In exile, Osmeña had succeeded Quezon as president following the latter’s death in August 1944, and presided over the reestablishment of the Commonwealth following the liberation of the islands in 1945, but also the difficult immediate post-war period of rampant inflation, food shortages and the problem of wartime collaborators. The Americans insisted on severe punishments, but were inconsistent in following their own policy, as General MacArthur granted clemency and liberated his friends. Quoting Kathleen Nadeau, “this meant that those who had collaborated with the Japanese were those who were charged with the task of dealing with the problem of collaborators, which, effectively, ensured the survival of the prewar landed elites.”
The two-party system of the Third Republic (1946-1965)
General elections were called for April 1946, to prepare for the transition to independence scheduled for July 1946. Incumbent President Sergio Osmeña sought reelection, but largely left the task of campaigning to his underlings. The main challenge to Nacionalista hegemony, as it turned out, came from a split within Nacionalista ranks. Manuel Roxas, an ambitious Nacionalista Speaker of the House (1922-1933) and President of the Senate (1945-1946), aroused much controversy for having served as minister without portfolio in Laurel’s cabinet (where he maintained contact with Allied forces, which exonerated him in the eyes of his prewar associate, Douglas MacArthur). When Osmeña won the Nacionalista nomination, Roxas split off from the party to form what became the Liberal Party so he could run for president. Osmeña received support from the Democratic Alliance, a makeshift left-wing alliance which included the Communist Party (PKP) and the Huks of northern and central Luzon, but he was greatly outspent and outspoken by Roxas. Roxas won the election 53.9% to 45.7% and the Liberals also won control of both houses of Congress.
In the campaign, Roxas had claimed that those who had collaborated with the Japanese had also resisted, and in 1948 he declared an amnesty for arrested collaborators. Economic relations were, however, the most salient issue. One of the first items passed by the new Congress, two days prior to independence, was the Bell Trade Act of 1946, a US trade act which stipulated that free trade be continued until 1954, thereafter tariffs would increase gradually by 5% annually until full amounts were reached in 1974. While there were quotas for Filipino products, there were no restrictions on the entry of US goods nor any import duties. The most controversial provision of the law was the ‘parity clause’, which granted US citizens equal economic rights with Filipinos in the exploitation of natural resources. Acceptance of this clause was the condition for the payment of US$620 million in war damages. Congressional approval of the parity clause (which required a three-quarters majority in both houses and a plebiscite) required Roxas to legislative engineering – denying congressional seats to six members of the Democratic Alliance and three Nacionalistas on grounds of electoral violence – to obtain its passage. In March 1947, a plebiscite on the amendment was held, and passed with over 78% of the vote although turnout was only 40%. The Liberals swept the 1947 midterm senatorial elections, winning seven of the eight seats up for grabs and giving them a wide 15-8 majority. Close ties to the United States in the military field were formalized by the 1947 Military Bases Agreement, which gave the US a 99-year lease on 23 military installations including Subic Bay. In addition, a 1947 military assistance agreement established a US military mission to train the Philippines armed forces and the transfer of millions of dollars worth of military aid.
US military assistance was used to fight the ‘communist threat’ in the countryside. The exclusion of the Democratic Alliance from Congress provoked unrest in the regions where they had been elected, while continued landlord-instigated violence against peasant groups convinced the Huks to resume their armed struggle. Although Roxas’ government passed a law giving peasants 70% of the harvest, his government followed mostly repressive tactics against the Huks.
Roxas died in office in April 1948 and was succeeded by Vice President Elpidio Quirino, who stepped up the military campaign against the Huks after unfruitful talks with their leader. The Huks’ momentum faded after 1951. In 1949, Elpidio Quirino was reelected (in an election marred by accusations of rigging and fraud) with 50.9% of the vote, against 37.2% for José P. Laurel, the former wartime collaborationist president standing for the Nacionalistas, and 11.9% for dissident Liberal José Avelino, former party leader and Senate President (ousted on charges of selling war surpluses). The Liberals won increased majorities in both houses of Congress. Nevertheless, two years later, discontent over Quirino’s inability to manage lawlessness in the countryside and widespread corruption led to the first midterm election defeat for a Filipino President. The Nacionalistas won all seats up for grabs in the Senate (although overall the Liberals retained a majority), with José P. Laurel as the top vote-getter.
Laurel declined the Nacionalista presidential nomination in 1953, and instead recommended defence secretary Ramon Magsaysay, whose counter-insurgency tactics against the Huks had been very successful and won him widespread recognition and support. Magsaysay was very close to, and owed some of his political success to the United States and a joint Philippines-US military mission which had devised the successful counter-insurgency strategy and a peasant resettlement plan (which led more than a million people to voluntarily resettle to Mindanao). With Laurel’s backing, Magsaysay won the Nacionalista nomination and ran a populist campaign in which he styled himself a man of the people. Incumbent President Quirino, hobbled by charges of corruption and ill health, was no match for Magsaysay and was routed, 68.9% to 31.1%.
Magsaysay’s personal style, his administration’s economic policies, robust economic performance and agricultural tenancy legislation made him very popular. He was the first postwar leader to bring the masses into contact with the government, although his personalization of state institutions also reduced their effectiveness. In March 1957, Magsaysay died in a plane crash and was succeeded by Vice President Carlos P. Garcia. Garcia completed Magsaysay’s term and won a full term in his own right in November 1957, an unprecedented multi-sided contest. Garcia, as the Nacionalista candidate, was opposed by former Speaker Jose Yulo for the Liberals, former Magsaysay supporters behind Manuel Manahan in the Progressive Party, and nationalist political thinker/rebel Nacionalista senator Carlos M. Recto for the Nationalist Citizens’ Party (NCP). Garcia was reelected with 41.3% against 27.6% for Yulo, 20.9% for Manahan and 8.6% for Recto, but he was unable to carry his running-mate, Jose B. Laurel Jr., over the line and the vice presidency was won by Liberal congressman Diosdado Macapagal. Garcia’s most significant legacy is his Filipino First policy, a protectionist and nationalist policy designed to reduce the dominance of foreign (read: US) interests in the national economy and promote industrialization with special incentives to Filipino investors. Under Garcia, the policy was successful at creating new jobs in production of consumer goods and secondary industries, although most benefits flowed to the rich. In 1957, the richest 20% received 55% of the national income against 4.5% for the poorest 20%. Festering corruption and the unpopularity of the Filipino First policy with some groups made Garcia’s administration quite unpopular by the time of the 1961 election, in which he sought reelection.
The opposition – the Liberals, the Progressive Party and Nacionalista dissidents – nominated Vice President Diosdado Macapagal for the presidency and Nacionalista senator Emmanuel Pelaez for the vice presidency. The Nacionalistas were further divided by the independent vice presidential candidacy of Sergio Osmeña Jr. and the very public falling out between President Garcia and NP Senate President Eulogio Rodriguez. Macapagal was elected president with 55% against 45% for Garcia, and Pelaez narrowly won the vice presidency with 37.6% against 34.4% for Osmeña Jr.
Diosdado Macapagal strongly advocated for ‘free enterprise’, pledging to reduce government intervention in the economy and opening the country to foreign investment. His administration removed exchange controls, floated the peso and recruited American-trained technocrats to staff a new economic development agency which replaced an old, corrupt economic council. In 1963, Congress passed Macapagal’s land reform code, which replaced tenancy with a leasehold system, but not until landlords in Congress had drained the law of all its substance and funding. The land reform had good intentions, but under such conditions, it was a major failure. An unfriendly Congress frustrated other of his ideas and prevented the full implementation of his programs. Macapagal launched an anti-corruption drive cracked down on tax evaders, a campaign which remained fairly one-sided as corruption remained endemic in Macapagal’s government. These campaigns won him enemies in powerful places, who used their power to malign the president’s character in the press and expose government corruption and waste.
Macapagal’s administration was wracked by defections in the run-up to the 1965 elections, the most prominent being that of Liberal Senate President Ferdinand Marcos, who joined the Nacionalista Party. Vice President Emmanuel Pelaez also fell out with the Liberals and returned to his first home, the Nacionalistas, to unsuccessfully battled Marcos for the party’s nomination. The Progressives, who had supported Macapagal’s candidacy in 1961, re-created their party (as the Party for Philippine Progress) and ran a separate ticket. Marcos campaigned hard against government corruption, targeted dissatisfaction with economic conditions (jobs, overcrowded cities etc.) and had a pledge to “make this nation great again” which is very familiar in 2016 (ahem). Marcos won a decisive victory with 51.9% against 42.9% for President Macapagal. In the vice presidential race, Marcos’ running-mate was Fernando Lopez, member of a powerful family (owners of one of the country’s largest business conglomerates) which had been targeted by Macapagal’s crackdown on ‘big fish’ tax evaders. Lopez defeated Liberal senator Gerardo Roxas, son of former President Manuel Roxas, in a very close race (48.5% to 48.1%). The Nacionalistas regained the Senate, but the Liberals retained control of the House until 1967.
Ferdinand Marcos (1965-1986)
Ferdinand Marcos was born in 1917 in Ilocos Norte, a province in northwestern Luzon, in a family which was part of the provincial elite class. His father, Mariano, served two terms in the House of Representatives between 1925 and 1931 and later collaborated with the Japanese before his death in 1945. In 1938, Ferdinand Marcos was one of several members of his family accused of the murder of a political rival from Ilocos Norte, but was acquitted on appeal to the Supreme Court in 1940, reversing a lower court’s guilty verdict – likely due to the machinations of a wealthy Chinese man (with whom Marcos’ mother may have had an affair before her marriage to Mariano). Marcos’ war record remains shrouded in mystery, but Marcos promoted his political career on the basis of an entirely fabricated ‘heroic’ war record; he claimed to be the country’s most decorated war hero, receiving almost every single Filipino and American medal, something which later turned out to be a lie. Similarly, Marcos’ claims to have commanded an 8,000-strong guerrilla force seems to be a fraud. Marcos served ten years in the House as a Liberal representative from Ilocos Norte before being elected to the Senate, under the Liberal ticket, in 1959 (with over 2.6 million votes). He served as President of the Senate between 1963 and 1965. In 1954, Marcos married Imelda Marcos, a former beauty queen, perhaps best known today for her insane shoe collection. But Imelda also came with political connections to the Romualdez political dynasty of Leyte in the Visayas.
In his first term (1965-1969), Marcos initiated ambitious public works projects (roads, bridges, schools, irrigation, health centres) which improved the quality of life but which provided generous pork barrel opportunities for his friends and allies. Marcos liked public works spending as politically beneficial, since they won him loyal allies and were appreciated both by local elites and ordinary people. In contrast, land reform was a high-cost and risky idea which risked alienating allies, and Marcos never forcefully implemented any land reform ideas. Marcos’ popularity led to a Nacionalista sweep in the 1967 midterm senatorial polls – seven of the eight seats went to the governing party, with only a single Liberal winning – Benigno Aquino Jr., who soon emerged as the regime’s most forceful opponent.
In one of the most fraudulent elections in the country’s history, Marcos and Lopez were reelected in a landslide in 1969 against their Liberal opponents, senator Sergio Osmeña Jr. and senator Genaro Magsaysay (incidentally, two former Nacionalistas). Marcos won 61.5% of the vote against 38.5% for Osmeña in the presidential race. Marcos spent at least US$50 million on his campaign, and blatantly abused public funds to bribe political bosses into bringing in votes from their regions for him. Marcos’ Nacionalistas won a massive majority in the House and increased their majority in the Senate.
The optimism and tranquility that had characterized his first term dissipated, as economic growth slowed and political dissent increased. The late 1960s and early 1970s were, of course, a turbulent period in Southeast Asia with the Vietnam War. The Philippines sent about 2,000 troops, but, more importantly, the US military bases at Subic Bay and Clark Air Base became the largest US overseas military facilities as important staging grounds for the Vietnam conflict. The Vietnam war, the Philippines’ close alignment with US foreign policy, the Chinese Cultural Revolution and other anti-imperialist movements around the world in the late 1960s radicalized middle and upper-class Filipino students and rejuvenated the communist movement. The Huk rebellion had ended in the 1950s and the old PKP seemed dormant by 1970, but a new generation ‘reestablished’ the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) along Maoist lines in 1968. The CPP’s armed faction, the New People’s Army (NPA), launched a People’s War (following Maoist theory) in 1969. In southern Mindanao and Sulu, violence between Muslims and Christians was on the rise and resulted in the creation of the Muslim separatist Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in 1969. In January 1970, student demonstrators marching to the presidential palace clashed with riot police in Manila, resulting in many injuries.
There was wide agreement on the need to adopt a new constitution to replace the old 1935 document and serve as the basis for a thorough reform of the political system. In 1970, an election was held to elect delegates to a constitutional convention. Under the 1935 constitution, Marcos was barred from seeking a third term in the 1973 election, and opposition delegates at the convention adopted a provision in September 1971 which banned Marcos or members of his family from holding the position of head of state regardless of whatever arrangement was adopted. But Marcos, through bribery and coercion, managed to have the ban nullified.
In August 1971, grenades thrown during a Liberal Party campaign rally in Plaza Miranda (Manila) killed 9 and injured another 95, including most leading Liberal senatorial candidates. It has never been conclusively established who was responsible, but Marcos blamed the CPP while others (like the Liberals) pointed to government involvement. Other bombings at the time were attributed to communists, but were likely set by government agents provocateurs. Marcos used the Plaza Miranda as a pretext to suspend the writ of habeas corpus and arrested a score of Maoists.
President Marcos had grown highly unpopular by the time of the 1971 midterm polls, and the opposition Liberal Party captured 6 of the 8 seats. On such numbers, it looked unlikely that Marcos or a stand-in candidate would win the 1973 election against the opposition frontrunner, senator Benigno Aquino. In September 1972, following a (staged) assassination attempt on defence secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and the mounting communist insurgency, Marcos declared martial law across the country. Marcos ruled by decree until 1981, using his extraordinary powers to arrest opposition leaders (including Benigno Aquino Jr.), close Congress, shut down several media outlets and tightly curtail press freedom and civil liberties. Marcos’ measures were initially well-received at home, and his anti-communist justifications found a ready audience in the United States, which hardly protested the demise of Filipino democracy. In 1981, US Vice President George H.W. Bush infamously praised Marcos for his “adherence to democratic principles and to the democratic processes.” The US provided billions of dollars in bilateral military and economic aid.
Marcos claimed that martial law was the prelude to the creation of a ‘New Society’, based on new political and social values and an overarching spirit of self-sacrifice for the national welfare. That was, of course, mostly completely vacuous nonsense since Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos’ regime was notoriously kleptocratic, focused on enriching themselves and a small circle of cronies by looting the treasury and corruption on an ‘awe-inspiring scale’. In his nepotistic system, Imelda Marcos was appointed governor of Metro Manila, an office she held from 1975 to 1986 and also served in the legislature and as ‘minister of human settlements’ (a fancy title for embezzlement, money laundering and racketeering). Marcos used martial law to confiscate and appropriate many private and public businesses, and hand them over to friends and family. He also used his power to settle scores with rivals, a practice which alienated parts of the old social and economic elites of the country.
The martial law years were a violent period, with the NPA’s communist/Maoist insurgency and the Moro (Muslim) insurgency in the south, conflicts which killed thousands of people. In 1976, a cease-fire agreement was signed under Libyan mediation between the government and the MNLF, in which the government undertook to create an autonomous region for Muslims in Mindanao (the ARMM, however, was only created in 1989). An Islamist separatist faction of the MNLF unhappy with the cease-fire split and created the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), whose goal was the creation of an Islamist state in the south of the country.
The economy performed well during the first years of martial law, benefiting from increased stability and business confidence bolstered by Marcos’ appointment of talented technocrats. The economy weathered the 1973 oil shock and the ensuing inflation by reducing dependence on imported oil. Yet, most benefits flowed to Marcos’ family, cronies A land reform was proclaimed in 1975, resulting in the formal transfer of land to over 180,000 families, but the program was filled with loopholes and had little impact either on the landowning elites or landless peasants. More importantly, the government launched the Green Revolution, a model emphasizing increased crop production which was heavily funded by the IMF and the World Bank. The Green Revolution did increase crop production, but at the cost of expensive and environmentally damaging pesticides and fertilizers. And overall, it mostly benefited wealthy farmers, large landowners and agri-business rather than poor farmers. Marcos borrowed heavily to finance his economic development and infrastructure projects, in the process saddling the country with a huge external debt ($28.3 billion) by the time he left office in 1986 and creating several balance of payments crises in the 1980s which required IMF assistance.
In 1973, the constitutional convention finished its work and produced a new constitution, supposed to shift towards a parliamentary system of government with a unicameral National Assembly, a Prime Minister who would be head of government and commander-in-chief and a ceremonial president elected by the National Assembly with no term limits. The constitution was ratified by a show of hands, rather than secret ballot, in January 1973 with 90.7% approving. In July, the same majority supported continuation of martial law. In 1975, over 88% of voters approved of the manner in which Marcos had been carrying out his duties. In 1976, the 1973 constitution was amended to substitute the interim National Assembly (which never met) for an interim Batasang Pambansa and to allow the President to serve as Prime Minister and exercise legislative powers until martial law was lifted. In April 1978, elections to 165 seats in the interim Batasang Pambansa were held, contested by Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos’ Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (New Society Movement, KBL) and – in Metro Manila – by jailed opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr.’s Lakas ng Bayan (People’s Power, LABAN – literally ‘fight’). However, most of the opposition boycotted the polls, and with the odds stacked in their favour, the KBL swept the country with 137 seats. LABAN won no seats, but other provincial opposition leaders won seats in Region VII (Cebu/Central Visayas) and Region X (Northern Mindanao). Aquino later went into exile in the United States.
Martial law was lifted in 1981 (but decrees issued during that time remained in force, so it was a cosmetic change), while constitutional amendments that year replaced the false parliamentary system with a semi-presidential system where the President was directly elected and regained executive powers. In June 1981, a presidential election was held. The opposition umbrella group, UNIDO, did not have its preconditions for participation met and boycotted the election, clearing the field for Ferdinand Marcos to win a landslide reelection against only token opposition. Marcos won 88% of the vote, with his strongest opponent being Alejo Santos of the moribund Nacionalista Party (Santos’ campaign was basically run by the government), who won 8.3%.
In 1983, economic woes and Marcos’ own worsening health (he had lupus erythemotosus and was on dialysis) persuaded Aquino to return home, despite the dangers that awaited him, to persuade the president to relinquish power (which was very unlikely) or build a responsible opposition to prevent extremists (or Imelda Marcos) from taking over. Aquino managed to find a tortuous way to fly back to the Philippines despite the government’s opposition, but was assassinated as he was escorted off the airplane at Manila airport. The government immediately claimed that he was killed by a lone communist gunman (who was conveniently killed in a shoot-out by soldiers after the alleged act), but a fact-finding commission appointed by Marcos concluded in October 1984 that the assassination was a military conspiracy including General Fabian Ver, the then-commander of the armed forces. However, in 1985, a special court acquitted Ver and 24 other military officers. Aquino’s funeral drew millions and he became a martyr to the opposition.
