The Marcos Clan:  Back to power after 36 years

An electoral triumph with a professional social media campaign

For the late dictator’s wife, Imelda Marcos (92), her eldest son, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the new president of the Philippines, is close to a reincarnation of her husband. In an interview in 1991, when she and her children were allowed to come back to Manila from their exile in Hawaii, she said: “He sounds like his father. I listen to Bongbong, it’s eerie. Like Ferdinand was there. Even in his mannerisms. His voice. His movements. His hand movements.  When he walks. I surely feel Ferdinand the First was born again in Ferdinand the Second.” (Asia Times)

For the generation of Philippinos which ousted Marcos the First in 1986, the feelings of Imelda might be very similar or even the same, only negative and bitter. After the triumph of the people power movement and the widespread euphoria for freedom and democracy, the return to power of the Marcos clan and the resounding victory of Ferdinand the Second, nicknamed Bongbong, must be more than disappointing. Already disappointed with the last few presidents, they fear the worst for the struggling democracy. The triumph with 31 million votes, more than double of challenger Leni Robredo, the outgoing vice-president, was not a surprise, though, because the pollsters were quite accurate this time and had predicted the victory long before election day. There are as usual, allegations of election irregularities but in terms of organisation, counting, and transmission of the local results to Manila, which were outsourced to a private logistics company, the election commission (COMELEC) fares better than the regional average, especially in view of the difficult geography of the archipelago and the social conditions of the poor parts of the population. However, what happens on the ground in constituencies dominated by political families and their influence on “their” voters is a different story. Families and family clans dominate the political scene in many ways, in the regions often enough with private armies, and on the national level with money. Many of the billions plundered by the new president’s late father are still at large, and the protection of these treasures, according to many commentators, will be a central task of Ferdinand the Second in the coming six years. But the extended clan is in a good position. Apart from Ferdinand, eight of his relatives, six Marcoses and two Romualdez, the Imelda clan, have been elected to different positions, while his sister Imee is already a senator. And the cooperation with the clan of outgoing president Duterte, via the latter’s daughter, vice-president elect Sara Duterte-Carpio, is as useful for Marcos as it reflects the importance of family ties and clan structures in the country’s politics.

Bongbong Marcos has been nominated by the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas (PFP or Federal Party of the Philippines), one of the younger political parties in the country. Founded in 2018 by supporters of President Duterte, its membership is supposed to be around 1.5 million. As in most countries in the region, the membership of political parties is rather informal in the Philippines, it comes without or with only nominal membership fees and obligations. Do parliamentary or presidential candidates need a political party? That is probably the wrong question, because in all too many situations it works the other way round. The party needs attractive and electable candidates, especially those with deep pockets, and for this crucial quality Ferdinand Bongbong was the ideal candidate. The Marcos family is still being hounded by pending court cases, including outstanding estate taxes, a corruption conviction of mother Imelda, pending on appeal since 2018, and the compensation claims of thousands of victims of the atrocities under martial law during the rule of Ferdinand the First. His son had more than enough money to invest in a sophisticated campaign in the social networks, effectively targeting the younger generations who have no memory of the Marcos dictatorship. With the help of hired influencers and lots of false information the Marcos campaign came up with effective counter-narrative for any accusation and convinced a majority that the son has nothing to do with the sins of his father. One survey found that 72% of voters between 18 and 24 have supported Marcos. But apart from jobs and price control, the main election promise, to unify the country, seems a lot more illusive than realistic. The economic and social fault lines in the country would be a challenge which few would expect the new president to overcome.

Philippines: End of Pork Barrel Politics? Party Financing Endangered…

Partyforumseasia: Scandals can speed up necessary reforms. At a time when the strongest ever tropical storm hit the Philippines, one of the ugliest political corruption scandals has started to change the political porklandscape in Manila. Triggered by a whistle-blower, businesswoman and alleged “Pork Queen” Janet Lim Napoles has been exposed as central facilitator for abusing development funds for kickbacks to congressmen and senators. This method of funding politicians and political parties, partially via fake NGOs, was widely known, but never exposed like now. And the alleged dimensions are certainly outrageous in a country with the remaining poverty level of the Philippines. One of the prominent accused is veteran politician Juan Ponce Enrile (89), who only some months ago had to resign as president of the senate because of abusing senate funds. The alleged kickbacks for the multimillionaire are supposed to be 363 million Pesos (more than 8 million US$!!), half of his pork allocation. Other colleagues are liable for similar sums, that means that development funds earmarked for infrastructure projects in the respective constituencies have been used for campaign and party funding, maybe for private purposes as well.
In the face of massive demonstrations during the last few months, also against President Aquino, who won his election with an anti-corruption campaign, politicians have started to back-paddle. As of November 12th, nine senators had already declared that they are waiving their PDAF (Priority Development Assistance Fund) – allocations for 2014.
The political establishment may find other ways of refinancing, though, similar to creative new money politics in Indonesia. Cash transfers being too dangerous now, credit card payments, insurance policies, fixed assets and landed property seem to be a way out…

Appendix: 1 billion Pesos are nearly 23 million US$

Philippines: Is Re-election Without Pork Barrelling Possible?

PorkPartyforumseasia: A recent scandal involving 23 suspects including members of parliament and senators as well as former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo may give new momentum to the fight against political corruption and the endemic pork barrelling in the Philippines, which President Aquino has declared a priority for his term of office. Businesswoman Janet Lim-Napoles is under investigation for setting up bogus NGOs and embezzling nearly $ 290 million from disaster relief and development funds. Up to half of the funds paid out to the NGOs seem to have gone to the accused legislators.
Pork Barrelling is a common political tool in the country and based, like in other countries in the region, on traditional patron-client relations between voters and their MP or senator. According to the political science analysis legislators get kickbacks from development projects (e.g. the Countryside Development Fund – CDF) at a rate of 30%. One full term in office was supposed to yield about $ 200,000 for a House member and $ 600,000 for a senator (estimated 2009 figures). This has been called “Standard Operation Procedures (SOP)” but growing public protest and President Aquino’s determination to fight corruption might end the SOP – probably later than sooner. Lawmakers so far need this additional income to pay for their party and campaign expenses.

Philippines: Mid-term Elections on 13 May

Partyforumseasia:Obviously not as exciting as Malaysia’s GE13 last Sunday, but certainly an important political milestone for the political and economic consolidation of the Philippines: Aquino

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.

Philippines: Understanding the flawed party system

Partyforumseasia: Patronage politics in the Philippines, often described, but the parties have hardly been defined so bluntly or brutally as:

“convenient vehicles of patronage that can be set up, merged with others, split, reconstituted, regurgitated, resurrected, renamed, repackaged, recycled, refurbished, buffed up or flushed down the toilet.”

Nathan Quimpo, The left, elections, and the political party system in the Philippines, Critical Studies 37, 2005: 4-5 is being quoted with this verdict in: Hutchcroft and Rocamora, Patronage-based parties and the democratic deficit in the Philippines, in: Robison, Richard (ed), Routledge Handbook of Southeast Asian Politics, 2012: 97-119.

It sounds very sad, but Hutchcroft and Rocamora put the deficits into the proper historical perspective to understand how it could happen. And they sketch the necessary reforms to overcome the historical burden. Fortunately, the present administration under president Aquino seems to be set to push through the most urgent reforms.
Partyforumseasia: A must read for anybody who wants to understand the Philippino party system!