May 2013 Elections: A glimpse of the next President of the Philippines
By Jules Maaten, FNF, Manila
The May 13th, 2013 mid-term elections in the Philippines will not only decide whether the current liberal administration strengthens its mandate for the next three years. What is more, it is a preview of the 2016 presidential contest, and of whether the good governance reforms of the administration will last beyond the current administration. The Liberal Party put all their eggs in one basket: that these elections are an endorsement of liberal President Aquino’s administration.
In 2010 the Philippines elected liberal President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III with a historically large landslide, on an anti-corruption, anti-poverty platform. His administration has been credited with real successes in the fight against corruption, such as the impeachment of former Chief Justice Renato Corona and the court case against Aquino’s predecessor Gloria Arroyo. At the same time the economy has picked up in a spectacular way.
This is reflected in Aquino’s satisfaction ratings, which in March were a net +59 (up 4 points from December 2012), and his cabinet has a good net satisfaction rating of +26. But Aquino is seeking to strengthen his mandate with a stronger majority in the Senate (where half of the 24 seats are up for grabs), and maintaining his strong position of the House of Representatives (where all seats are at stake). The mid-term election also includes local elections in the 80 provinces, 143 cities and 1,491 municipalities in the country.
Confidence in this administration is high, but many in business wonder whether the anti-corruption and liberalisation drive continues after 2016, when a new President will be elected (Aquino is only allowed one six-year term). Current front runner is vice-president Jejomar Binay, former mayor of Makati City, who is not precisely famous for his good governance record. A candidate who is more in line with Aquino’s policies would be Liberal Party (LP) leader Manuel “Mar” Roxas. President Aquino has been very vocal in recommending Roxas, his 2010 running mate. Roxas has not yet declared his plans for 2016.
Corruption is slowly fading, on the national level at least, but has not yet received a knock-out blow. The economy has picked up, but the benefits take time to trickle down to the poorest Filipinos, and structural liberal reforms have so far been piecemeal. A competition law and a freedom of information law, seen as ‘signature legislation’ for LP as well as for Aquino himself, are yet to be adopted. Following the success of the adoption of the Reproductive Health bill, despite massive opposition of the Catholic Church hierarchy, the public is looking for more reforms, and Aquino needs all the help he can get.
Binay and Roxas already had a close fight for the vice-presidency in 2010, with Binay narrowly winning. Binay now entered the mid-term elections with his own slate of Senatorial candidates: the UNA coalition of parties, formed together with former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada, who was ousted on plunder charges in 2001, and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who was already a minister under Marcos and who has donned more political colours in his career than a fireworks display. Nominally UNA is “not in opposition” against the President, but a victory of the UNA coalition would be seen as a defeat for Aquino.
The President’s men responded with their own coalition, “Team PNoy” (PNoy being another fond nickname for the President), thereby raising the stakes. The message is clear: if you want the “straight path” of the President to continue you have to vote for Team PNoy. And a defeat for UNA would take much gloss off Binay, who so far enjoyed high approval ratings, using his cushy job mainly for public relations purposes.
In this election the interests of the Liberal Party itself took a back seat. The Team PNoy slate of twelve candidates contains only three from LP, only one of whom (the President’s cousin Bam Aquino) stands a good chance of being elected. Some of the other Team PNoy candidates are even erstwhile opponents of LP, but they pledged to support the President’s policies. Amongst some of the rank and file of LP the make-up of the Team PNoy coalition understandably raised eyebrows, to say the least. Yet a victory of Team PNoy together with LP holding on to crucial seats in Congress and amongst governors and mayors, would give LP a head-start in the final half of Aquino’s term and for the 2016 Presidential elections. The victory might also get liberal Senator and campaign leader Franklin Drilon elected as Senate President, which would be a great boon to the administration, replacing the wily Juan Ponce Enrile.
Binay however is an excellent strategist, and in the initial election surveys after the forming of UNA their candidates occupied most of the twelve Senate seats that are up for election. But the picture changed, particularly when President Aquino personally joined the fray, and in the latest polls nine out of twelve are for Team PNoy with several liberal Team PNoy candidates on the verge of breaking into the ‘magic twelve’. The personal ratings for Binay and Ponce Enrile are down. And in the most eye-catching local race between UNA and Team PNoy, for mayor of old Manila, former President Estrada’s challenge to incumbent liberal mayor Alfred Lim may not be as easy a success as was earlier predicted.
Another issue is whether the elections will be plagued by corruption and violence, as they have often been in the past. So far the some violence has come from the communist insurgency NPA, more than amongst rival candidates. The pro-active stance of the Commission for Elections (COMELEC) appears to have some effect. FNF joined the campaign of one of the election commissioners, Grace Padaca, against vote buying, and one of the advocacies in the FNF Freedom Runs in Quezon Province, Leyte Province and on Mindanao was “My Vote Is Not For Sale”, which galvanized more than 3000 local activists. FNF were also active in training 5,600 poll watchers across the country in Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Capiz, Cubao and Zamboanga.
There is everything to play for on May 13th, and much is at stake.