Marcos held a parliamentary election in 1984. The opposition was divided between those, like former senators Jose Diokno and Jovito Salongo, who opted to boycott the polls and those who participated in the election with the UNIDO coalition (led by former senator Salvador ‘Doy’ Laurel) or the PDP-Laban (Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan) led by Cagayan de Oro mayor Aquilino Pimentel Jr. Marcos’ KBL retained a large majority, winning 62% of the seats, but the opposition won 61 seats – about a third of the seats – a marked improvement from 1978.
Marcos faced mounting unrest and international pressure, and, in November 1985, he decided to call a snap presidential election for February 1986. Marcos ran for reelection as the KBL’s candidate, with Arturo Tolentino (a member of the legislature and former senator) as his running-mate. Media tycoon Chino Roces convinced Benigno Aquino’s widow, Corazon ‘Cory’ Aquino, to run for president. Salvador ‘Doy’ Laurel, the other opposition candidate, reluctantly stepped aside to become Cory’s running-mate, only after intervention by Jaime Cardinal Sin, the influential Catholic Archbishop of Manila (the ‘spiritual leader’ to millions of devoutly Catholic Filipinos). Both ran together for UNIDO, and the opposition was supported by a broad coalition including the Church, unhappy sectors of the business elite and old politicians.
The election was marred by violence, rampant fraud and cheating, and the official Commission on Elections (COMELEC) declared Marcos and Tolentino the winners, with Marcos winning about 53% of the vote. However, the accredited election observer National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL), with a parallel tally from 70% of precincts, reported Aquino and Laurel as the winners with 52.6% for Cory Aquino (47.4% for Marcos). The election was condemned by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference and the US Senate, while even Marcos’ friend and steadfast ally President Ronald Reagan called the fraud reports ‘disturbing’. Yet, despite the controversy and growing protests, the government-controlled Batasang Pambansa officially proclaimed Marcos as the winner.
A group of disgruntled junior officers, supported by defence secretary Juan Ponce Enrile, in the armed forces had organized the Reform the Armed Forces Movement (RAM), and they set into motion a coup attempt after the disputed elections. The plot was uncovered, but Enrile et al. rallied Lt. General Fidel Ramos, vice chief of staff of the armed forces, and hunkered down in two military camps in Manila. Cardinal Sin, the Archbishop of Manila, appealed to Filipinos in the capital to go out and provide support to the rebel leaders. Despite the danger, hundreds of thousands descended onto the streets of Manila. Marcos quickly lost control of the military, and was advised by the Reagan White House (through Senator Paul Laxalt) to flee. Marcos fled the country to Hawaii on February 25, three days after the protests began. Corazon Aquino became President, with the success of what has become known as the People Power Revolution or EDSA I (after EDSA, the nickname for a major circumferential highway in Manila where protests took place).
Cory Aquino (1986-1992)
Corazon Aquino was unwillingly thrust into politics after the assassination of her husband, but she herself came from a powerful and well-connected family, the Cojuangco of Tarlac province (of distant Chinese ancestry).
Aquino led a turbulent transition to democracy. Immediately upon taking office, Aquino suspended the 1973 constitution and promulgated an interim constitution, while she appointed a constitutional commission which drafted the 1987 constitution (currently in force). The 1987 constitution protects civil and political rights, promotes education and includes a bill of rights similar to that of the United States. In institutional terms, it largely restored features of the 1935 constitution – the presidential system, the bicameral Congress and an independent judiciary with the Supreme Court. Her government also reorganized the executive branch and devolved power to local governments.
Congressional elections for the new House of Representatives and Senate were held in May 1987. Pro-Aquino parties formed the LABAN coalition, facing off against the Grand Alliance for Democracy (GAD) opposition coalition of the KBL and Nacionalista Party. The LABAN coalition swept 22 of the Senate’s 24 seats, with the opposition winning only two seats – for Joseph Estrada and Juan Ponce Enrile. In the House, the LABAN coalition also secured a large majority with the GAD winning very few seats. Despite the appearance of broad support for her administration, the coalition which brought her to power soon came undone. Enrile and Laurel were unhappy to learn that Aquino intended to serve out of her six-year term, and both set out to undermine her. Enrile was fired from cabinet as early as the fall of 1986; Laurel was relieved of his duties as foreign secretary in September 1987 but remained in cabinet as VP. Laurel was publicly opposed to her administration, to the point of announcing his willingness to lead the country if she was ousted by a coup. Besides her fractious political coalition, Aquino had trouble dealing with the military. In 1986 and 1987, there were several coup attempts from factions of the armed forces – the RAM, Marcos loyalists, Enrile. In December 1989, Aquino faced a serious coup attempt/revolt by Marcos loyalists and RAM elements, and she survived only by requesting support from the US military. The coup seriously weakened her politically (Laurel openly backed it) and hurt the fragile economy. Ramos’ support was crucial to Aquino retaining her grip on power through all coup attempts.
Aquino had inherited a massive foreign debt and poor economy, courtesy of Marcos’ mismanagement. Advised by some to repudiate the debt, Aquino instead took the unpopular decision of honouring all the debts previously incurred in an effort to regain investors’ confidence. Under her presidency, the foreign debt as a percentage of GDP shrank (from 88% to 68%). Aquino began a process of market liberalization by privatization, deregulating industries and seeking to dismantle the monopolies and oligopolies of the Marcos years. The economy performed well in 1988 and 1989, but the 1989 coup attempt badly hurt the fragile economic recovery, and the economy was just climbing out of recession when Aquino left office in 1992.
The 1987 constitution notably includes a provision for agrarian reform, although the article makes land reform “subject to such priorities and reasonable retention limits as the Congress may prescribe” and forces the state to “respect the right of small landowners” in determining land retention limits. Shortly after the adoption of the new constitution by referendum, farmers and agrarian workers demonstrated near the presidential palace to demand genuine land reform, but were met by Marines who fired into the crowd and killed 12. Aquino was not directly to blame for the massacre, but it was held against her. In 1988, Congress passed an agrarian reform law paving the way for land redistribution to tenant farmers, but the law allowed for landowners to opt for stock distribution instead of actual redistribution. This scheme was controversially used on an estate in Tarlac province which belonged to the Cojuangco family.
Her presidency was further complicated by major natural disasters – the 1990 Luzon earthquake, which killed 1,600, and the 1991 volcanic eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, which killed 800 and caused huge problems for the country’s economy and agriculture. The volcanic eruption covered the US naval station at Subic Bay and destroyed the Clark Air Base. After the Senate’s rejection of an earlier treaty and the breakdown of further talks, the US withdrew its forces from Subic Bay.
Fidel Ramos (1992-1998)
The 1992 presidential election was the first election under the new multi-party system. Retired General and former defence secretary Fidel Ramos lost the nomination of the then-dominant Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) party to House Speaker Ramon Mitra Jr., but bolted from the LDP to create his own party, Lakas ng Tao, which allied with the National Union of Christian Democrats (NUCD) of former senator and foreign secretary Raul Mangaplus (previously one of the main players of the Progressive Party in the ’60s). The field also included Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a former judge and Aquino’s former agrarian reform secretary, for the populist People’s Reform Party (PRP); Eduardo ‘Danding’ Cojuangco Jr., business tycoon (owner of San Miguel Corporation, one of the biggest food and beverage corporation in SE Asia), Corazon Aquino’s estranged cousin and Marcos inner circle crony (suspected of having had a role in Ninoy Aquino’s assassination), for the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC, a split-off from the Nacionalista Party); former First Lady and corruption icon Imelda Marcos for her late husband’s KBL; Senate President Jovito Salonga (a noted opposition leader under Marcos) for the Liberal Party and VP Salvador Laurel of the Nacionalista Party. Aquino initially was behind Ramon Mitra, but switched her support to Fidel Ramos. Ramos ended up winning the election with the smallest plurality in Philippines history – 23.6% to 19.7% for Santiago, 18.2% for Danding Cojuangco, 14.6% to Mitra, 10.3% to Imelda Marcos, 10.2% to Salonga and only 3.4% to Salvador Laurel. In contrast, the vice presidential contest was won with a larger plurality (33%) by senator Joseph Estrada (NPC), Danding Cojuangco’s running-mate and a former movie star. In the congressional races, the LDP ended up with the most seats, although that’s a rather meaningless factoid since many later defected to support the incoming administration.
Fidel Ramos also came from a political family (and Marcos’ second cousin by his mom) – his dad was a member of the House and later foreign secretary under Marcos – but made his career in the military, in active duty in Korea and Vietnam before becoming chief of the Philippine Constabulary (a militarized gendarmerie/Guardia Civil force formed by the Americans in 1901, abolished in 1991) in 1972 and serving as one of Marcos’ trusted advisers for 20 years (notably enforcing martial law). His defection to the People Power Revolution in 1986 was key in tipping the balance against Marcos, and his loyalty to President Aquino allowed her to retain office despite military revolts.
Ramos entered office with an ambitious plan to make the Philippines a new economic ‘tiger’ in Asia by 2000, which meant liberalizing the economy to make it more attractive to outside investors and increase export-oriented industrialization. Ramos’ government continued the privatization of state-owned corporations (telecommunications, banking, shipping, oil, Philippine Airlines), reformed the tax system by raising the VAT to 10% on IMF-World Bank recommendations and reduced the external debt to 55% of GDP by 1996. Foreign investors regained confidence in an apparently re-stabilized country, and international investments in export zones and other industrial area created thousands of new jobs and strengthened the economy (especially in Metro Manila, Cebu and northern Luzon). The Filipino economy performed well between 1994 and 1997, with growth rates between 4% and 6% annually, declining inflation and unemployment.
Under Ramos, the government restarted negotiations with the MNLF, leading to a ‘peace agreement’ with the MNLF in 1996 which allowed the MNLF’s leader, Nur Misuari, to be elected governor of the ARMM. The government also held negotiations with the MILF and the CPP/NPA, and legalized the Communist Party of the Philippines. His administration faced several allegations of corruption and mismanagement, and his economic record has been criticized – particularly by the left – for ‘artificial’ economic growth and the damaging effects of privatization.
The Philippine economy, like that of its East Asian neighbours, was hit by the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The country’s GDP fell by 0.6% in 1998, a much milder recession than the ones which Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia suffered that year. Nevertheless, unemployment rose to 10% and the peso lost 37% of its value.
Fidel Ramos attempted to have the constitution amended by a constitutional convention to adopt a unicameral parliamentary system and remove term limits, but his controversial move failed to receive popular support. Although initially popular, a combination of the 1997 financial crisis, corruption scandals, mismanagement, rising criminality and his attempt to prolong his term in office led many to lose confidence in him.
Joseph Estrada (1998-2001)
Like the 1992 election, the 1998 election was a multi-faceted affair – confirming the volatility and instability of the new multi-party system. However, unlike the 1992 election, there was a clear winner in the 1998 race. The winner, with 39.9% of the vote, was Vice President Joseph Estrada, a former movie star, mayor and senator. The government’s candidate (from Lakas-NUCD-UMDP), House Speaker Jose de Venecia, followed in a very distant second with 15.9%. However, Jose de Venecia’s running-mate, senator Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (the daughter of former President Diosdado Macapagal), won the vice presidency in a landslide obtaining nearly 50% of the vote. The other presidential candidates included senator Raul Roco (13.8%); former Cebu governor Emilio Osmeña (grandson of former President Sergio Osmeña, and a recent Lakas dissident, 12.4%); Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim (8.7%); defence secretary Renato de Villa (another Lakas dissident, 4.9%); Miriam Defensor-Santiago (3%) and Juan Ponce Enrile (1.3%). Imelda Marcos, elected to Congress in 1995, withdrew her candidacy to support Estrada instead.
In the Senate, Estrada’s slate – the Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino (LAMMP), a coalition of his Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), his running mate Eduardo Angara’s LDP, ‘Danding’ Cojuangco’s NCP and Aquilino Pimentel Jr.’s PDP-Laban – won 7 to 5 against Lakas. In the House, Lakas won an absolute majority of the district seats, but there were enough defections that the LAMMP’s Manny Villar (himself an earlier defector) was elected Speaker.
Estrada was swept into power on a populist, nationalist and anti-corruption message. He had strong support from the poor, based on a ‘buddy of the masses’ image and his acting career, where he was usually a John Wayne-type hero who defended the weak and poor against the establishment. Most of that, of course, turned out to be rubbish.
The economy recovered quickly from the 1997 Asian financial crisis, working its way out of a recession in 1998 with 3% and 4% growth in 1999 and 2000 respectively. Unemployment, however, increased to 11%, its highest level since EDSA I, and government debt increased to 59% of GDP by 2000. Despite nationalist rhetoric, the government continued to liberalize the economy, supporting laws which removed restrictions on foreign investments, created tax incentives for multinationals to establish their headquarters in the country, liberalized retail trade and banking.
In March 2000, President Estrada declared an ‘all-out war’ against the MILF in Mindanao. Despite the agreement with the MNLF in 1996, violence had continued in the Muslim (Moro) regions of Mindanao. In 1991, Abdurajik Abubakar Janjalani, who returned home after studying Islamic theology in the Arab world and fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan, created the Islamic terrorist organization Abu Sayyaf, which would become a more prominent actor in the conflict in the late 1990s and 2000s. The military offensive successfully weakened the MILF, causing its leader to flee the country and hundreds of its militants to surrender, but in December 2000 several Islamist groups retaliated by bombing several key locations in the National Capital Region (NCR), killing 22.
Estrada’s administration quickly gained a nasty reputation for cronyism, incompetence and corruption. Estrada surrounded himself with business and drinking partners and gambling buddies, who all had easy access to his office. Corruption under Estrada involved extracting commissions from contracts, embezzlement, ownership of companies through nominees, stock manipulation and the use of government funds for corporate mergers and takeovers.
Estrada’s downfall began in October 2000 when one of his shady partners, Ilocos Sur governor Luis Singson, reported that he had given him over 400 million pesos (about US$8 million) in bribes from illegal gambling profits. There were also allegations of malfeasance in the use of lottery funds, misuse of tobacco tax money and the use of illegal earnings to purchase mansions and expensive cars for Estrada’s mistresses and children. In November 2000, the House filed an impeachment case against Estrada, fast-tracked by House Speaker Manny Villar. In December, the Senate began impeachment proceedings against Estrada.
However, on January 17, 2001, the Senate voted 11-10 against opening an envelope (a bank account suspected to belong to Estrada) said to contain incriminating evidence – Estrada’s allies in the Senate had successfully blocked the impeachment process from going further, and the ten opposition senators and prosecutors walked out. Protesters gathered on EDSA in Metro Manila. The movement for Estrada’s ouster was supported by Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (who had resigned her cabinet position), former Presidents Cory Aquino and Fidel Ramos, Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin, the Manila business community, left-wing organizations . Some of Estrada’s supporters included Senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Gringo Honasan (retired colonel and professional plotter, leader of many of the 1987/1989 coup attempts). On January 19, the chief of the Armed Forces ‘withdrew’ his support from Estrada and transferred it to Macapagal Arroyo. Estrada defiantly refused to resign, and needed to be pushed out – by a Supreme Court decision on January 20 declaring the presidency to be ‘vacant’. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was sworn in as President, and while Estrada said that he had strong doubts about the legality of her proclamation as president, he agreed to leave office.
The legacy of EDSA II remains far more contested than that of EDSA I (People Power). Estrada continues to claim that he never resigned the presidency, and he and his supporters claim that he was the victim of an illegitimate coup and conspiracy of the political and business elites. The incoming government added to the controversy by creating a special court, charging him with plunder and arresting him in April 2001. His supporters responded with large protests in Manila (called ‘EDSA III’), which saw a violent attempt by the crowds to storm the presidential palace and forced Arroyo to declare a ‘state of rebellion’ in the NCR. The crowds were later dispersed. Supporters of EDSA III, whose crowds were mostly made up of the urban poor and followers of the Iglesia ni Cristo, say that it was a more representative movement than the predominantly middle and upper-class EDSA II; critics of EDSA III brush it off as unlike the first two EDSA protests and may see it as a mob movement.
In May 2001, a pro-ouster coalition (People Power Coalition) won the Senate elections against the pro-Estrada Puwersa ng Masa coalition (LDP, independents and PRP) 8 seats to 4. Two of the victorious pro-Estrada candidates were his wife, Loi Ejercito, and his police chief Panfilo Lacson.
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (2001-2010)
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, born in 1947, is the daughter of former President Diosdado Macapagal (1961-1965). Arroyo worked in Philippine academia until 1987, when she was called by President Cory Aquino to serve as undersecretary of trade and industry. She was elected to the Senate in 1992 and reelected in 1995, winning her second term with over 15.7 million votes (61%). As noted above, she was elected Vice President in 1998 with a very large margin, even if the name at the top of her ticket lost the presidency to Estrada by a wide margin.
Besides dealing with Estrada and his supporters, Macapagal Arroyo faced several major challenges: restoring investor confidence in the economy, continuing the process economic liberalization, improving disastrous social indicators (health, education), reducing poverty and the ongoing conflict with Muslim separatists and Islamist terrorists in the south.
Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had, in December 2002, announced that she would not seek a second term in office, but she reversed her decision in October 2003 and sought a full six-year term in the 2004 election. Because she had served less than four years as president after acceding to the office in 2001, she was constitutionally eligible to run for reelection. Arroyo’s coalition in the 2004 election, the Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan or K4 for short, was made up of Lakas-CMD, Arroyo’s own KAMPI party, the Liberal Party, the Nacionalista Party, the NCP and the PRP. Estrada and his allies (PMP, PDP-Laban, LDP) formed the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) coalition and fielded popular action actor Fernando Poe Jr., a friend of deposed President Estrada. The LDP, the largest opposition party, split between Eduardo Angara, who backed Poe’s candidacy, and a rival wing which backed retired police chief and senator Panfilo Lacson. The two other candidates were former education secretary Raul Roco (who had already stood in 1998, now assembled a coalition of dissidents from the original 2001 People Power Coalition) and Eddie Villanueva, the founder/president of the large Evangelical Jesus is Lord Church. Arroyo’s running mate was independent senator Noli de Castro, while Poe’s running mate was senator Loren Legarda, a recent dissident from Lakas-CMD. In the closest presidential election in the country’s history, Arroyo was reelected with a 3.48% majority – 39.99% against 36.51% for Poe; Lacson was a distant third with 10.9%, while Roco and Villanueva won 6.5% and 6.2% respectively. Noli de Castro defeated Loren Legarda by an even smaller margin (2.9%), 49.8% to 46.9%.
Although the election was generally regarded as free and fair, Fernando Poe refused to concede the race and his supporters alleged electoral fraud in the incumbent’s favour. His appeal to the Supreme Court to block Congress’ official canvass of the presidential and vice presidential race failed, and the congressional canvass certified Arroyo as the winner of the election.
In the Senate race, President Arroyo’s K-4 won 7 to 5 against the KNP. The K-4’s parties – Lakas-CMD, NPC, Liberal and others – won a very large majority in the House.
