Philippines: Massive Party Switching Towards President Duterte’s Coalition for Change

Partyforumseasia: Political parties in the Philippines are known for their volatility. Not that parties are much more stable in other countries in the region, at least as long as they are not in power and don’t have much money to offer. Party hopping and offering positions to rich candidates are quite common in Southeast Asia, ideology and programs are not important, but that is increasingly true in Western democracies as well.

The presidential system of the Philippines has developed a unique and smooth ritual once the new president has been elected. As everywhere, politicians scramble for positions, but faster than in any other country, losing parties join the presidential camp and MP’s leave their party and join the president’s. Call them opportunists, unprincipled, turncoats or traitors, it is a pragmatic and realistic way of providing the new president with a parliamentary majority that works from day one. And at the same time the party switchers retain the perks they are used to. President Jokowi of Indonesia could not even dream of such a smooth transition.
CamelionThe changes look dramatic with the underlying figures: The Liberal Party (LP) more than tripled its presence in congress with the election of president Aquino in 2010. According to Asiasentinel, 17 June (LINK) between 80 and 90 of its 110 MP’s are prepared to join Duterte’s PDP-Laban party. Outgoing house speaker and LP vice chair Feliciano Belmonte declares that the Liberals will eventually coalesce with what president elect Duterte calls the Coalition for Change. His policy priorities, a federal system, fighting crime and corruption, and re-introduction of capital punishment, should easily find support in the congress. After Duterte’s tough crime buster talk during the election campaign, anticipatory obedience seems to set in already among the police. Since the election 42 suspected drug pushers have been killed in shootouts with the police. But what the president elect has promised, eradicating drug related crime within six months, remains a tall order.

Establishment In Panic: Will “President” Duterte End The Golden Rule?

Partiforumseasia: According to traditional political wisdom and experience in the Philippines, the real meaning of the Golden Rule is the rule of those who have the gold.
In this presidential election, however, there are candidates outside the plutocratic establishment. And if the polls are sufficiently reliable, one anti-establishment candidate has a good chance of being elected: DuterteRodrigo Duterte (nickname “Digong“) is so popular because of his cleaner but more brutal law and order policies as mayor of Davao city, including a huge number of extrajudicial killings of criminals. The contrast to the ruling Liberal Party’s candidate, Mar Roxas, could not be bigger. Roxas is a cultivated, well traveled intellectual politician from the quasi aristocratic upper class and successful minister in Aquino’s outgoing cabinet. In the latest polls Roxas stands at 20 % behind Grace Poe with 22% and Duterte with 33%! Duterte seems to be totally eligible for the poor masses and big parts of the middle class as well, who are already soul searching before the election on 9th May. Imelda Deinla from the Australian National University sees the failure of the elites to establish a minimum level of the rule of law and to reduce the rampant corruption and inefficiency of the civil service. See her comment “Rule of law deficit behind voter dismay in Philippines” (LINK) in the East Asia Forum. Narciso Reyes Jr., a former journalist and diplomat, has a deeper psychological analysis of the voters and the darker side of their hopes and aspirations. Here is short passage of his article in the 4th May Inquirer (LINK):

“Duterte’s incredible popularity, despite his crude blunders (…) is evidently being fueled by an atavistic, primal instinct among our people who crave order and a better life under the strong arm of a man with a seeming license to kill.”

The elite is in panic mode! The latest move, supported by President Aquino, is warning against a Duterte dictatorship and urging the candidates Mar Roxas and Grace Poe to join forces in order to prevent Duterte…

On a different level, but rather interesting is a comparison with the US presidential campaign. A frightened elite is exploring ways to prevent Donald Trump, who has money himself and will attract more donations now. Duterte is probably not that rich but will not be short of funding either. According to media estimations presidential campaigns in the Philippines cost between 2,5 and 3 billion pesos (or 53 to 65 m US$), and 80% of it going into political ads. Nielsen Media reported that even before the official campaign period started on 9 February, 7.5 billion pesos (nearly 160 m US$) had already been spent for ads of all kinds. But the media campaign is being dwarfed by the carnival atmosphere in the streets when the candidates show up in person. Being the most important crossroads decision in the country’s politics, the 55 million voters in the Philippines are politicized on a high voltage level. When the counting works well, the country is running the elections technically quite professionally, we will see the result within a few days.

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.