The 2004 election made headlines a year later, with the release of recordings of a conversation between Arroyo and a COMELEC official which allegedly ‘prove’ that Arroyo rigged the 2004 election. The president herself was forced to confirm the authenticity of the recordings and apologize. The Supreme Court ultimately withheld judgement on the matter, but at the time it created a major political crisis (several cabinet members defected), caused Arroyo’s popularity to take a big hit and started opposition attempts to impeach Arroyo. The government moved to protect itself with gag orders, punitive prosecutions and an executive order banning ministers and military officers from testifying before Congress without prior clearance from the presidency. That executive order was only removed in March 2008, when the government was trying to increase its legitimacy following a new wave of scandals. The scandal also severely damaged the reputation of COMELEC, the country’s powerful electoral commission.
The Philippines achieved stable and significant economic growth throughout her presidency, growing at an average annual rate of 4.5% during Arroyo’s time in office, a higher rate than during her three predecessors. The country’s GDP grew by 6.7% in 2004 and 6.6% in 2007. In a regional context, the Philippines’ economy grew at a similar pace than that of Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia but at a slower rate than Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos. Unemployment remained over 11% until 2005, but it had dropped to 7% by the time Arroyo left office in 2010. The country’s gross debt, which had increased to 68% of GDP by 2003, also dropped in relative terms under her presidency to 43.5% in 2010. The Philippine economy was helped by the rapid growth of outsourcing and growing remittances from overseas Filipino workers. In 2015, the Philippines received $29.7 billion in remittances – equivalent to 10% of the GDP – making it the third largest recipient country of remittances.
The strength of outsourcing and continued growth of remittance payments helped the Philippines escape recession during the 2008-9 financial crisis. Growth slowed to 1.1% in 2009, but did not fall into recession unlike Thailand and Malaysia.
Very little progress, however, was made in reducing poverty during Arroyo’s nine years in office. World Bank statistics suggest that the percentage of people living in poverty actually increased during her time in office, from 24.9% in 2003 to 26.3% in 2012. The degree of hunger, as reported by Social Weather Stations (a major pollster), increased from 11% to 19% between 2001 and 2010.
One of Arroyo’s landmark economic measures was a VAT reform, which raised the VAT to 12%. The tax reform boosted investor confidence and helped to further strengthen the peso (the USD-PHP rate changed from about $1=PHP 56 to $1=PHP 40 between 2005 and 2008). Arroyo’s record on poverty alleviation and social services was more criticized.
In the Mindanao conflict, Arroyo moved to curb fighting between the Muslim separatist rebel groups and the armed forces soon after taking office. The government reached a cease-fire agreement with the MILF and resumed peace talks, but the MILF continued attacks on government troops in Maguindanao in 2005 and 2006. In 2008, talks between the government and the MILF following a Supreme Court decision blocking expansion of the ARMM. At the same time, the kidnappings and other crimes committed by the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group continued to increase, and controversies about ransom payments and especially armed forces corruption embarrassed the government. Following 9/11, Arroyo’s government and the armed forces began receiving US military support in pursuit of Abu Sayyaf. In 2007, Congress passed an anti-terrorism Human Security Act, giving authorities the power to detain suspects without warrant or charges for 3 days and penalties of up to 40 years imprisonment for broadly-defined terrorism.
In 2006, Amnesty International had raised concerns about vigilante and extrajudicial killings of left-wing activists and organizations by state-condoned death squads. Later, an independent commission concluded that the killings were instigated by the military but found no proof of a ‘national policy’ targeting left-wing groups. The UN special rapporteur said the killings were part of “deliberate targeting by the military as part of counterinsurgency operations against the communist rebels.” Arroyo made several announcements concerning extrajudicial killings, but her measures were widely seen as inadequate. Among other things, she increased the police’s responsibility in investigating the murders – when the police was widely seen as complicit in them. Nevertheless, extrajudicial killings dropped in 2007 and the Supreme Court’s writ of amparo (protection) to prevent the military from delaying case was hailed by human rights groups as a success. Killings of journalists spiked under Arroyo’s terms in office, making the Philippines one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. In late 2009, 57 people including 29 journalists were massacred in the southern province of Maguindanao as they made their way to register a candidate opposed to the province’s dominant political clan. Arroyo responded by declaring martial law in the province.
During her second term, Arroyo dealt with several coup attempts and disturbances. In February 2006, the government declared a state of emergency after the arrest of junior officers said to be plotting a coup (a supposed left-right alliance between right-wing military factions and the NPA). Security forces raided press offices, arrested left-wing party-list members of the House without warrants and brutally dispersed opposition protests in Manila. The government’s actions during the 2006 crisis were heavily criticized by the opposition, included by former President Cory Aquino, and led to a second unsuccessful impeachment motion against Arroyo in the summer of 2006.
Arroyo continued the debate on constitutional reform in 2006, campaigning to replace the bicameral Congress with a unicameral parliamentary system by 2010. The proposals were quite controversial, as one government proposal even involved calling off the 2007 midterm elections. The Supreme Court blocked attempts to bring the proposals to a referendum, effectively killing Arroyo’s efforts at constitutional reform. Further congressional attempts at constitutional change in 2009 also failed.
The 2007 midterm elections was marred by high levels of violence and reports of cheating and intimidation. Following the election, Freedom House’s 2008 report on the Philippines said that the country was no longer an electoral democracy. The unpopular administration tried to cobble together a coalition, called TEAM Unity, with Lakas-CMD, KAMPI, the LDP and factions of the NPC, but many of the coalition’s candidate were more political mavericks and opposition dissidents than Arroyo loyalists. The opposition formed a strong if catch-all coalition, the Genuine Opposition (GO), led by Makati City mayor Jejomar Binay and made up of the Liberals, Nacionalistas, NPC, PDP-Laban and the PMP. The GO campaigned on a simple compelling slogan – a vote against the incumbent. The GO handed Arroyo the first midterm defeat for a Philippine president since Marcos in 1971, and won 8 seats against 2 to TEAM Unity and 2 independents. In the House, TEAM Unity retained a narrow majority, enough to block future impeachment attempts against Arroyo.
The government was rocked by further disturbances in November 2007, when mutineers on trial for a 2003 mutiny marched out of their trial into the streets of Makati City and barricaded themselves into a conference room of a hotel. The mutineers were led by a brigadier general and retired navy officer Antonio Trillanes, elected to the Senate for the GO in the midterms despite being imprisoned for the 2003 mutiny. The military laid siege to the hotel and finally launched a successful assault later that same day.
Arroyo was implicated in several corruption scandals, particularly in her second term. In the fertilizer fund scam, her agriculture undersecretary was accused of diverting 278 million pesos for her 2004 campaign. In 2007, the Senate began investigating a $329 million contract signed between the communications department and a Chinese communications firm for a national broadband network. The COMELEC chairman, Arroyo and her husband were implicated in the scandal, and involved the bribery of several congressmen and provincial governors. In September 2007, the Supreme Court issued a restraining order on the contract and Arroyo suspended the contract a month later. While she was herself embroiled in the broadband scandal, Arroyo pardoned former President Joseph Estrada, who had been convicted of plunder by the special Sandiganbayan court and sentenced to life imprisonment in September 2007. Estrada’s pardon was seen as a major blow to anti-corruption efforts (after the first sentencing of a former president for corruption) and a move by Arroyo to set favourable precedent for her own post-presidency treatment. The broadband scandal also had political repercussions, with Arroyo’s sons (both members of the House) leading a successful push to remove Jose de Venecia from the speakership after he had failed to denounce his son, a bidder in the broadband scandal who had accused Arroyo’s husband of bribery.
Large protests, annual impeachment attempts, new corruption accusations, continued impunity and an explosion of violence in the Muslim south characterized the last years of Arroyo’s government.
The frontrunner in the 2010 presidential election campaign was Liberal senator Benigno ‘Nonoy’ Aquino III, the son of former President Cory Aquino – whose death in August 2009 was widely mourned – and Benigno Aquino Jr.. Aquino served in the House of Representatives between 1998 and 2007, representing the family’s stronghold of Tarlac province, and was elected to the Senate for the GO coalition in the 2007 midterm elections. He ranked six among all candidates for Senate that year, winning 14.3 million votes or 48.5%. Like in 2007, Aquino’s popularity in the run-up to the 2010 election owed mostly to his family name and the national wave of sympathy after his mother’s passing in 2009, since his record in the Senate was not particularly impressive. He ran on a vague reformist and anti-corruption platform, opposed to the outgoing government. His running mate was Liberal senator Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas, the grandson of former President Manuel Roxas (1946-1948) and the son of former senator Gerardo Roxas. Roxas served in the House for the family stronghold of Capiz province in the Visayas region (1993-2000) and worked as trade and industry secretary under both Estrada and Arroyo’s administrations (2000-2003) before successfully seeking election to the Senate in 2004 for the pro-administration K-4 coalition but broke with Arroyo by 2006.
Former President Joseph Estrada, pardoned by Arroyo in 2007 following his conviction for plunder that same year, ran for president. The constitutionality of his candidacy was questioned by several lawyers, given the constitution’s ban on “any reelection”, but the case only made its way to the Supreme Court after the election (which Estrada lost) and was dismissed. Estrada’s running mate was three-time Makati City mayor Jejomar Binay (1986-1987, 1988-1998, 2001-2010), who was technically a ‘guest candidate’ since he was not from Estrada’s PMP but rather from PDP-Laban. Binay faced multiple corruption allegations from his time as mayor and revelations of an extramarital affair; he dismissed the corruption scandals as political harassment by Arroyo and the affair as part of a black propaganda campaign against him.
The third opposition candidate was senator, and former Senate President (2006-2008), Manny Villar, the candidate of the Nacionalista Party. Villar, a billionaire, is a former real estate tycoon (although he grew up in poverty) who entered politics in 1992 as a member of the House and became House Speaker (for then-President Estrada’s coalition) in 1998. However, in 2000, he broke with Estrada during the impeachment process (and was soon ousted from the speakership by Estrada allies) and was elected to the Senate in 2001 for the anti-Estrada People Power Coalition and reelected in 2007 for GO, ranking fourth of all candidates with 15.3 million votes. Villar picked a ‘guest candidate’ as running mate, namely NPC senator Loren Legarda (the runner-up in the previous vice presidential election), who had been the ‘top-notcher’ (top vote winning candidate) in the 2007 Senate election. Villar sought and received the support of the Marcos clan.
The government’s candidate (for Lakas Kampi CMD) was former defence secretary (2007-2009) and former Tarlac representative (1998-2007) Gilbert Teodoro, who had quit his old party (the NPC) just a few months prior. His running mate for USAF veteran, former showbiz/game show host and former Makati vice-mayor Edu Manzano.
The televangelist/Evangelical church boss Eddie Villanueva ran again, who received an interesting endorsement – MNLF leader and former ARMM governor Nur Misuari (whose political activities since 2000 or so have been very odd).
Benigno Aquino III maintained his early lead throughout the campaign, and won a clear victory in May 2010. He won 42.1% against 26.3% for Estrada, 15.4% for Manny Villar, 11.3% for Teodoro and 3.1% for Villanueva. In the vice presidential race, however, Mar Roxas lost his early lead to a late surge by Jejomar Binay, who won by a very narrow 2.07% margin – 41.65% to 39.58% (Legarda won only 12.2%). There had been an organized (but unofficial) Aquino-Binay campaign (NoyBi) led by senator Francis Escudero (ex-NPC).
Unlike in previous elections, there were no party coalitions in the 2010 elections and the Senate election were split between 12 victorious candidates under 7 different affiliations. Some of the noteworthy winners were actor/politician Bong Revilla from Lakas (the top-notcher), Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Estrada’s son and incumbent senator Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile and Ferdinand Marcos’ son Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr.. In the House, Lakas won the most seats on election day (despite major loses), but there was a large Liberal-led pro-Noynoy majority when the House actually convened due to the usual post-election defection to the winning side. Outgoing President Arroyo was perhaps the most notable victorious candidate, winning a seat in her family stronghold of Pampanga province.
The 2010 elections were judged to be a notable improvement over past elections. A gun ban reduced violence while the introduction of electronic voting machines and computerized tabulation was successful.
Benigno Aquino III took office on June 30, 2010. A wave of optimism and high expectations welcomed him, but more critical voices already found that ‘Noynoy’ had offered little actual solutions to the problems he would confront in office.
In many of his first actions as president, he sought to mark a clear difference with his unpopular predecessor. In his first executive order, he established a truth commission chaired by a former chief justice to investigate corruption and electoral fraud allegations against Arroyo, although the new commission was soon bogged down in a court challenge. He also revoked midnight appointments made by Arroyo in her final days, saying that it violated the constitution.
Aquino was dealt his first major crisis in August 2010, when a disgruntled police officer fired from his job took 25 people hostage on a tour bus carrying Hong Kong tourists. Although some hostages were freed during the standoff with police, negotiations went nowhere and the hostage taker began executing the remaining hostages on the bus while the Manila police struggled to break into the bus. When the police finally got on, 8 hostages had been killed with only 6 survivors. The police response to the hostage crisis was widely panned as bungled and disastrous. The crisis further worsened the already poor reputation of the National Police, complicated Manila’s relations with China and Hong Kong (HK’s government being openly critical of how the Filipinos had managed the crisis) and was the first major headache for the new president. However, after an investigation in September called for several charges against a number of officials for their handling of the incident, Aquino limited the most serious charges to a few police officers while shielding his interior secretary and undersecretary.
Aquino was accused of doing little once in office, besides going after Arroyo and some of her appointees. In November 2011, Arroyo was arrested while in hospital for electoral fraud. She was released on bail from hospital arrest in July 2012, but rearrested on new charges (stealing money from the national lottery) in October 2012. In 2012, political attention focused on the Senate impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, one of Arroyo’s controversial last-minute judicial appointments (two days before the 2010 election). Although the Supreme Court had ruled that Arroyo had the right as the incumbent president to appoint the chief justice, but Aquino as a presidential candidate had been very critical of the appointment. In December 2011, the House adopted articles of impeachment against Corona, who they accused of consistently ruling with partiality to Arroyo in cases involving her administration and for failing to properly disclose his assets. In May 2012, the Senate voted 20-3 to convict Corona, for failing to disclose his assets. Corona claimed that he was the victim of political persecution by President Aquino, and opposition members in Congress claimed that the impeachment was being driven by the presidential palace, claims which the congressional majority denied.
Aquino resuscitated peace negotiations with the MILF, with both sides finally returning to the negotiation table in 2011 two years after talks broke off. The talks were brokered by Malaysia and were considerably more transparent and cautious than previous talks, which had ended ingloriously when the Supreme Court struck down the deal in 2008 accusing the government of acting furtively in the talks. The government and the MILF agreed to replace the ARMM with a new autonomous entity, Bangsamoro. Nevertheless, rogue MILF forces continued sporadic attacks against military detachments, including one in 2011 which killed 19 soldiers. In October 2012, the government and the MILF reached a framework agreement, in which the MILF gave up claims for independence and agreed to surrender its weapons in return for considerable autonomy in the new Bangsamoro region. There was high optimism for this particular agreement, given that it appeared far more robust than previous ones – a gradual buildup of trust between parties and the involvement international actors (Malaysia). In March 2014, a final agreement was signed between the MILF and the government in Manila, and the government hoped that Congress would pass the Bangsamoro Basic Law to setup the new region before the 2016 elections.
Implementation of the actual deal, though, has been difficult and it is now on the rocks. In the first place, Nur Misuari’s rival MNLF felt left out of the negotiations and decided to seek attention by declaring the independence of a ‘Bangsamoro Republik’ in August 2013. A month later, MNLF fighters attacked Zamboanga City in the south of the country, leading to a three-week standoff and a humanitarian crisis. In January 2015, finally, 44 police officers from the special action force were killed in a clash in Mamasapano (Manguindanao) as they intervened to capture two Jeemah Islamiyah-affiliated IED experts. The MILF, and an anti-agreement MILF splinter (BIFF), were involved in the clash (murky details). The Mamasapano attack led to a major backlash against the Bangsamoro Basic Law in public opinion, and the Senate halted passage of the law. Today, it looks like Mamasapano may have killed the Bangsamoro Basic Law and with it the peace agreement with the MILF. Meanwhile, Abu Sayyaf – now associated with ISIS – has continued its kidnappings, working mainly from its base in Sulu.
Aquino gained something of a reputation as an idle do-nothing president, stemming from his inaction during two typhoons in 2011. Aquino himself made no secret that he did not greatly enjoy the job and some of its demands – like travelling abroad – and more than a few said that he was counting down the days to his leaving office. In 2011-2, clever critics coined the term ‘Noynoying’ (a play on ‘planking’ and Aquino’s nickname Noynoy), which also became a protest tactic on the left (posing in a lazy manner, sitting idly) in 2012 during student demonstrations against rising oil prices and tuition fee increases. The presidency and its allies disliked the moniker, many considering its disrespectful and baseless; just to make sure, however, a few pictures of Aquino working in his office were released.
Aquino’s supporters, in dismissing claims that he was idling, pointed to the country’s strong economic growth. The GDP grew by 7.6% in 2010, 6.7% in 2012, 7.1% in 2013 and by roughly 6% annually since then. Growth has come largely from business process outsourcing, although agriculture, manufacturing, industry, services and tourism also grew. To a certain extent, growth was also distributed throughout the country, including in Mindanao (but not the still troubled ARMM) with its export-oriented, plantation agriculture. Unemployment fell from 7% to 6% during his term and the gross debt decreased from 43.5% of GDP to 35.7%. Under Aquino’s presidency, FDI tripled, a large infrastructure budget was unblocked, the Philippines received its first investment-grade credit rating (BBB from S&P in 2014) and further economic reforms increased revenue intake. The rapid economic growth, increased investment and general confidence and optimism about the Philippine economy suggest that the country is shaking off its old reputation as the ‘sick man of Asia’ after decades of disappointing economic and social performance because of poor governance, instability and corruption.
Yet, poverty has remained a major trouble. Although recent government statistics show that poverty incidence has decreased from 29% to 26% between 2009 and 2015, it has been a slow and uneven decrease (poverty rose in 2014) and the country is not going to meet its 2015 Millennium Development Goal of halving its 1991 poverty rate by 2016 (33.1% to 16.6%). In addition, economic growth has certainly not erased major regional differences in wealth and poverty. The National Capital Region/Metro Manila (despite the huge slums in Manila), most of mainland Luzon, the southern Tagalog region (Calabarzon) and Cebu are the richest regions; the ARMM especially, but also much of the rest of Mindanao, the Negros Islands and Samar are poor. Poverty incidence varies greatly from just 6.5% in the NCR to over 59% in the ARMM.
One of the government’s most daring legislative initiatives was the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act (RH law), passed by Congress in December 2012. The bill was the latest and most ambitious attempt at family planning and population management in the Philippines, which has one of the highest birth rates, fertility rates and population growth rates in the region (although all three are gradually falling). As in other countries, fertility rates are highest among the poor, and there is a correlation between larger families and a higher poverty rate. Previous administrations had tended to adopt wishy-washy policies, for fear of raising conflict with the powerful Catholic Church over contraceptives (which were were openly sold prior to this law, regardless of legal obstacles). The RH bill – among other things – mandated the government and the private sector to fund and widely distribute contraceptives, and the provision of age-appropriate sex education. These two controversial provisions sparked the most heated debate, with the Philippine Medical Association and the Catholic Church in strong opposition to the RH bill (but several academics from the Catholic Ateneo de Manila University supported the bill, citing Catholic social teachings). Yet, despite the Catholic Church’s widespread influence in the Philippines (which is about 80% Catholic and has a reputation as a deeply religious country), polls showed a large majority in favour of the RH bill.
Congress passed the bill and Aquino signed it into law in December 2012, but opponents were successful in getting the Supreme Court to halt its implementation while it considered objections. In April 2014, the law lost eight provisions but survived the court challenge.
A strong economy (with popular optimism going along with it), the appearance of real effort against corruption, Aquino’s amiable demeanour and the stark contrast with the Arroyo administration (which Aquino spent a lot of – most? – energy reinforcing) meant that he has enjoyed handsome approval ratings. He leaves office with a +27 satisfaction rating according to Social Weather Stations, the highest for a post-Marcos executive (Arroyo left with a -17 rating after hitting rock bottom at -53 in March 2010); in 2011, 2012 and 2013 his net satisfaction ratings were in the +55 range.
Banking on Aquino’s popularity, his congressional allies, led by his own Liberal Party, put together a strong slate of candidates for the 2013 midterm Senate elections, the ‘Team PNoy’ (a play on Aquino’s nickname Ninoy and Pinoy, the national nickname). Team PNoy included the Liberal Party, the Nacionalista Party, the LDP, the left-wing party-list Akbayan, the new National Unity Party (NUP, a Lakas splinter) and factions of the NPC and PDP-Laban. Team PNoy welcomed prominent independent ‘guest candidates’ on their ticket – Grace Poe, the adopted daughter of the late 2004 presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr., incumbent senator Francisco ‘Chiz’ Escudero (ex-NPC) and incumbent NPC senator Loren Legarda (the top vote-winner in both the 1998 and 2007 Senate elections). All three were originally expected to be common candidates of both the administration and the opposition, but were dumped from the opposition ticket in February 2013.
The opposition coalition was the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), led by Vice President Jejomar Binay with the participation of Joseph Estrada’s PMP (Estrada ran for mayor of Manila against the Liberal incumbent Alfredo Lim, while another of his sons, JV Ejercito Estrada, ran for Senate), the majority of the PDP-Laban and a faction of the NPC (with Jack Enrile, the son of Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile).
Team PNoy won a 9-3 victory over the UNA, but their victory owed a lot to their three independent ‘guest candidates’. Grace Poe unexpectedly topped the poll, with over 20.3 million votes, while Loren Legarda, widely expected to top the poll for a third time, placed second with 18.6 million votes (she had been embroiled in controversy over undeclared assets late in the campaign). Chiz Escudero finished fourth. The three victorious UNA candidates were Nancy Binay (the Vice President’s daughter, 5th), JV Ejercito Estrada (11th) and Gringo Honasan (12th). Liberal senator Franklin Drilon was elected Senate President in a 17-6 vote against incumbent Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile (UNA). In the House, the Liberals won the most seats (110) followed by the NPC (38), NUP (27), Nacionalistas (21) and Lakas (14).
Noynoy’s anti-corruption commitment was tested by the Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF) scam in the summer of 2013. The PDAF is a lump-sum discretionary fund granted to each member of Congress to fund the government’s ‘priority development projects’ at the local level, which is really just a fancy way to say ‘pork barrel’. In 2013, over US$218 million were allotted to congressmen’s infrastructure projects. The scandal began after a newspaper report, confirmed by a later government audit, uncovered a scam in which a businesswoman, her companies, lawmakers, bureaucrats and some local politicians had together defrauded the government of over 10 billion pesos (US$213.8 million) over 10 years by using PDAF funds for ghost projects. The initial report named five senators and 23 representatives, with the five senators being Bong Revilla, Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Estrada, Gringo Honasan and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. In August 2013, the government audit implicated more congressmen in the scam – 12 senators and 180 representatives, accused of irregular and improper use of over 6.1 billion pesos in PDAF funds between 2007 and 2009. Later, some close allies of the Aquino administration were also implicated. In June and July 2014, three senators – Jinggoy Estrada, Bong Revilla and Juan Ponce Enrile – were arrested after being charged with plunder. These arrests were part of the government’s anti-corruption drive, which the opposition UNA called ‘political persecution’ (shockingly).
Aquino had a chance to advance his anti-corruption campaign, since most of the money was disbursed under Arroyo’s government, but his first reaction was to defend the PDAF – not an altogether surprising reaction since, as president, he is at the top of the Philippines’ pyramid of patronage. Only after mass protests in August 2013 did Aquino turn against the PDAF, which was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in November 2013, but it was replaced with a similar program (‘Disbursement Acceleration Program’ or DAP) which the Court also ruled unconstitutional. In his July 2014 State of the Nation speech, Aquino attacked the Supreme Court’s decision on the DAP. The DAP had previously become a matter of controversy when it was said to be the source of 50 million pesos allegedly given to Jinggoy Estrada and other senators to vote for Chief Justice Renato Corona’s impeachment (widely denounced as bribery by opposition/anti-impeachment senators); it led to an unsuccessful impeachment motion against Aquino in the House. Aquino’s popularity in 2014 suffered from the corruption scandals as well as a slow roll-out of a rehabilitation plan for regions affected by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
The Campaign and Candidates
As is usual in Filipino presidential elections since 1986, the makeshift party coalitions of the 2013 midterm elections dissolved shortly thereafter as the politicians each had their own end game.
Vice President Jejomar Binay was the first candidate out the gates, confirming his presidential plans as early as September 2011 (to no one’s surprise). Binay, as the highest-ranking opposition figure, had organized the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) opposition slate for the 2013 midterm elections and his daughter Nancy Binay had been the most popular opposition Senate candidate placing fifth with 16.8 million votes (despite a reputation as an unaccomplished lightweight who was roundly mocked online). In 2014, as the pre-campaign got underway, Binay was the favourite with a significant advantage in the polls.
Jejomar ‘Jojo’ Binay, who is 73 years old, does not come from a political dynasty but he has become the patriarch of one during his time in politics. Before being elected vice president in 2010, Binay served about 21 years as mayor of Makati City on three different occasions (1986-1987, 1988-1998, 2001-2010). Makati City, located in the NCR (Metro Manila), is the Philippines’ financial capital and seventeenth largest city (with a population a bit below 530,000). His wife Elenita Binay replaced him as mayor between 1998 and 2001, and his son Jejomar Binay Jr. was elected mayor in 2010 when his father ran for the vice president.
Binay has been dogged by corruption cases from his time as mayor of Makati. These corruption allegations began while he was still mayor, but he successfully brushed them off as ‘black propaganda’ and political harassment from then-President Gloria Arroyo’s government. He had a teflon-like ability to survive negative news stories in the 2010 vice-presidential campaign, closing the gap with Noynoy Aquino’s running-mate Mar Roxas and winning by 727,084 votes out of some 38.15 million votes cast. Part of his success was because of an appealing rags-to-riches story, and Binay likes to portray himself as the man of the poor (despite being a millionnaire after 21 years as mayor of the richest city in the country) and attack his rivals as elitists who hate the poor. Despite having run on another ticket (that of Joseph Estrada), President Aquino appointed him chairman of the Housing Urban Development Coordinating Council and head of a task force on overseas Filipino workers’ concerns.
Nonetheless, Binay’s stint in the vice presidency was mostly characterized by wrangling over the corruption cases weighing against him. In July 2014, a defeated mayoral candidate in the 2013 Makati mayoral election (which was won by Binay’s son) filed plunder charges against Binay and his son to the Ombudsman. The next month, a subcommittee of the Senate’s ‘Blue Ribbon Committee’ (its anti-corruption committee) composed of three members began hearings on Binay’s corruption – including an overpriced annex to the city hall building (on which his clan is accused of having received kickbacks), overpriced projects, unexplained wealth, controversies over various properties he owns (some by ‘dummies’) and alleged anomalous contracts while mayor. Binay never attended the Senate hearings, calling it a ‘kangaroo court’ and considering it a plot by his political opponents to derail his presidential candidacy (Binay’s allies also played the race card – Binay has darker skin, and his opponents sometimes call him nognog, a derogatory term for black people). Nevertheless, the Senate investigation continued and Binay’s clan was dealt several blows in 2015 – in May 2015, the Court of Appeals ordered over 200 bank accounts belong to Binay to be frozen for six months, and the subcommittee report recommended the filing of plunder charges. In June 2015, Binay resigned his cabinet posts, saying that he felt as the odd man out in the Liberal Party-dominated cabinet. In January 2015, Binay’s son ‘Junjun’ was arrested on contempt charges and received two suspension orders within six months, ultimately forcing him to resign as mayor in July 2015. All in all, Binay has never been tried (because the VP has immunity), but every government institution charged with accountability (the commission on audit, the Senate committee, the ombudsman, the anti-money laundering council) have found probable cause against him. It obviously isn’t only ‘persecution’.
Undeterred, Binay relaunched the UNA as a political party, this time without senator Aquilino Pimentel III’s PDP-Laban (which had previously been Binay’s party) and Estrada’s clan (which appeared divided in the early months of the campaign). Binay attacked Aquino and presidential rival senator Grace Poe. Binay’s search for a running-mate was complicated by the arrest of his first pick, senator Jinggoy Estrada, and his offers to JV Ejercito, Manny Villar, Vilma Santos and others were declined. In October 2015, Binay settled on senator Gregorio ‘Gringo’ Honasan as his running-mate. Gringo Honasan, a senator between 1995 and 2004 and again since 2007, is a retired army colonel and professional coup plotter. Honasan was part of the army rebels, backed by Juan Ponce Enrile, who turned against President Ferdinand Marcos during People Power in 1986. Afterwards, Honasan was the mastermind of several coup attempts against President Cory Aquino, most notably in August 1987 and in December 1989 (the most serious one, which came very close to succeeding until the US intervened). Amnestied by President Fidel Ramos in 1992, Honasan turned to elective politics and was elected to the Senate in 1995 (as an independent in the NPC opposition coalition), defeated in 2001 (but remained in the Senate as the thirteenth-placed candidate to fill a vacancy until 2004) and reelected in 2007 and 2013 (for the UNA).
In June 2015, the first poll not showing Binay in the lead came out, and his polling advantage slipped in the fall of 2016 although Binay remained in contention until March 2016, which his polling numbers took a big hit and effectively took him out of the top tier of candidates. Indeed, in late 2015/early 2016, Binay regained the lead with his ‘strategy of silence‘ (a focused campaigned message – poverty, not corruption talk; evading reporters) Honasan never ranked in the top tier of veep candidates, never consistently polling over 5%.
Binay ran on a populist promise of a better life, with vague pledges to improve the lot of poorer Filipinos by removing them from income tax, providing free school supplies to students and expanding a cash transfer program. He continued to dismiss the corruption charges against him, disingenuously claiming that he hasn’t been convicted and that they are only accusations and refusing to ‘waste his time’ by commenting further. The news website Rappler described him as “the physical embodiment of the working class Filipino” and “everyone’s godfather” (in the sense of the ‘adoptive uncle’ who gives out gifts and cash to the family), explaining how he identifies with the ‘victimized masses’. His campaign ads (available on YouTube) played heavily on this image of the ‘Cinderella man’, champion of the poor and victims of the elites’ conspiracies, and even on the word nognog (basically ‘we are all nognog‘). They also said he was the candidate who best embodied the traditional politician, “the elected official whose strength lies in relationships of dependency and reciprocity.” Tragicomically, Rappler compared Binay’s unrealistic promises of a golden future to a “sideshow clown hawking naked mermaids and dancing elephants” (not an unfair comparison since Binay literally promised free manicures and pedicures to the poor).
Jojo Binay’s supporters included ‘Danding’ Cojuangco Jr.’s son Mark Cojuangco (although the NPC did not endorse Binay), representative and internationally famous retired boxer Manny Pacquiao (who ran for Senate) and senator Juan Ponce Enrile. Binay, who has been on good terms with former President Arroyo, was said to have her support but she never officially endorsed him and, late in the campaign, was rumoured to be supporting another candidate (Rodrigo Duterte).
Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas II was the candidate of the ruling Liberal Party, the candidate of the Aquino administration. Mar Roxas is the third generation of a leading Filipino political dynasty, which began with his grandfather, Manuel Roxas, the first President of the independent Philippines (1946-1948) and the founder of the Liberal Party. Mar Roxas is the son of Gerardo Roxas, a former representative (1957-1963) and senator (1963-1972), who lost a vice presidential race in 1965 and was a figure of the anti-Marcos opposition until his death in 1982. Politics, however, was not Mar Roxas’ predestined future: he was an investment banker in New York, and his brother Gerardo ‘Dinggoy’ Roxas was the heir to the dynasty (and served as a representative in Congress). However, when Dinggoy died of cancer at 32 in 1993, Mar Roxas left his first career to enter the family business and he won his brother’s seat (in the family stronghold of Capiz in the Visayas) in a special election. He served in the House until January 2000, when he was appointed Secretary of Trade and Industry in Joseph Estrada’s cabinet, a job he kept after EDSA II in Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s cabinet. He stepped down in late 2003 to concentrate on his 2004 Senate candidacy, for the Liberal Party on the administration’s K4 ticket. Roxas quickly broke with the unpopular Arroyo administration.
After his election to the Senate, Mar Roxas was immediately seen as a leading Liberal candidate for the presidency in 2010. However, in September 2009, Roxas stepped aside in Aquino’s favour and was rewarded with the vice-presidential candidacy as Aquino’s running mate. But as Aquino sailed to victory, Roxas stumbled, lost his lead and was finally upset in a close contest by Jejomar Binay (a result which Roxas challenged in court, and which remains unresolved judicially). After the legal one-year waiting period for losing candidates, Roxas joined the Aquino cabinet in June 2011 as Secretary of Transportation and Communications. In August 2012, he was made Secretary of Interior and Local Government after the interior secretary, Jesse Robredo, died in a plane crash. Roxas is recognized as being a smart man, with an impressive academic and professional background, but his stint in cabinet was plagued with difficulties which further dragged down his 2016 presidential campaign. He was blamed for the government’s poor handling of post-typhoon disaster relief in 2013, his period as interior secretary saw the January 2015 Mamasapano attack in which 44 policemen died (derailing the administration’s landmark Bangsamoro law).
He left cabinet to focus on his presidential run in August 2015. A few days before, President Aquino had officially endorsed Mar Roxas as the Liberal Party and his outgoing administration’s candidate – the one to continue the government’s so-called Daang Matuwid (straight path) agenda. Roxas had support from Liberal bigwigs from 2013 or so, but his poor performance in polls throughout 2015 seemingly led Aquino to hesitate for a while and seek the stronger candidacy of senator Grace Poe instead.
Roxas chose representative Leni Robredo has his running-mate. Robredo, a lawyer from Camarines Sur (Bicol region), is the widow of former Naga mayor and interior secretary Jesse Robredo, who tragically died in a plane crash in August 2012. Robredo only entered politics after her husband’s death, running and winning a seat in the House of Representatives from Camarines Sur in the 2013 elections (defeating the candidate of an established provincial political dynasty, the Villafuertes). Robredo gained nationwide popularity for her simple lifestyle as a congresswoman. She is a close family friend to Mar Roxas, through her late husband.
Roxas struggled to break through, and when his campaign did manage to make gains in the polls in late 2015, it only brought him up to the low 20s – in the upper tier of candidates, but not enough to make him the frontrunner. One of the main reasons is that Roxas has never been popular (except in 2004, as a novelty object), and his work in the last five years have, if anything, made him less, not more, popular. Although his supporters described him as a passionate, selfless and dedicated bureaucrat, he has always faced the perception that he is a rich dynasty politician disconnected from the people’s concerns. In 2008, Roxas himself admitted to the US ambassador that “his Wharton MBA and ten years on Wall Street as an investment banker did not ‘exactly call to the common man.'” His campaign struggled to make up a convincing public narrative and image for him, going through several awkward and cringe-worthy attempts to build a more relatable image, and finally settling by presenting himself as a ‘no drama’ candidate to contrast himself with his fairly dramatic opponents.
Senator Grace Poe ran for President as an independent candidate. Poe, 47-years old, is the adopted daughter of actress Susan Roces and the late actor and 2004 presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr. (who died in December 2004, only a few months after the disputed and controversial 2004 election, which Poe’s supporters continue to claim was stolen by Arroyo). Grace Poe was abandoned by her birth parents as a baby and, according to the official story, found in front of a church. There is a urban legend which claims that she is Ferdinand Marcos’ illegitimate daughter through an affair with Susan Roces’ sister, which would make her Fernando Poe Jr’s sister-in-law.
Grace Poe finished her post-secondary education in the United States, married a Filipino-American and lived 13 years in the US, before permanently returning to the Philippines in 2005. Poe was a US citizen between 2001 and 2010 (renouncing her Philippine citizenship), and all three of her children have dual US-Filipino citizenship. In October 2010, Poe was appointed chairwoman of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (in charge of movie and TV program classifications) by President Aquino. She resigned her post in October 2012 to run for Senate, as an independent candidate. As previously noted, she was expected to be supported by both the administration and the opposition’s coalitions as a common guest candidate, but she was dropped from the opposition ticket along with two other independent guest candidates and ran only for the administration’s Team PNoy. Grace Poe unexpectedly finished first, with 20,337,327 votes or 50.7% of all votes casts. Her popularity and victory owed a lot, of course, to her surname and fond memories of her father. Fernando Poe Jr. was one of the most popular and beloved action stars in the country – becoming something of the archetypal hero in the national imagination through his roles as epic heroes battling evil. His 2004 campaign similar rhetoric – the hero fighting the villain Arroyo and evil poverty and corruption – and in 2013 Grace Poe combined these themes with her own appealing life story (an abandoned orphan, rescued by the grace of God, adopted by the best of parents etc.),
Grace Poe’s first place finish in the 2013 Senate race led to intense speculation about a presidential run in 2016. She became the media darling, gave a compassionate side to an administration accused of being heartless and she was courted by the ruling Liberal Party. She became a frontrunner, fighting Jojo Binay for first place in the polls. Aquino met with Poe, in the hopes of having her as the Liberal candidate or the veep candidate, but her determination to run as an independent compelled the Liberals and Aquino to settle on Mar Roxas instead (see above). Her candidacy, announced in September 2015, was perhaps even inevitable. However, she soon faced formidable obstacles to even get her name on the presidential ballot.
The UNA challenged her candidacy on the grounds that she did not meet the constitution’s 10 year residency requirement, citing her 2013 certificate of candidacy which declared six years and six months of residency, which would make her ineligible to run in 2016. Poe claimed that her house in the US was sold in 2006 but that she had returned to the Philippines in early 2005. In November 2015, the Senate Electoral Tribunal voted against disqualifying her candidacy on the grounds that, as an abandoned baby, she could not prove that she is a natural-born citizen. In December 2015, the COMELEC’s second division disqualified and cancelled her candidacy for failing to meet citizenship and residency requirements. In late December, the COMELEC en banc reaffirmed the decision disqualifying her candidacy, but five days later the Supreme Court issued two restraining orders against the COMELEC’s decision. On March 8, 2016, the Supreme Court in a 9-6 decision voted to affirm Poe’s natural-born status and 10 year residency.
Her political opponents reproach her decision to renounce her Philippine citizenship in 2001 to become a US citizen, and they gave her the nickname ‘the American President’. Poe tried to link her story to that of the thousand of overseas Filipino workers, but that claim is a bit shaky because Poe expatriated herself by choice rather than by necessity (she escaped her millionnaire parents in pursuit of love) and her lifestyle in the US was a far cry from that of Filipino maids working in the Middle East. Others were annoyed by her lack of accomplishments, public service and inexperience; she does her job in the Senate, but no more, and her three years in the Senate don’t indicate a great talent for lawmaking. Her 20 promises were basically valence issues which every candidate promises, and she was vague about other issues in her campaign. Her claims that she was different from other candidates because she was a woman and a mother (even if she wasn’t the only mother or woman in the race) also rang very hollow. Rappler said that “by standing for everything, she stands for nothing.” However, the absence of a track record was part of what made her a strong candidate in a country which has a habit of electing chief executives with limited or unimpressive records.
Grace Poe’s running mate was senator Francis ‘Chiz’ Escudero (ex-NPC). Escudero was elected to the House in 1998 and stayed there until 2007, when he was elected to the Senate for the NPC with the second highest vote tally. In 2004, Escudero was Fernando Poe Jr’s campaign spokesperson (becoming a family friend) and in 2010 he gave his support to Noynoy Aquino after failing to get his own presidential bid off the ground. Escudero was reelected as an independent, backed by Team PNoy, just like Grace Poe, in the 2013 Senate election. He was fourth with 17.5 million votes. Poe picked Escudero because of her family’s friendship with him since her dad’s 2004 campaign, but some of her supporters in the political leadership (political mentor senator Sergio Osmeña III) expressed reservations over Chiz over his alleged ties to a corrupt businessman through his dad (a Marcos-era cabinet minister). Escudero was the favourite in the vice presidential race in late 2015 and early 2016.
Poe was endorsed by former President Joseph Estrada (her godfather), JV Ejercito, NPC senator Tito Sotto and several nationally-famous actors and actresses. Controversy surrounded Poe’s relation with ‘Danding’ Cojuangco, one of the country’s wealthiest men and a former Marcos crony. Comments which were interpreted as defending ‘Danding’ Cojuangco in a decades-old corruption case her campaign’s use of planes paid for by ‘Danding’ Cojuangco’s San Miguel Corporation convinced many that she was his puppet. She denied such claims, and it appears that ‘Danding’ Cojuangco supported both Binay and Poe although he may have officially endorsed Binay like his son did. The NPC, the party founded by ‘Danding’ Cojuangco, endorsed Poe and Escudero although many party members backed other candidates.
Poe’s candidacy was supported by another vice presidential candidate, senator Antonio Trillanes IV, who ran independently in the vice presidential race. Trillanes is a retired Navy officer famous for leading a 2003 mutiny and then the 2007 Makati City hotel siege (see above), both times in opposition to Arroyo’s government to protest government corruption. Trillanes was elected to the Senate from his prison cell in 2007, and was only able to perform his senatorial duties after he was amnestied by President Aquino in 2010. He was reelected for the Nacionalista Party in the Team PNoy coalition in 2013, finishing ninth.
Grace Poe formed the Partido Galing at Puso (Wisdom and Empathy Party) as an umbrella coalition for Poe’s supporters, endorsing 12 Senate candidates (only four of which were not endorsed by other coalitions).
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, 70 years-old, mounted her third bid for the presidency (her two previous attempts were in 1992 and 1998). Santiago is a former judge who has been in Philippine politics forever, first as a cabinet secretary to Cory Aquino (1989-1990) and later as a senator (1995-2001, since 2004).
She is an unconventional politician, famous for being brash, cocky and witty. Santiago has a distinguished academic background – class valedictorian at all levels, editor-in-chief of college newspapers, Bachelor of Arts (political science), Bachelor of Laws, Master of Laws, doctorate in juridical science and postdoctoral degrees in law and theology from prominent universities in the Philippines and around the world. Santiago likes to remind people of her academic prowess, considering herself one of the most intellectually brilliant leaders in the country’s history while dismissing many of her political opponents and critics as stupid idiots. Santiago worked in all three branches of government in the Philippines, as well as for the UN. She was a judge at a Quezon City court in the 1980s, appointed by President Marcos, but gaining national prominence for standing up to martial law and the Marcos regime. She was appointed by President Cory Aquino to head the infamously corrupt immigration and deportation department, and further boosted her profile by cleaning up the department despite death threats and ordering deportation raids against foreign criminals (paedophilia, prostitution, smuggling, arms and drug trafficking, organized crime). Miriam Santiago later served six months as Secretary of Agrarian Reform in 1989 under President Cory Aquino, her ambitious view for agrarian reform clashing with Aquino’s more conservative goals.
Miriam Defensor Santiago became popular, especially among the youth, and ran for the presidency in 1992. She won 4,468,173 votes (19.7%) and placed second, losing to Fidel Ramos by a relatively narrow margin of 874,348 votes in the final canvass. Because she led in the early stages of counting, she continues to claim that she was cheated and that she is the rightful winner of the 1992 election. Her official biography, on her website, explains how she was a victim of electoral fraud and thereafter faced relentless harassment and persecution from the government. Santiago was elected to the Senate in 1995, as the candidate of her political party – the People’s Reform Party (PRP), with nearly 9.5 million votes (in sixth place). Santiago makes no mention of her second attempt at the presidency in 1998, probably because she got creamed, with just 3% of the vote.
In her first term in the Senate, she emerged as a loyal supporter of beleaguered President Joseph Estrada, opposing his impeachment primarily because of her view that the ‘rule of law’ should be upheld against the threat of mob rule. In the Senate election which followed Estrada’s ouster, Santiago was defeated, placing fifteenth. She was successful three years later, in 2004, ending in seventh place as a candidate of the pro-Arroyo K4 coalition. She was reelected in 2010, this time on a ticket with the Nacionalista Party, placing third with 17.3 million votes. In 2012, she was the first Filipina to be elected a judge of the ICC, but later resigned the post because of chronic fatigue syndrome which was actually lung cancer.
Occasionally unencumbered by populist sentiment and less interested than most of her Senate colleagues in being on the administration’s good side, Santiago has brought vibrant debate to the Senate. She was in the minority in Renato Corona’s impeachment, and was an early supporter of the RH bill.
She is famous for not mincing words when it comes to her political opponents and other critics, although more often than not she just insults them – because she considers her witty insults to be an art form part of her great intellect. Her website has compiled a dictionary of her various quotes and assorted ad hominem attacks: which include “low IQ”, “surrounded by idiots”, “fungus face”, “discombobulated moral retardates”, “intelligence of political cockroaches”, “mental AIDS” (and “needs a frontal lobotomy”), “intellectual pygmies”, “miserable little intellectual amoeba” and “Prince of Darkness” (Juan Ponce Enrile). She once said that there was no intelligent life down in Congress (full line: “There’s no intelligent life down here. Beam me up, Scotty.”), told somebody to go stick his finger in a wall socket and said that she felt like Indiana Jones in the Temple of Doom when entering Congress for her first confirmation hearing.
As can be gleaned from the above selection of her best insults, Santiago has a very cocky and arrogant personality, with a Donald Trump-like boastful pride in her own career and abilities. She claims to be a globally famous personality with a rock star following, relishes at the number of awards she has been awarded for public service and – above all – openly says that she is the smartest politician in the entire country. Challenged about her intellectual arrogance, she pridefully accepted the accusation and added that intellectuals are entitled to be arrogant as it is the only way they can educate others. Her political opponents, the courts and voters in general are uneducated idiots. Her political speeches are often hyperbolic rants, and one particular tirade against a chief justice led to the Supreme Court saying that her speech had crossed the limits of decency and good professional conduct. While she adds colour to already colourful politics, her politics are profoundly elitist to the point that she has floated the idea of increasing the voting privileges of people with ‘superior qualities’ (“If a person is a borderline moron, why should his vote equal the vote of a college graduate?”), an obviously problematic stance as it dismisses the rights of the impoverished masses. Her fan club is limited to an exclusive club of students and university graduates, and she mostly campaigns on college campuses where she praises the students’ and her own intellectual superiority.
In July 2014, Santiago was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Yet, barely two months later, she announced that she had beaten the disease – a claim which is hard to believe given that the American Cancer Society states that stage 4 lung cancer has a five-year survival rate of just 1%. She announced her presidential candidacy in October 2015 on a broad anti-corruption platform, claiming third time’s the charm and waving off concerns about her health and ability to campaign.
Miriam registered at 10% in the polls in 2014 but quickly feel to 2-4% once things got serious in 2015 and 2016. As aforementioned, she mostly campaigned on college campuses by praising students’ great intellect (Rappler said that she “has the fire of a wild-haired Bernie Sanders ripping across the American Democratic primaries, with the viral popularity of Taylor Swift – and, she may just argue, also the legs”). Although she basically called all her opponents idiots in one way or another, she was ignored by the rest of the field and the only questions she face revolved around her health. Given her obvious difficulties during speeches and interviews, her health was a legitimate concern but she refused to release her medical records (a human rights violation, she said). Many voters likely paused at the thought that she could very well die in office if elected.
A prospect made all the more preoccupying given her choice as running-mate, the far more popular senator Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr., the only son of former President Ferdinand Marcos and incumbent representative Imelda Marcos. During his father’s nepotistic reign, he was appointed vice governor of Ilocos Norte (the Marcos clan’s province) in 1980 when he was just 23 and then served as provincial governor between 1983 and 1986. One of the first of his family to return home from their brief Hawaiian exile, Bongbong Marcos was elected to the House of Representatives from Ilocos Norte in 1992, but lost a Senate bid in 1995. He went on to serve three terms as governor of Ilocos Norte between 1998 and 2007, and returned to the House for one more term in 2007 (succeeding his sister Imee, who was elected governor of Ilocos Norte in 2010). Bongbong Marcos was elected to the Senate in 2010 for the Nacionalista Party, winning some 13.1 million votes overall and ranking seventh (his House seat passed to his mother, Imelda Marcos). Bongbong Marcos steadfastly refuses to apologize for his father’s crimes, instead claiming that he is benefiting from his father’s ‘good work’, which is part of his family’s fairly successful revisionist attempt to paint the Marcos era as a golden age. Nevertheless, Marcos rarely mentioned his father during the campaign although he did imitate his campaigning style.
Bongbong Marcos had been planning a run for higher office in 2016, and was offered a spot on Jojo Binay’s ticket. He declined to be on Binay’s ticket, likely because of Binay’s close ties to Corazon Aquino earlier in his career (he owes his first appointment as mayor of Makati City to Cory Aquino). Bongbong Marcos was endorsed by former Presidents Estrada and Arroyo (as well as Lakas-CMD) and senator Juan Ponce Enrile. He also got the support of the Iglesia ni Cristo, whose members have tended to vote as one for the church’s candidate. The Iglesia ni Cristo’s bloc voting usually delivers at least 1.37 million votes.
Mayor Rodrigo Duterte governed Davao City, a city of 1.449 million people (the fourth largest in the country) in southern Mindanao, for 22 years. Duterte, aged 71, was born in Leyte in 1945 and moved permanently to Davao with his family in the 1950s. His father Vicente was a Cebuano lawyer who served as governor of Davao province between 1959 and 1965.
Duterte was first elected mayor of Davao City in 1988 and served three terms until he was term-limited in 1998, when he ran and won for a seat in the House of Representatives from Davao City’s 1st district. He stayed only a single term in the House and returned as mayor in 2001, serving another full three terms until 2010 when he was switched places with his daughter Sara, who served one term as mayor while he was vice mayor. In 2013, Duterte was once again elected mayor.
His extraordinary popularity in Davao City owes to his transformation of the country’s fourth largest city from one of its most violent and dangerous cities to a city often ranking as one of the safest and most livable in the Philippines. It is driving an economic boom in southern Mindanao and sometimes held up as a national example of good governance – its government does seem to deliver public and emergency services efficiently and competently. However, the stats which proclaim it to be the ‘ninth safest city in the world’ seem extremely dubious (and contradicted even by Philippines National Police numbers). In the late 1980s, Davao City was ravaged by gang and guerrilla violence, and one of the first challenges to the mayor-elect was a hostage taking in a local prison which took the lives of 21 people including five hostages. Duterte’s trademark is his tough law-and-order approach to crime – tough in this case is a massive understatement, since Duterte’s crime policy is literally ‘kill them all’. It is also a bit inaccurate to consider his crime policy as ‘law-and-order’ since Duterte has very little regard for the rule of law, his view being that if you’re a criminal or doing something illegal, then you should be killed. He has never minced his words when it comes to criminality – follow the law, or I’ll kill you; don’t fuck with me. Nicknamed ‘The Punisher’ since a 2002 Time magazine article, he even enforces the law personally at times. He confirmed that he once forced a tourist violating the city’s public smoking ban to swallow a cigarette butt.
Davao City may have reduced criminality, but it has also become a noted hotbed for extrajudicial killings, vigilante killings and death squads. The Davao Death Squad, or DDS, is a vigilante group made of former criminals or guerrillas (and led by retired or even active police officers) and is estimated to have killed some 800-1,000 people between 1998 and 2008, with an upwards trend in the mid-2000s. Most victims were pretty criminals and drug dealers, street children and drug addicts but mistaken identity victims, bystanders or family/friends of intended targets. Davao and Mindanao’s death squads were cited in the UN’s 2008 report on extrajudicial assassinations in the Philippines, repeatedly cited in US diplomatic cables since the early 2000s and were the subject of a 2009 Human Rights Watch report. The HRW report stated that “death squad killings of alleged drug dealers, petty criminals, and street children in Davao City started sometime in the mid-1990s, during Duterte’s second term as mayor.”
Duterte for a long period publicly denied support or ties to the DDS, and the official response from the municipal government and authorities (police, prosecutor) generally denied the very existence of death squads. Very few people took these denials seriously, and Wikileaks cable note how Duterte privately admitted to knowledge of and support for Davao City’s vigilante killings. The 2009 HRW report found that many victims or their families received prior warning from the police or village officials, and at times (in 2001-2002), mayor Duterte himself publicly read out the names of criminals who were later found dead. It is believed that local police precinct commanders distribute the money to DDS handlers for hit jobs and ‘operations’. Unsurprisingly, very few of the cases are even investigated by the police, leaving the victims’ families to fend for themselves and providing impunity to the killers. Duterte shows no remorse for the victims – considering them the scum of society, or warning criminals that they’re legitimate assassination targets as long as he’s mayor. In May 2015, Duterte publicly admitted to links to DDS, saying “Am I the death squad? True. That is true” during his weekly TV talk show.
Widespread knowledge of Duterte’s unofficial support for vigilante groups in Davao City did not hurt his popularity, quite to the contrary. As a 2008 US diplomatic cable explained, “most Davao businesspeople and residents are aware of allegations that their mayor oversteps the law in his pursuit of justice and peace and order. They nevertheless credit his leadership as a major factor in lowering crime rates and providing the sense of safety and security that businesses need to thrive.” Duterte’s popular hardline anti-crime policies, which include not very subtle support for extrajudicial killings, were aped by mayors in other cities in Mindanao and Cebu (the Philippines’ second largest metro area). Almost no national politicians have criticized Duterte – in fact, the past four presidents (Ramos, Estrada, Arroyo and Aquino III) all offered the position of interior secretary to Duterte.
Rody Duterte has a very unusual style for a politician – he’s forthright and plain-spoken, cursing profusely during his speeches. He’s an avid fan of big bikes (and biker black leather jackets that seem to go with them), and has been known for ‘inspecting’ his city on one of his motorcycles. Duterte is also a murderer himself, nonchalantly admitting to having killed people, but having trouble remembering how many people he’s killed. It ranges from 3 (or perhaps 3 ‘in the past months’) to 16; perhaps as high as 1,700 (one of several ‘what the fuck’ moments of his 2016 campaign being his eagerness to correct a report blaming him for the deaths of 700 people when it should have said 1,700 – it was perhaps a joke, but Duterte’s sense of humour is obviously very odd so you can’t be sure), although he says that he may have dreamed some of them. He told Mar Roxas that you can’t be president if you don’t know how to kill people or are afraid of being killed.
Duterte is a womanizer, who enjoys kissing his female supporters at rallies. He once joked off claims of lasciviousness by saying that a woman was extremely beautiful and that you would die if you didn’t touch her. At public marriages in Davao, he ‘offers himself’ (ie his body) to female brides and adds that his offer is only good for women since he’s ‘not a queer’.
Duterte was pressured by his fans to announce a run for the presidency in 2016, but Duterte remained coy about his intentions and spent most of 2015 either denying plans to run for national office in 2016 (unless it was to save the nation from war), teasing voters about what he’d like to do as President (warning them, verbatim, that “it’s going to be bloody” and “if you put me there, don’t fuck with me”, or “if I have to kill you, I’ll kill you”) and engaging in a “will he/won’t he” dance that kept everybody on the edge of their seats. He also turned down offers to be Jejomar Binay and Miriam Defensor Santiago’s running mates. In September 2015, Duterte seemed to have officially ruled out a run, but less than a month later, he asked his supporters for for time to do some soul-searching after a massive rally of fans pressured him to run. In October 2015, on the filing deadline, Duterte filed to run for reelection as mayor of Davao City, while another candidate (Martin Diño) filed to run as the PDP-Laban’s candidate for president. Yet, not long after, Duterte said that he could change his mind and Martin Diño announced that he would withdraw from the race allowing Duterte to replace him as their party’s candidate, but Duterte again took his sweet time to officially confirm that he would accept the substitution. In late November, Duterte finally confirmed that he would run for president as the PDP-Laban’s candidate. He cited the Senate Electoral Tribunal’s clearance for Grace Poe’s candidacy as a factor in his decision, attacking her as the ‘American President’.
Duterte is a man of many contradictions. As noted above, Duterte claims to protect the rule of law by weeding out criminality, but he disregards the law when it comes to human rights. He has vowed to protect and pardon cops and soldiers who kill criminals, and in 2015 he advised police in another city on the ‘finer points on how to kill criminals’ (his words, again) – hacking their bodies and throw them into the sea to avoid exhumation. His anti-crime agenda may lead Western observers to consider him right-wing, but Duterte considers himself a man of the left and has even called himself a socialist. While he thinks that criminals should all be killed and fed to the sharks, he respects the communist guerrillas while disagreeing with their armed struggle. Duterte has visited NPA camps on several occasions, and exiled Communist Party leader Jose Maria Sison had nice things to say about Duterte (and mentioned hopes for a ceasefire and return home under a Duterte presidency). During the campaign, Mar Roxas attacked Duterte for ‘coddling and supporting’ the NPA guerrillas. Duterte explained that the difference between common criminals and the NPA rebels (widely considered by Filipinos to be murderous criminals) is that “one is for the pocket, and the other one is ideology.” All while claiming to be a socialist, Duterte has said that Ferdinand Marcos (who didn’t like communists much) was probably the Philippines’ best president and said that he was proud that his father (a former governor and Marcos cabinet secretary) was a Marcos loyalist.
Duterte also has a surprisingly progressive record on other matters, especially for the Philippines: he was the first mayor to give formal governmental representation to the indigenous Lumad and Moro Muslim minorities in Davao, he championed an anti-discrimination ordinance, he built a 24-hour drug rehabilitation and treatment centre (even if he openly supports killing drug addicts and dealers), he was an early supporter of the RH law, he supports LGBT rights (despite admitting he’s a male chauvinist) and might not be completely closed to same-sex marriage, and is a recognized supporter of women’s rights (he also ordered his police not to go after prostitutes).
His campaign was largely incoherent (and consisting largely of hyperbole and bluster), although with an appealing central message: he is the country’s last card, and the only one who can rid the country of crime, corruption and poverty. He has promised to practically eliminate crime and corruption in ‘3 to 6 months’, with only vague mechanisms. On the matter of crime, he says that he will kill 50,000-100,000 criminals as president (he said that in 2015, when he said he didn’t want to be president because he didn’t feel like killing people) or perhaps 5 criminals a week. He would dump the bodies in Manila Bay to fatten the fish. His anti-corruption plan was even more incoherent, consisting mostly of expletive-filled rants about trapos (Tagalog for ‘old rag’ and also short form for ‘traditional politicians’) and pledges to continue his simple lifestyle if president.
Duterte’s critics worried that he would be a dictator. His attitude towards dictatorship is unclear. Sometimes, he claims that he isn’t a dictator and has no aspiration to become one. Sometimes, he says he is ‘like a dictator’ and would rule ‘like a dictator’ or even plainly stating that “it’s going to be a dictatorship”. He has said that if Congress threatens him with impeachment, he would close Congress and impose ‘revolutionary government’. If ‘circumstances’ require it, he would impose martial law.
Rody Duterte supports federalism, which he views as a solution to regional inequalities and the Muslim separatist problem. As always with him, he is short on the details of what federalism would specifically entail and how he would transform the Philippines into a federal country.
In April 2016, Duterte’s campaign and the election gained international attention following his disgusting comments about the rape and murder of 36-year old Australian missionary Jaqueline Hamill during the 1989 Davao City prison riot and hostage-taking. He said that while he was mad that she was raped, he lamented that he (as mayor) was not the first in line to rape her. Most of the crowd found it hilarious. The Australian and US embassies protested, but Duterte told them to shut up. Duterte did later apologize for the incident and said it was a bad remark, but did not apologize for what he said and said that it was not a joke. His polling numbers were not visibly affected by his remarks, and prompted him to double-down on his rhetoric. When his own daughter, Sara, admitted online that he was a rape victim, Rodrigo Duterte referred to her as a drama queen. He threatened Australia and the US to cut ties if they were so upset. He proceeded to tell the Commission on Human Rights to go to hell, admitted shooting a student in a school hallway, said that his dick made him cheat on his wife and said that he would pardon himself for mass murder.
The Punisher emerged as a strong top-tier candidate in the polls as soon as he entered the race, and took the lead from Grace Poe in late March/early April. His supporters became extremely loyal to their candidate over the campaign; Rappler wrote “Duterte’s every pronouncement, no matter how farfetched, is now met with roaring approval” and “He promises the impossible, and the more he curses, the more he is celebrated.” With blind support from his support base, he was able to resist all scandals – the rape remarks, earlier comments calling Pope Francis a ‘son of a bitch’ for causing a traffic jam in Manila during his January 2015 visit and Antonio Trillanes’ claim in late April that Duterte had an undeclared bank account with $4.5 million. His supporters, as explained by Rappler, have a worrying intolerance for any criticism of their candidate. They respond to critics by calling for their rape and murder.
Rappler said of Duterte supporters:
They are ordinary people, good people, kind people, and they are howling for blood. They are the new normal, and they believe in the gospel of Rodrigo Duterte. All comment is heresy. All media is biased. Wait until you’re raped, they say. Wait until your girlfriend is killed. See the forums, watch the comment sections, understand how women who speak out are called ugly bitches and know-it-all whores.
The rest of Duterte’s critics have been reduced to hypocrites and armchair activists. How dare you, asks one supporter, condemn imaginary rapes instead of real oppression? Did you rise up in anger when domestic helpers were raped in the Middle East? Did you demand justice and apologies? What have you done?
The message is clear. You have no right to speak. Forget how condemning one egregious assault still allows for condemning all. Forget that one armchair activist is calling out another. The discourse has been reduced to binaries – “Better a bad joke than a bad government.” To criticize Duterte’s extremism suddenly means to stand for criminality. The same people who condemn xenophobia and intolerance and murder now fail to see the terrifying new morality that has taken hold of the country. They are not bullies, they say. They are the bullied fighting back.
Rodrigo Duterte picked senator Alan Peter Cayetano as his running mate. Cayetano is the son of a former senator (1998-2003) and his sister Pia was elected to the Senate in 2004 and reelected in 2010. Alan Peter Cayetano was elected to the Senate for the Nacionalista Party in 2007, after having represented the family’s stronghold of Taguig-Pateros (Metro Manila) in the House between 1998 and 2007. He was reelected in 2013, improving on his 2007 results and ending up in third place with 17.58 million votes. Other members of his family, including his brother and wife, are also politically active. Cayetano announced his candidacy in September 2015, before Duterte, and had been hoping for ‘Dirty Harry’ to jump in so he could be his running mate. Duterte didn’t really seem to care much about his running mate, since in February 2016 he said that if he failed to fix crime and corruption within 3 to 6 months he would resign so that Bongbong Marcos, another veep candidate, could be president.
Duterte’s appeal is also being anti-establishment. While he comes from a political dynasty, it is a minor and local one, outside the national political elite. He was particularly harsh on Mar Roxas, the ruling party’s candidate, considering him an incompetent idiot. Duterte had relatively little support from the political establishment, but he was supported by some prominent political figures. His endorsers included former senator Eduardo Angara (of the LDP party), former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. (the old patriarch of Duterte’s PDP-Laban party), incumbent senator Aquilino Pimentel III and former senator and 2010 presidential candidate Manny Villar. There was speculation that former President Arroyo supported Duterte, who said that he would release her from jail if elected. Arroyo’s Lakas made no endorsement but many members were supportive of Duterte. The Nacionalista Party, which had three of its senators running for vice president (as independents), made no endorsements but Duterte was one of the top candidates for Nacionalista lawmakers. The Iglesia ni Cristo, which backed Bongbong Marcos for VP, endorsed Duterte for President. MNLF founder Nur Misuari also endorsed Duterte.
Rodrigo Duterte led by 10 points in most polls on the eve of the vote. Al Jazeera had an interesting pre-electoral special report about Duterte, Davao City and death squads in Mindanao.
Results are based on the official congressional canvass of votes.
Rodrigo Duterte (PDP-Laban) 39.01%
Mar Roxas (Liberal Party) 23.45%
Grace Poe (Independent) 21.39%
Jejomar Binay (UNA) 12.73%
Miriam Defensor Santiago (PRP) 3.42%
Turnout was 80.7%. 0.06% of the votes were cast for a candidate who withdrew and died before election day, and were counted as spoiled votes. 5.39% of votes were invalid. Turnout in 2010 was 74.4% and 76.4% in 2004.
Leni Robredo (Liberal Party) 35.11%
Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. (Independent) 34.47%
Alan Peter Cayetano (Independent) 14.38%
Francis Escudero (Independent) 12.01%
Antonio Trillanes (Independent) 2.11%
Gregorio ‘Gringo’ Honasan (UNA) 1.92%
8.7% of votes were invalid.
Only the 12 winning candidates are listed.
Franklin Drilon (Liberal Party) 41.52%
Joel Villanueva (Liberal Party) 41.39%
Tito Sotto (NPC) 38.51%
Panfilo Lacson (Independent) 37.82%
Richard J. Gordon (Independent) 37.28%
Juan Miguel Zubiri (Independent) 35.87%
Manny Pacquiao (UNA) 35.67%
Francis Pangilinan (Liberal Party) 35.56%
Risa Hontiveros (Akbayan) 35.53%
Sherwin Gatchalian (NPC) 33.58%
Ralph Recto (Liberal Party) 31.79%
Leila de Lima (Liberal Party) 31.55%
Rodrigo Duterte was elected President of the Philippines by a large margin on May 9. He won 16,601,997 votes or 39% of the valid votes, while his nearest rival, Mar Roxas of the ruling Liberal Party won 9,978,175 votes or 23.45% of the vote: a decisive 15.56% or 6,623,822 vote margin. In terms of raw votes, the 6.6 million vote margin is the biggest in Philippine presidential election history (excluding Marcos’ 1981 reelection in special circumstances), beating the previous record, set by Estrada’s 6.4 million majority in 1998. In terms of percentage majority, however, Duterte’s majority is only the third biggest of Fifth Republic (post 1986) – smaller than Estrada 1998 (24%) and Aquino 2010 (15.8%).
In his quasi-landslide, Duterte soundly defeated four prominent politicians. Mar Roxas was the candidate of the government and supported by President Aquino, who has fairly strong approval ratings as he leaves office. Grace Poe was the ‘top notcher’ in the 2013 Senate election, the daughter of a popular actor and a candidate with an appealing story. Jejomar Binay was the sitting Vice President, the top figure of the opposition and an experienced politician. Miriam Santiago stood little chance to begin with, but she served in all three branches of government and was a high-ranking senator.
Duterte’s victory is a major blow to outgoing President Benigno Aquino III, whose preferred candidate, his former interior secretary Mar Roxas. Roxas won just 23.5% of the vote. The candidate himself was a major weakness. As noted above, the third generation scion of a prominent political dynasty, he has been unable to connect with voters and was seen as bumbling and aloof. His attempts to connect with voters were awkward, cringe-worthy and widely mocked on social media. Totally lacking the ‘charm’, demagogic appeal and ‘straight-talk’ of Rody Duterte. To make matters worse, as interior secretary he became associated with incompetence and made the perfect whipping boy for all pent-up frustrations with the administration – unresponsiveness, arrogance, the mishandled post-Typhoon Haiyan relief effort, corruption, the Zamboanga siege or perennial traffic disasters in Metro Manila. Roxas lacked any defining achievements which could weigh up against the ‘glorious mythology’ of Davao City (Duterte) or even Makati (Binay), nor did his dynastic background make for the basis of a heartwarming family story (Poe). Quoting Rappler:
He can’t take a joke. He can’t slug it out in the press. He is a safe target for every bully with a spitball and a baseball bat. His varying attempts at defending himself has the distinct flavor of a whining thirteen-year-old who just got trounced in the playground. Listen to him on television, complaining about unfairness, droning on about rules, rambling about his successes, unable to stand up to candidates whose attacks on his incompetence remind the public just how royally he fails in a crisis.
Roxas was assailed by all his rivals. Jejomar Binay described Roxas’ style as “analysis by paralysis” while Grace Poe claimed that he had lost all trust even that of Aquino. Rodrigo Duterte’s target of choice during the campaign was Roxas, calling him incredibly incompetent, a pretentious fraud and a massive failure – attacks reminiscent, in my mind, of Donald Trump’s attacks on “low-energy” Jeb Bush during the US Republican primaries.
The Liberal Party, led by Roxas, insisted that their daang matuwid or straight path was the only choice, the only civilized option against barbarianism and immorality. The ‘straight path’ has produced solid economic growth making the Philippines one of the fastest growing economies in the region, healthy public finances, increased infrastructure spending, attracted more foreign investment and came close to producing a peace agreement with the Muslim separatist rebels. Yet, not everyone has benefited equally, and this unequal distribution of the results is often cited in the media as one of the main reasons for Duterte’s victory. Poverty remains the biggest problem, with little real progress being made over the past decades despite new conditional cash transfer programs. Rural areas, particularly those outside of central Luzon, remain very poor and urban poverty is rising. Infrastructure spending and economic opportunities remain concentrated in the Metro Manila region and Luzon, fuelling continued anger in Mindanao, Visayas and remote parts of Luzon. Aquino took office on a platform focused at rooting out corruption, yet six years later corruption remains endemic and the government’s record on addressing corruption is mediocre at best. Improvements, to be sure, have been made but they were mostly baby steps which haven’t produced tangible benefits to regular Filipinos still dealing with corrupt local officials, politicians and cops.
However, the Liberals were seemingly unable to understand the real frustrations that many voters may have with aspects of their record. The Liberals displayed a certain intolerance towards criticisms of the daang matuwid, being very quick to dismiss them as complaints of opponents with axes to grind, and therefore having nothing to offer to those with grievances against the state of the country. To make matters worse, Roxas, more of a bureaucrat or legislator than a powerful orator or skilled campaigner, offered meandering speeches or convoluted and gradual solutions to the pressing issues. This is his typical style, reflective perhaps of his roots as a dynastic politician from the country’s old political elite. During the response to Typhoon Haiyan, he spent a lot of his time blaming the local government, engaging in grubby political squabbles with the mayor of Tacloban, who happened to be from the Romualdez family of Leyte (Imelda Marcos’ family) or lecturing CNN on local government natural disaster response. Again, Rappler put it best:
A vote for Mar Roxas acknowledges the slow character of nation building – a project that requires patience instead of quick-fix solutions. Inclusive growth takes time. Eliminating corruption takes time. The impact of hard work may not be immediately apparent, but the statistics of crime and economic growth indicate we are headed in the right direction. Roxas promises more of the same.
Except that the world we live in is one where we cannot afford to wait. Ours is a country where the sky falls with clockwork regularity. Disaster is the new normal. Every day is a crisis. He may excel in the minutiae of the law, but the next president of the Philippines does not have the luxury of endless meetings and a selection of excuses.
In contrast, Duterte offered simple “I will” politics – I will eliminate crime, corruption and drugs.
Grace Poe was at one point in the not so distant past the frontrunner in the polls, and she had several assets – the name, charisma, a fresh and clean image – but on May 9, she finished third with only 21.39% of the vote. A major obstacle was the lack of machinery and experienced political handlers. She had no major party backing and lacked access to a nationwide machinery, unlike the Liberal Party – but, at the same time, Duterte’s party backing was very weak as well (PDP-Laban is only a minor party now). Unlike Poe, though, Duterte benefited from a groundswell of popular support and built (as noted above) a terrifyingly loyal base of supporters while Poe’s hollow and wishy-washy campaign only had soft support.
Another major problem was that Grace Poe’s campaign, after she was allowed to run by the Supreme Court, lacked a message and thus became very hollow. She had expended so much energy on her right to run for office, fighting the legal challenges, that when it was granted her campaign struggled to find a convincing platform besides vague ‘honest and clean government’. Poe has acknowledged that, in retrospect, she spent too much time fighting about her right to won and not enough explaining why she was running.
It was also unclear whether Poe stood for continuity or change; initially she sounded supportive of daang matuwid (saying that no one had the monopoly of daang matuwid), but facing the Duterte wave she changed her mind and said that Filipinos were fed up with daang matuwid and wanted change. But, who would a voter eager for change, especially ‘radical change’, trust? The senator elected with Team PNoy in 2013 whose political career was begun by Aquino in 2010, or the tough-talking mayor from Davao who has convinced everybody that Davao is basically Singapore? Her attempt to differentiate her version of change from Duterte – ‘humane’ and empathetic transformation – failed to capture the public’s imagination. Besides, her attempts to tweak her campaign’s message as Duterte surged in the polls came too late and were futile, as voters had already made up their minds.
Poe took pride on running a ‘clean’ campaign, although she was notably feistier by the end as her opponents were unearthing more dirt on her husband (who served in the US Air Force) and she was losing the election to Duterte. Although clean campaigns make for a higher, more respectable kind of politics, it’s no secret that dirty and negative campaigns are brutally effective and that many candidates who took pride on their ‘clean campaigns’ lost. Some of Poe’s campaign staff have said, with hindsight, that Poe should have gone after Duterte harder for his crass rape joke and hit Roxas harder on the administration’s weakest files (PDAF/DAP, Typhoon Haiyan).
Duterte, like Poe, lacked a party machinery and had limited support from the ‘political elite’ or the bigger political parties. However, his main asset was an army of emotionally-attached followers, from all classes and regions, many of whom volunteered their time and money to support his campaign. His supporters saw him as a saviour, swaying voters with a promise of care and power – all wrapped up in an ‘authentic’ image. His crass jokes, poor language, cussing and incessant flirting with woman added to his charm and authenticity, giving the impression that he is from and for the people (unlike Mar Roxas, who is certainly not from the people and many would argue not even for the people). Duterte’s supporters on social media promoted his image by sharing stories or images of Duterte on the front-line during crises or natural disasters in Davao, contrasting with the perception of President Aquino as ‘cold and distant’ and often missing in action in some of the biggest crises of the past 6 years.
The other big loser was Vice President Jejomar Binay, who ran the longest campaign and expected his rags-to-riches populist appeal to bring him to the presidency just as it had propelled him to the vice presidency (against Roxas) in 2010. He had the political experience, the attractive story and a strong political machinery behind him. His numbers took a hit with the Senate investigation into corruption allegations and unexplained wealth, but he recovered through a ‘strategy of silence’ and shot back up to close second or tied for first (with Poe). His support, however, collapsed when the official campaign began and Duterte surged in the polls.
Binay was critical of President Aquino, but his message of a ‘better life’ lacked teeth and fell short compared to the strength and persuasiveness of Duterte’s campaign. Binay might also have erred in trying to appear as a healing and unifying figure, which led him to somewhat soften his criticisms of the outgoing administration and therefore lessen their effectiveness and punch. He also lost support by failing to address his corruption allegations head-on, stubbornly dismissing them as lies and claiming that the real ‘moral’ problem was poverty, not corruption. When he decided, late in the game, to present documents which he said would discredit the accusations, he was barred from doing so because of the venue (a debate) and the whole thing looked silly and belated. Failing to tackle the corruption issues and facing the Duterte surge, Binay lost support from his strongest backers (the poor) and saw the clout of his UNA weaken as local organizations defected or candidates failed to register as UNA candidates.
Miriam Defensor Santiago did poorly, but her low result had been expected for a long time. Her campaign never had a chance of taking off.
The vice presidential contest was much closer than the presidential race. Leni Robredo, the Liberal standard bearer and Mar Roxas’ running-mate, ultimately won by just 263,473 votes or 0.61% – the closest margin in a vice presidential race under the Fifth Republic (the close 2004 and 2010 VP races were won by 2.9% and 2.1% respectively) and the second closest in the country’s history after 1965 when Ferdinand Marcos’ running mate defeated Gerardo Roxas by 0.37% (26.7k votes). Robredo won 35.11% or 14,418,817 votes against 34.47% or 14,155,344 votes for her main rival, senator Bongbong Marcos. The other candidates trailed far behind. Senator Francis Escudero, Grace Poe’s running mate who led VP polls in early 2016, won just 12% of the vote in fourth place. Alan Peter Cayetano won third place with 14.4% of the vote, a result in line with or slightly lower than what he had polled in the campaign. The two other vice presidential candidates, Antonio Trillanes (2.1%) and Gringo Honasan (1.9%) barely registered.
Marcos took an early lead when polls closed, because his strongest regions reported first. Robredo took the lead and held it throughout the preliminary count, despite the Marcos campaign’s protests. The congressional canvass in late May confirmed Robredo as the winner, and the Marcos campaign finally begrudgingly conceded defeat.
Robredo, a one-term congresswoman from Camarines Sur in the Bicol region, started out very low in the polls but quickly surged until the last polls had her in statistical tie with Bongbong Marcos. The backing of the Liberal machinery, and President Aquino, played an important role in her successful campaign and eventual victory, but the same elements were also behind Roxas who lost by a wide margin. Robredo, unlike Roxas, ran a strong and ‘authentic’ campaign which largely sidestepped daang matuwid to focus instead on the ‘Naga-Robredo model of governance’. Her late husband, Jesse Robredo, who died in a 2012 plane crash, was a popular and effective mayor of Naga (1988-1998, 2001-2010) with a down-to-earth grassroots kind of leadership which championed ‘participatory leadership’ and close relationships with constituents. Therefore, unlike Roxas who couldn’t attach his name to any defining achievements or a successful stint in local government, Robredo had both sympathy for her popular late husband and her family name on defining achievements. She also positioned herself as an antithesis to Duterte (she claimed that they had achieved similar success to Davao City in Naga without violence and human rights violations) without being overly anti-Duterte. She may also have consolidated the anti-Marcos vote, as there were widespread concerns about the possibility of a Vice President Marcos (especially alongside President Duterte).
There appears to be a notion, particularly common in foreign coverage of the election, that Duterte’s victory was the work of the ‘poor and uneducated masses’ who failed to benefit from recent economic growth and yearn for security. Duterte certainly had strong support with the poor across the country, but his coalition cut across class and region and received very strong support from the middle-class and the rich. Exit polls in the Philippines are a bit iffy, but the SWS exit poll is interesting. ‘Class ABC’ voters, from the top three social classes, voted 46% for Duterte against only 18.9% for Roxas, 16.4% for Poe and 11.8% for Binay (Santiago won 6.2%). Class D voters still voted solidly for Duterte, with 39.6%, against 22.7% for Roxas, 20.6% for Poe, 13.9% for Binay and 2.5% for Santiago. Voters in class E, the lowest, voted for Duterte as well but with a significantly narrower margin – 35.3% to 28.6% for Roxas, with 19% for Poe, 15% for Binay and 1.3% for Santiago. The divide in terms of education was even starker. Those with some high school education backed Duterte by 8 points over Roxas – 33.8% to 25.7%, with 22.1% for Poe and 16.1% for Binay. College graduates voted for Duterte by 29 points – 49.2% to 19.8%, with 13.4% for Poe, 10% for Binay and 6.7% for Santiago. Duterte also performed slightly better with men than women (43% to 37%) and did much better in urban areas than rural regions (45% to 31.9%).
These exit poll numbers, if accurate (and the actual geography of the vote suggests that they are) would mean that Duterte performed best with the wealthiest and most educated voters (while still having very substantial support with the poor and less educated). Class ABC urban voters want discipline and public order in the city, and strong leader who will prevent crime. These voters have benefited from economic growth, but want more orderly cities, better infrastructure and disciplined citizens. Corruption persists in urban areas (with cops or in the public administration), crime is prevalent and horrendous traffic (due to inadequate infrastructure) remains a huge frustration for Metro Manila voters. Surprisingly, however, surveys in Metro Manila showed that jobs and education – where Duterte was not seen as the best candidate – ranked ahead of corruption and crime in order of importance.
Crime and corruption are concerns which cut across class and region. Rappler‘s pre-election profile of Duterte included this observation, which seems like a good quick summary of Duterte’s appeal post-election:
He says screw the bleeding hearts, and to hell with the bureaucracy. He voices the helplessness and rage of Filipinos forced to make do in a country where corruption is casual and crime is ordinary. Duterte has their backs, and he says the struggle ends here, today. He goes beyond anger, even beyond solutions. Digong Duterte offers retribution.
In the Senate races, seven of the victorious 12 were endorsed by the administration’s Koalisyon ng Daang Matuwid, five of these seven were supported only by the daang matuwid. The top notcher was incumbent Liberal senator Franklin Drilon, the outgoing President of the Senate and a veteran politician. Drilon served in the Senate between 1995 and 2007 and again since 2010, and had already been Senate President twice prior to 2013 (July-November 2000 and 2001-2006). He is an opportunistic politician who has served all the Presidents of the Fifth Republic – as labour and later justice secretary under Cory Aquino, as justice secretary and pro-administration senator under Fidel Ramos, as a pro-administration senator (until the impeachment) under Estrada, as a pro-administration senator and Senate President under both Gloria Arroyo and Benigno Aquino. Drilon won 18,607,391 votes, more than what he won in 2010 (15,871,117) but equivalent to a similar share of the vote (41.5%). He was strongest in his native Iloilo, where he won over 820,000 votes.
Joel Villanueva, also a Liberal, was elected in second place with 18,459,222 votes (41.4%). Villanueva is the son of Eddie Villanueva, religious leader and president of the Evangelical Jesus is Lord Church, two-time presidential candidate (in 2004 and 2010) and 2013 senatorial candidate (finishing in 18th place as an unaffiliated candidate for his Bangon Pilipinas party). Joel Villanueva served three terms as a party-list representative in the House for the “Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption” (CIBAC) party-list and served as head of the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TEDSA), a government agency, from 2010 to 2015. He campaigned on his record as head of TEDSA and with the support of his father’s religious group. Villanueva was charged by the Ombudsman in connection with the PDAF scam.
Incumbent senator Tito Sotto III (NPC) came in third with about 17,200,000 votes and 38.5%, a marked improvement on his 2010 result (31.2%). Like Drilon, Sotto – who was endorsed by the opposition UNA and Grace Poe’s Partido Galing at Puso – is a veteran politician who will begin his fourth term in the Senate (1992-2004 and since 2010). Sotto was a songwriter, actor and showbiz star prior to his election as vice mayor of Quezon City in 1988 and his election to the Senate in 1992. He was reelected in 1998, failed to reenter the Senate in 2007 but successfully did so in 2010. Like Drilon, Sotto has passed through several different parties since the ’90s and has supported every administration at one point or another – he went from a die-hard Estrada loyalist in 2001 to a supporter of the Arroyo administration (his 2007 Senate run was for the beleaguered administration’s TEAM Unity coalition). Sotto was a strong supporter of the Poe-Escudero ticket and was one of the forces which pushed the divided NPC to officially back her candidacy.
Former senator Panfilo Lacson (independent) returned to the Senate, placing fourth with about 16,926,000 votes (37.8%). Panfilo Lacson is a retired police officer who was director of the National Police between 1999 and 2001. As police chief, he reduced the extortionist culture among police personnel and increased the police’s popularity, but was implicated in a 2000 murder case. Lacson fled the country in 2010 before charges against him for the murder case were filed in court, and returned in 2011 after the case and arrest warrant were dropped. Lacson was an Estrada loyalist in 2001, and was elected to the Senate in 2001 as a candidate on the deposed president’s ticket (for the LDP) and reelection for the anti-Arroyo opposition (GO) in 2007. Lacson ran for President in 2004, winning 10.9% and placing third. In 2013, President Aquino appointed him Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery, to lead the management and rehabilitation efforts in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan. Lacson endorsed Mar Roxas after unsuccessful talks to be Poe’s running-mate (he was also removed from Poe’s Senate lineup). He was also supported by the UNA.
Former senator Richard J. Gordon (independent) also returned to the Senate, with a fifth place showing from 16,719,322 votes (or 37.3%). Gordon, the son of a local politician of American descent, has been in politics since the 1970s when he served as a young delegate to the 1971 constitutional convention which drafted Marcos’ constitution. He went on to become mayor of Olongapo (where his father was mayor) from 1980 to 1986 and again from 1988 to 1993 and chairman of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority from 1992 to his forcible removal by President-elect Estrada in 1998. Gordon was an Arroyo ally who served in her cabinet as tourism secretary (2001-2004) and was elected to the Senate in 2004 with Arroyo’s K4 coalition. He fell out with the administration and formed his own political party, Bagumbayan-VNP (‘Yelstinism’ is hilariously listed as one of the party’s ‘ideologies’ on Wikipedia!), to run for President himself in 2010. Gordon won only 1.4% of the vote in the 2010 election. To continue his political career and return to the Senate, he joined up with VP Jojo Binay’s opposition UNA, but was narrowly defeated as the thirteenth placed candidate with 709,433 less votes than the twelfth placed candidate. This year, Gordon was supported by the UNA and Poe’s Partido Galing at Puso.
Former senator Juan Miguel Zubiri (independent) returned to the Senate as well, finishing sixth this year with 16,119,165 votes (35.9%). Zubiri comes from the ruling family in the Mindanao province of Bukidnon (his father was reelected governor in a landslide, his brother was reelected to the House from the province’s third district) and was in the House for three terms between 1998 and 2007. In 2007, he was a Senate candidate for Arroyo’s TEAM Unity coalition. In the final tally, Zubiri defeated opposition candidate Aquilino Pimentel III (PDP-Laban) by just 18,500 votes for the twelfth and last seat. Pimentel alleged that there was widespread fraud in Zubiri’s favour in Maguindanao province, but the Supreme Court rejected his petition to invalidate the province’s votes and allowed the COMELEC to certify Zubiri as the winner. Pimentel launched a long, drawn-out and bitter electoral protest in the Senate Electoral Tribunal for over 2,600 precincts in the ARMM (Zubiri countered with a protest on over 73,000 precincts). Pimentel’s case languished until 2011 when a suspended ARMM governor and election supervisor confirmed that there had been widespread fraud in Maguindanao in 2007. While continuing to claim that he did not cheat, Zubiri decided to resign from the Senate in August 2011 and became the first senator to resign for a reason other than accepting another political or elected office. With Zubiri withdrawing his counter-protest, the Senate Electoral Tribunal could finally rule on the election protest and proclaimed Pimentel as the winner by 258,166 votes. Since the protest, however, Zubiri and Pimentel have remained sworn enemies. In 2013, both Pimentel and Zubiri ran for Senate and both were initially candidates on the same slate (UNA), but Pimentel ditched the UNA to run for reelection with Team PNoy because of Zubiri’s inclusion on the UNA ticket. Pimentel was reelected to the Senate in 2013, but Zubiri was defeated placing fourteenth. Zubiri was candidate for the UNA and Poe’s coalition, but Zubiri switched his presidential endorsement from Poe to the lone Mindanao presidential candidate, Duterte. The Pimentel/Zubiri feud was the main reason why Duterte’s campaign cancelled its initial lineup of 12 Senate hopeful, which would have included Zubiri, much to the displeasure of the PDP-Laban’s president, Pimentel.
Sarangani Representative Manny Pacquiao (UNA), the former world champion professional boxer, successfully ran for Senate and was elected with a seventh place finish (16,050,546 votes or 35.7%). Parallel to his boxing career, Pacquiao has been active in Philippine politics since 2007, when he first ran for the House of Representatives in South Cotabato’s 1st district (as a supporter of the Arroyo administration). He lost to the incumbent NPC member by 29 points, but Pacquiao announced another run for Congress – this time from his wife’s province of Sarangani (in Central Mindanao/Soccsksargen region) – in the 2010 elections. Pacquiao founded his own party, the People’s Champ Movement (PCM), but ran in coalition with Manny Villar’s Nacionalista Party in 2010. He defeated the candidate of an entrenched political clan by a landslide, winning two-thirds of the vote. He transferred to the President-elect’s Liberal Party, but ran for reelection (unopposed) with the opposition UNA in 2013. Pacquiao retired from boxing earlier this year, perhaps to focus more actively on his political ambitions (which include the presidency). Pacquiao attracted (international) controversy during the campaign when he said that people in same-sex marriages were behaving worse than animals. Duterte, who had endorsed Pacquiao for Senate, criticized Pacquiao for his comments. Pacquiao’s candidacy was backed only by the UNA.
Former senator Francis ‘Kiko’ Pangilinan (Liberal) was the fourth former senator to return to the upper house. Pangilinan placed eighth with 15,955,949 votes (35.56%). He is a former lawyer, academic and TV personality who was elected to the Senate for the first time in 2001 as part of the pro-Arroyo People Power Coalition and reelected as an independent Liberal in 2007. He served as Presidential Assistant for Food Security and Agricultural Modernization in 2014 and 2015.
Former party-list representative Risa Hontiveros was elected to the Senate on her third attempt. This year, she won ninth place with 15,915,213 votes (35.5%). Hontiveros is a left-wing socialist activist who was elected to the House of Representatives in 2004 and 2007 as a party-list representative for Akbayan, a socialist party which runs in party-list elections to the House (it has usually been one of the most successful of the various party-lists, winning over 1 million votes in 2010 and over 800,000 votes in 2013). Hontiveros has advocated for women’s rights, agrarian reform, anti-corruption efforts and universal healthcare. This was her third run for Senate, after two unsuccessful bids in 2010 and 2013, both times also supported by the Liberal Party. In 2010, Hontiveros placed thirteenth, falling short by over 1.1 million votes. In 2013, Hontiveros finished seventeenth. Walden Bello, another former Akbayan party-list representative and prominent socialist activist, was far less successful in his independent candidacy for Senate this year – he finished 36th with only 2.4%.
Former mayor and representative Sherwin Gatchalian (NPC) ranked tenth with 14,953,768 (33.6%). Gatchalian was elected to the House from the Metro Manila NCR district of Valenzuela in 2001, and became mayor of Valenzuela in 2004 (reelected in 2007 and 2010). At the end of his mayoral term, he chose to return to the House, after polling showed that it was too early for a successful Senate run. Gatchalian’s two brothers are also politically active – one is the current mayor of Valenzuela, just reelected to a second term in a landslide despite corruption allegations, and the other is replacing Sherwin in the House. Gatchalian and some relatives were indicted in 2015 by the Ombudsman on graft and malversation charges. Gatchalian is from the NPC and was supported only by Poe’s coalition.
Incumbent Liberal senator Ralph Recto was reelected with an eleventh place finish, earning 14,271,868 votes or 31.8%. Ralph Recto is the grandson of nationalist leader and former senator Claro M. Recto, and served three terms in the House (1992-2001) before being elected to the Senate with President Arroyo’s Lakas party in 2001. Recto lost reelection, again standing for Arroyo’s Lakas, in 2007 but returned to the Senate as a Liberal candidate in 2010 after an eighth place finish. Recto is married to Vilma Santos, an actress turned politician, who was elected to the House of Representatives this year after three terms as governor of Batangas (2007-2016). Recto was also supported by Grace Poe’s Partido Galing at Puso.
The last seat went to Leila de Lima (Liberal), the former chairwoman of the Commission on Human Rights (2008-2010) and President Aquino’s justice secretary from 2010 to October 2015. Leila de Lima made several enemies because of her bluntness and activism both as head of the human rights commission and as justice secretary; in the latter role, she led the administration’s prosecution of the three senators in the PDAF scam (who were later arrested). The concerned senators and their allies claimed that they were singled out for prosecution because they were from the opposition, pointing out that de Lima sat on the cases of Liberal or administration allies also involved in the PDAF scam. Leila de Lima has also been one of the few politicians publicly critical of Duterte, especially his human rights record and his alleged involvement in the Davao death squad killings. The two have gotten in war of words before, with Duterte warning her not to fuck with him since she’d lose.
The thirteenth candidate was Francis Tolentino (independent), former chairman of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority, who earned 12,811,098 votes (28.6%), placing him quite some distance behind the twelfth candidate (by over 1.3 million votes). Tolentino was dropped from the Liberal Party’s ticket after a lewd performance from scantily-clad women dancers at a campaign event. Tolentino supported Rodrigo Duterte’s presidential campaign.
Incumbent senator Sergio Osmeña III (independent) lost his bid for reelection, placing fourteenth with 12,670,615 votes or 28.2%. Osmeña is the third generation of Cebu’s Osmeña political dynasty, the grandson of former President Sergio Osmeña and the son of former senator Sergio ‘Serging’ Osmeña Jr. Sergio Osmeña III was first elected to the Senate in 1995 (with then-President Ramos’ Lakas-Laban coalition), reelected in 2001 (with the pro-Arroyo People Power Coalition) and returning in 2010 (as an independent). Sergio Osmeña III is seen as Grace Poe’s political mentor and advised her presidential campaign on occasion, but differences were reported between the two and Osmeña III wasn’t endorsed by Poe’s coalition. Sergio Osmeña III is also close to Rodrigo Duterte.
Martin Romualdez (Lakas-CMD), representative for Leyte’s first district (2007-2016), placed fifteenth with 12,325,824 votes (27.6%). From Leyte’s old Romualdez dynasty, he is the nephew of Imelda Marcos and Bongbong Marcos’ cousin. Romualdez’s candidacy was supported by the UNA and Duterte.
Manila vice mayor, Estrada ally and former actor Isko Moreno (PMP) was sixteenth overall with 25%. Incumbent senator and former Bukidnon representative TG Guingona (Liberal), the son of Arroyo’s first VP (Teofisto Guingona Jr.), lost his reelection bid very badly, finishing in a distant seventeenth with just 22.9% – in 2010, he was elected to the last seat with 26.9%.
Although these stats are entirely meaningless, the Liberal Party increased its Senate representation from 4 to 6 seats. The other seats are held by 5 independents, the UNA (4), the NPC (3), the Nacionalista Party (3), Akbayan (1), PDP-Laban (1) and the LDP (1).
Even more meaningless are national party numbers for the House of Representatives. The Liberals won 115 seats against 42 for the NPC, 23 for the NUP, 24 for the Nacionalistas, 11 for the UNA, 4 for Lakas-CMD and 3 from PDP-Laban. However, before the 17th Congress even opens on July 25, 80 Liberal representatives have defected to President-elect Duterte’s PDP-Laban, which has also signed coalition or support agreements with the NPC, Nacionalista Party, NUP and Lakas-CMD. The bulk of party-list representatives should also support Duterte. With an overwhelming majority in the House for the incoming administration, Davao del Norte representative Pantaleon Alvarez, from PDP-Laban, is expected to be elected Speaker. The Senate appears to be a slightly tougher bet, but at least nine senators (the 3 from the NPC, 2 of the 3 Nacionalistas, LDP senator Sonny Angara, Aquilino Pimentel III and independent senators Gordon and Zubiri) should support the government and some of the Liberal and UNA senators may also get behind the new government.
Former First Lady Imelda Marcos was reelected to her third term as representative for Ilocos Norte’s 2nd district, with 98.5% of the vote. In Pampanga’s 2nd district, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was reelected unopposed to her third and final term. In Sarangani, Manny Pacquiao’s old House seat will go to his brother Rogelio, who won the province’s lone district with 86%. Rogelio, known as ‘Roel’, had been defeated in a previous bid for the House in South Cotabato back in 2010. In Taguig City, term-limited senator Pia Cayetano (the sister of defeated VP candidate Alan Peter Cayetano), was elected to the House with 69% of the vote. In the party-list vote, Ako Bicol, a regional party from the Bicol region, won the most support – 1,664,975 votes (5.1%) and 3 seats. GABRIELA, a feminist party, won 1,367,795 votes (4.2%) and 2 seats, the same representation than in 2013. Third place went to a new outfit, 1Pacman, which seems to consist of people connected to Manny Pacquiao, known as the ‘Pacman’. Party-list elections are an insane thing and too much for this already lengthy blog post to cover further, but Rappler had a good pre-election summary of the lists and nominees. Basically, since a 2013 Supreme Court decision which said that party-lists don’t actually need represent any marginalized or underrepresented groups or organize along sectoral lines, the party-lists are increasingly a sneaky way for political dynasties, former congressmen and bureaucrats to get into Congress or work around term limits.
In Congress, therefore, the incoming Duterte administration should have a comfortable majority at the outset, through defections to Duterte’s PDP-Laban (expect the party to grow significantly) or support from other venal parties. The Liberal Party, what remains of it after mass defections, may provide the opposition to Duterte’s government, although VP-elect Robredo has pledged her full cooperation with President-elect Duterte.
In Manila, incumbent mayor Joseph Estrada was reelected to a second term, winning a rematch against former mayor Alfred Lim (Liberal), whom Estrada had defeated in 2013. Estrada won 38.5% against 38.2% for Lim, winning by just 2,685 votes. The bulk of the remaining votes (22%) went to Amado Bagatsing, a representative and son of a former mayor. The Estrada clan also held San Juan City, where Estrada himself was once mayor. Incumbent mayor Guia Gomez, one of Estrada’s mistresses and the mother of one of his sons (senator JV Ejercito), was reelected with 51% against 48.9% for Francisco Zamora, the son of the city’s congressman (who won reelection against JV Ejercito and Jinggoy Estrada’s cousin). The daughter of imprisoned senator Jinggoy Estrada was elected vice-mayor.
In Makati City, Jojo Binay’s daughter Abby Binay defeated incumbent mayor Romula ‘Kid’ Peña Jr. in a close race, 52.7% to 46.7%. Dynastic politicians also held Valenzuela (Rex Gatchalian, brother of senator-elect Win Gatchalian), Taguig (Lani Cayetano, wife of Alan Peter Cayetano).
In Cebu City, former mayor Tomas Osmeña (1987-1995, 2001-2010; brother of defeated senator Sergio Osmeña III) defeated incumbent mayor Mike Rama. Osmeña has been cited by human rights organizations as one of the mayors who imitated Duterte’s crime policies and is suspected of ties to vigilante killings and death squads in Cebu. Osmeña won 53.4% of the vote. In Cebu province’s gubernatorial race, incumbent governor Hilario Davide III (Liberal) – the son of a former Supreme Court chief justice – narrowly defeated challenger Winston Garcia, member of one of the province’s main political families.
In Davao City, Rodrigo Duterte’s daughter Sara Duterte was elected mayor with 99.55% of the vote! Duterte’s son Pulong Duterte was reelected unopposed as the city’s vice mayor.
Ilocos Norte governor Imee Marcos, Bongbong Marcos’ sister, was reelected unopposed to her third and final term.
Rodrigo Duterte’s big victory in the presidential election came from three regions – Mindanao, particularly his Davao stronghold; Cebu and Central Visayas (a region of 6 million people altogether); and Metro Manila/the NCR (a region of 12.8 million, and 14.4 million more in Calabarzon region, south of Manila).
Duterte swept Mindanao by huge margins. In Davao City, Duterte’s stronghold, Duterte won no less than 96.6% of the vote. He won 91.6% in Davao del Sur, 92.5% in Davao del Norte, 86.2% in Davao Occidental, 82.9% in Davao Oriental and 76.1% in Compostela Valley. Duterte also performed extremely well in almost all other regions of Mindanao, and swept the island’s other major cities. He won Cagayan de Oro, the stronghold of the Pimentel family, with two-thirds of the vote; General Santos City (in South Cotabato) with 67.9% and Iligan City with 71.3%. He also did very well in the ARMM (the Muslim autonomous region) – 80.1% in Lanao del Sur, 55.5% in Maguindanao and 76.7% in Sulu. Duterte is the first President of the Philippines from Mindanao, and he played heavily on his regional roots while campaigning in the region. Since 1986, all presidents and vice presidents have come from Luzon, and the last president who was not from Luzon was Carlos Garcia (1957-1961).
The second key to Duterte’s victory was Central Visayas, a region which includes Cebu province and city (the country’s fifth largest municipality). Rodrigo Duterte won 50.7% in Cebu province, against only 30.5% for Mar Roxas, who had swept the province in his 2010 vice presidential race. In Cebu City, Duterte won 58.8%. Grace Poe, just like her father in 2004, did very poorly in Cebu with just 12% of the vote in the province (despite support from the Durano clan, one of the island’s political families and relatives of Duterte). Duterte was helped by his Cebuano roots – although born on Leyte, his father was Cebuano and was mayor of Danao (a town in Cebu province) and he lived in that city until he was 5. Like most people in Davao region, Duterte speaks the Cebuano variation of Bisayas, and he used his Cebuano (and local humour and jokes) to better connect with locals. At one campaign stop, Duterte told voters that it was time for a ‘new Visayan hero’ and played on anti-Manila resentments. In addition, Duterte’s crime policies and Davao myth were easy sells in Cebu, just as concerned by criminality and corruption.
Mar Roxas is also from the Visayas islands – the province of Capiz in Western Visayas – but that region speaks a different variety of Bisayas. Roxas won 76.9% in his native Capiz province, and also took 62.8% in Iloilo and 40.9% in Antique. Duterte narrowly won Leyte province with 37.3% against 24.9% for Roxas and 21.4% for Jojo Binay, but did very well in Tacloban City, taking 43% of the vote against 28.6% for Binay. Mar Roxas, whose management of the disaster relief efforts in Tacloban after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 was criticized, got just 5% in the city. Duterte won 45.6% in Southern Leyte, which is where he was born. Mar Roxas won Samar’s three provinces by narrow margins over Grace Poe, with Duterte winning only 15-19% of the vote.
Grace Poe won in Bicol region, with the exception of Camarines Sur, Masbate and Albay provinces which narrowly backed Roxas. Poe boasted the support of five of the region’s six governors (Albay, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Sorsogon and Catanduanes) as well as her running-mate, Chiz Escudero, who is from Sorsogon (the province’s first district in the House has always been held by the Escudero family under the Fifth Republic). Poe got 41.6% in Sorsogon, 41.3% in Catanduanes. Roxas trailed far behind his running mate, favourite daughter Leni Robredo, who won every provinces besides Sorsogon by large margins and won 85.6% in her native Camarines Sur (compared to just 38.6% for Roxas) and 88.8% in Naga City (Roxas won 56%).
The last key to Duterte’s victory was Metro Manila/the NCR. Duterte won all municipalities in the NCR besides Makati City, which went for its former mayor Jejomar Binay. Duterte won 46.3% in Quezon City, 43.4% in Manila, 46.1% in Caloocan, 42.8% in Pasig, 44.1% in Parañaque, 47.3% in Las Piñas, 45.3% in San Juan and 43.3% in Valenzuela. His biggest result in the NCR came in Taguig, his running mate Alan Peter Cayetano’s hometown, with 60.5% of the vote. Only Makati City escaped the Duterte wave in Metro Manila, giving 43% to its former mayor against 29% for Duterte. Navotas City, the hometown of UNA president and Binay spokesperson Tobias Tiangco, was the only other close result, with Duterte winning 35.8% to 34.4% for Binay. Grace Poe generally placed second, quite some way behind Duterte, in most of Metro Manila – 18.8% in Quezon City, 24% in Manila, 23% in Caloocan, 24% in Pasig, 19% in Parañaque, 24% in Las Piñas and 20% in San Juan. In Valenzuela, where she was supported by the ruling Gatchalian family, Poe won 31% but was still over 10% behind Duterte. Liberal candidate Mar Roxas did horribly throughout Metro Manila, his best result being a paltry 20% in Marikina. In San Juan City, despite the support of local mayor Guia Gomez, Roxas got only 16% of the vote. Miriam Santiago did well throughout Metro Manila (6-8%), unsurprisingly because of the region’s affluence,
Metro Manila has voted for the opposition (or an opposition candidate) in every presidential election since 1946, except 1969 and 1981. In 2010, Liberal candidate Noynoy Aquino was an opposition candidate to the outgoing Arroyo administration, and he won all but two municipalities in the NCR (but Mar Roxas lost in the NCR to local favourite son Jojo Binay). This year, Liberal candidate Mar Roxas was the government candidate, and he got trounced in Metro Manila.
The Calabarzon region to the south of Manila is the most populous region in the country (even ahead of the NCR), and, along with the NCR and neighbouring provinces in Central Luzon region, it has been a bellwether region in almost every presidential election with the notable exception of 2004. Duterte won every province in Calabarzon save for Quezon province (which went to Poe) – 41.2% in Cavite, 40.9% in Rizal, 36% in Laguna and 27.5% in Batangas. All four of these provinces are highly urbanized areas part of the Mega Manila conurbation. Duterte also won in Bulacan province in Central Luzon, another highly urbanized province in Mega Manila (north of the NCR).
The Duterte vote in Manila (both the NCR and suburban Calabarzon and Central Luzon) confirms the markedly urban nature of his electorate, as well as his strong support with more affluent voters. A brief glance at barangay results in some Metro Manila cities do confirm that Duterte did very well with high-income voters, even in places like Makati City which he lost. As I previously explained, Duterte’s Manila support is likely a vote against crime and corruption, a clamour for public order. In good part I’d wager a lot of his support in Metro Manila was likely a protest vote.
Therefore, Duterte was able to combine the favourite son vote in Davao region and Mindanao, the Cebuano/federalist appeal to Central Visayas and the anti-crime/corruption urban middle-class in Greater Manila.
Duterte won Bulacan, Pampanga and Bataan provinces in Central Luzon, but the remaining provinces split between Poe and Roxas. Mar Roxas narrowly won Tarlac province, the Aquino’s province, with 32% to Poe’s 31%. Grace Poe won 37% in Zambales and 41% in Pangasinan (which is in Ilocos region), and she also won Nueva Ecija, Aurora, Benguet, La Union, Ilocos Sur, Ifugao and Mountain Province. Grace Poe’s father FPJ was from Pangasinan province, and she declared her affective and familial ties to that province, which is where she ended her campaign with a teary-eyed appeal to elect a Pangasinense president. Jejomar Binay did best in the Cagayan Valley region, with 52% in Isabela province (his mother’s province) and 45.6% in Cagayan province (the stronghold of his supporter Juan Ponce Enrile). Duterte, interestingly, won the Marcos bailiwick of Ilocos Norte by a wide margin – 33.5% against 21% for Binay and Santiago (Bongbong Marcos’ running mate), but he did poorly with the Ilocano vote in the rest of Ilocos, Cordillera and Cagayan Valley regions. Duterte also won Baguio City, with 33% against 23.5% for Santiago. Baguio is one of the wealthiest cities in the country, with a low poverty incidence of only 9.5% in the Benguet province. As can be extrapolated from the strong Santiago vote, it is also a major college town.
In general, outside of Mindanao, Duterte’s vote was a predominantly urban one. He did poorly in the country’s poorest provinces (outside of Mindanao, of course), most of which tend to be fairly remote rural areas. For example, in Northern Samar province, one of the country’s poorest with over 61% living in poverty, Duterte placed fourth with 14.7% of the vote. He also did poorly in the other two provinces on Samar, where over 50% live in poverty. In the Cordillera Administrative Region in northern Luzon, a poor landlocked region and one of Luzon’s most remote and underdeveloped areas, Duterte did very poorly: 12.6% in Mountain Province, 13.2% in Ifugao, 14.4% in Apayao and 18.6% in Abra. In Catanduanes, a poor island province in Bicol region, Duterte was also fourth with 14.4%. In Negros Oriental, the poorest province of the Negros islands with a 46.6% poverty incidence rate, Duterte was second with 30.7%, although that is likely due to the province’s Cebuano culture. Nevertheless, most of the poorest provinces are in Mindanao, especially in the ARMM, and Duterte swept the region, including the bulk of the poorest provinces there. Duterte’s urban vote may reflect greater urban concern for crime and corruption, although I hypothesize that it could be because the urban vote does not tend to be controlled by the political clans and elites which remain omnipotent in the rural provinces. The political elites tend to have a stronger hold on rural provinces, which they can still ‘deliver’ effectively to the candidates of their choosing.
The vice presidential results also show a very strong regional tropism for the two main candidates, Leni Robredo and Bongbong Marcos. As noted above, Leni Robredo’s biggest wins came from her native Bicol region. In the region, she won every province except for Sorsogon (which went for its own favourite son, Chiz Escudero, who got 60% there) by large margins – with 85.6% in her native Camarines Sur (compared to just 38.6% for Roxas) and 88.8% in Naga City (Roxas won 56%). She won nearly 65% in Albay, over 56% in Camarines Norte and Masbate and 53% in Catanduanes. Robredo’s strong regional support did not carry over to the man at the top of the Liberal ticket, who – as previously mentioned – only managed unimpressive wins in Camarines Sur, Albay and Masbate. Roxas’ support in Western Visayas, though, did carry over to his running mate, who won 73.5% in Roxas’ bailiwick of Capiz (amusingly, Roxas did a bit better there), 68% in Iloilo, 55.5% in Aklan, 50.5% in Antique. She did far better than Roxas in Central Visayas, with a ten point victory in Cebu province over Duterte’s running mate Cayetano (41.4% to 31.4%), although Cayetano won in Cebu City.
Bongbong Marcos, on the other hand, swept the so-called ‘Solid North’ – the Ilocano provinces of northern Luzon, centred around the family’s province of Ilocos Norte. In Ilocos Norte, Marcos won 96.8% of the vote. He won over 90% in Ilocos Sur, over 85% in La Union, Apayao and Abra provinces, and over 75% in Isabela and Cagayan. Marcos’ strongest support in northern Luzon correlates almost perfectly with the Ilocano ethnolinguistic group – notice how Marcos’ support drops off quite markedly in some landlocked provinces in the mountainous Cordillera region (Ifugao, Mountain Province), inhabited by indigenous Igorot peoples. Marcos’ support extended into Central Luzon, with the exception of the Aquino province of Tarlac (which Robredo by 5%).
Marcos Jr. also swept Metro Manila, where the Duterte-Marcos vote was highest, with the exception of Taguig which went to native son Alan Peter Cayetano (with nearly 50%). Marcos won 46% in Quezon City, 48% in Makati, 53% in Manila, 49% in Caloocan, 44.5% in Las Piñas, 46.6% in San Juan, 45% in Valenzuela. Robredo was far behind, but her support in the NCR was higher than Roxas’ support – she managed 33% in Quezon City, nearly 30% in Makati, 26% in Caloocan, about 25% in Manila, and was even within five points of first place in two cities (Marikina and Parañaque).
Marcos won his mother’s native province of Leyte, with 49.4% to 29.4% for Robredo. In Tacloban City, the fiefdom of his mother’s Romualdez clan, he won 80.4%!
In the vice presidential race, Mindanao – which had no favourite son in this race – was split between Robredo, Marcos and Cayetano. Duterte’s massive support in Davao region transferred over in good part to his running mate Cayetano, who got 72% in Davao City, 53.8% in Davao del Sur, 51.8% in Davao del Norte, 42% in Davao Occidental, 49% in Davao Oriental and 42% in Compostela Valley. But outside of Davao region, Duterte’s voters split their tickets. Marcos did well in Soccsksargen region, with wins in South Cotabato, Sarangani and Sultan Kudarat. Robredo won the ARMM (with over 50% in Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur) except for Sulu, which went to Marcos. She also won the Zamboanga peninsula, except for Zamboanga del Sur. In the remaining provinces, the vote was often split pretty tightly between Robredo, Marcos and Cayetano.
Duterte and Marcos won the overseas absentee vote, in Duterte’s case by a very wide margin. Duterte won 50.7% in the United States, 69% in Canada, 57.7% in Australia, 76.6% in Saudi Arabia, 83.9% in the UAE, 75.1% in Bahrain, 66.8% in China, 77.1% in Singapore, 76.4% in Japan, 80% in Kuwait and 79.9% in Qatar. Turnout, however, was very low as is the case with expats votes: it was decent in Asian countries, but very low in the Middle East/Gulf states (20-ish%) and barely higher in Canada and the US (27-28%). Overall, the OAV provided Duterte with 318,528 votes against just 51,300 for Roxas. Marcos won 188,959 OAV against 137,699 for Cayetano and 92,639 for Robredo.
What next for the Philippines? Rodrigo Duterte promises to be an unconventional president, with his irreverent style and coarse language. His election worries many people, both in the Philippines and abroad. The pessimists fear that Duterte will be the second coming of Ferdinand Marcos – a democratically-elected president who proceeds to subvert democratic institutions, impose martial law and install himself as an authoritarian ruler for a period far longer than the six-year presidential term. Given that Duterte has openly praised Marcos and martial law, and that he has threatened to close Congress if they ‘fuck with him’, this seems like a very real danger. The optimists note that the 1987 Constitution makes it far more difficult for a President to trample over democratic institutions and impose martial law, and point out that the Philippines have a robust tradition of sacking presidents who abuse their powers – Marcos in EDSA I (1986), Estrada in EDSA II (2001). Perhaps Duterte will be run out of office in EDSA IV if he abuses his power? His opponents will be reassured that, with Marcos’ defeated in the VP race, Robredo and not Marcos Jr will become President if Duterte is impeached or removed from office.
Regardless, given Duterte’s record as mayor and his pronouncements during the campaign on matters such as crime but also foreign policy (the dispute with China in the South China Sea over the Spratly Islands and Scarborough Shoal), there is good reason to be concerned. Even if a lot of Duterte’s various declarations were probably crowd-pleasing bluster and hyperbole, his actions as mayor of Davao (particularly his likely involvement or at the very least toleration of death squad killings) mean that Duterte isn’t bluffing and that is quite horrifying to many. He could moderate in office, but he could also do a lot of damage even if he doesn’t end up as Marcos 2.0. Many of his supporters could, however, be disappointed when it turns out that Duterte can’t actually eliminate crime and corruption in ‘3 to 6 months’, and will be livid if it evidence turns up (as Antonio Trillanes claimed during the campaign) showing that Duterte is not squeaky clean himself.
Duterte made little mention of the economy and shows little interest (or knowledge) of the topic, though he inherits an economy in solid shape with a positive outlook (6% growth in 2016 and 2017). Duterte wants to continue infrastructure spending, try to revive the steel industry, boost tourism and is lukewarm about the TPP. He has promised to hire the ‘economic minds of the country’ and have them make policy. On foreign policy, Duterte has been contradictory – favouring negotiations with China, but at the same time also ‘ready to die’ for the Philippines’ claim or vowing to jet ski to a disputed island to plant the flag.
Duterte’s landmark promise is federalism, but that may prove quick tough to implement. The 1987 Constitution has never been amended, despite decades of attempts at constitutional reform.
The next six years in the Philippines, at the very least, do promise to be rather eventful and unpredictable.