Crossroads (Toward Philippine economic and social progress)
Philippine Star, 2 December 2015


All the major candidates for the country’s presidency for the 2016 elections are almost in place.

One of them is subject to the issue of qualification for candidacy (Senator Grace Poe). Another (Mayor Rodrigo Duterte) still has to await approval of candidacy by Comelec because of delayed filing:

If all goes well for these two candidates, then the electoral contest will involve five major candidates for the same office. The next elected president, then, is likely to be (as discussed below) another “minority president.”

Presidential contests and presidencies in the past.  There have been 15 presidential electoral contests in the history of our nation, dating back to 1935. Manuel Quezon was the first nationally elected president (under the Philippine Commonwealth).

Three presidents inherited office through succession upon the death of the incumbent, President Sergio Osmeña succeeded Manuel Quezon in 1943; Elpidio Quirino, Manuel Roxas in 1947; and Carlos Garcia, Ramon Magsaysay in 1955.

Two became president under extraordinary circumstances, both of which involved turbulent changes in the transfer of national political leadership.

Corazon Aquino became president in 1986 by virtue of the EDSA People Power revolt. A military mutiny against Ferdinand Marcos evolved quickly into a popular mass action that supported the mutiny, thereby catapulting Aquino to the presidency while pushing Marcos out of power.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, duly elected vice president, became president in 2001. Her accession to office happened when the Supreme Court took cognizance of Joseph Estrada’s resignation as a result of EDSA People Power II.

Of the 15 elections, five presidencies were won only as pluralities over the other contestants. In all cases, the plurality margin does not mean a majority decision of the electorate. Majority vote means one-half of all voters plus one more vote at least.

All the presidents of the country after Corazon Aquino are “minority” presidencies. They are Fidel V. Ramos (23.8 percent of the vote); Joseph Estrada (39.8 percent); Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (39.9 percent, 2004 election); and Benigno S. Aquino III (42.1 percent).

Arguably, even Cory Aquino’s presidency is a minority presidency, if one accepts the official count then available when EDSA People Power broke loose (Comelec’s official count, with rural areas included was 10.8 million for Marcos and 9.3 million for Aquino. In contrast, the incomplete NAMFREL quick count which was, up to that point, biased for returns from the urban areas had 7.5 million for Aquino and 6.8 million for Marcos). Cory’s contention was that she was cheated.

In 1957 (before martial law), Carlos P. Garcia won only 41.3 percent of the popular vote. Aside from the votes cast for the traditional opposition (27.6 percent), a third party headed by a disciple-follower of Magsaysay took 20.9 percent of the vote. The extraordinary situation was due to the recent demise of a very popular president.

Demise of strong political parties. The phenomenon of weak political parties since the rise of Cory Aquino and the return of the political system after the fall of Marcos is not unexpected.

Since the adoption of the 1987 Constitution, known as the Cory Constitution, the opportunities for wider participation of small coalitions of political groupings have multiplied. This is partly due to the inclusiveness of the qualifications to run for political office, including the opening of political opportunities for party-list candidacies.

At the birth of the Republic, both the Nacionalista Party and the Liberal Party were roughly equally strong. They grew to become the dominant parties guiding the politics of the nation. In this way, the allocation of social and economic resources was associated with the imprimatur of these two political parties.

When Marcos instituted martial law in 1972, he abolished Congress and the Senate and assumed single authority over the nation’s fate. He perceived them to be very corrupt institutions, as they were the funnels of support of interest groups and oligarchs, among contesting elite groups in the country, for the control of the government.

Although the Marcos program of political reform was almost in place by 1981, developments would envelope and render  these plans weak when he faced the economic and political crises that would topple his rule by 1986.

The break-up of the dominant political parties would gravitate toward the forming of small coalitions of political groups, splinters of the former parties and former political alliances of convenience in other political battles.

Hence, when the first elections after Cory Aquino’s relegation of the field to her successors came in 1992, even the majority party would break into parts. This was true as well among the inheritors of the Marcos political legacy.

The survivors were essentially dismantled remnants of the old Nacionalista Party and the Liberal Party masquerading as political alliances. Marcos’s KBL (Kilusang Bagon Lipunan) had also broken up: Imelda Marcos ran for the presidency (under KBL) as well as Eduardo Cojuangco (who ran under a “National People’s Coalition” NPC).

Cory’s party had broken up into small factions, satisfying the separate ambitions of politicians seeking the presidency, but splintering in the process the needed concentration of economic resources essential toward winning the election.

For instance, in 1992, Fidel Ramos (the anointed successor to Mrs. Cory Aquino, who won the presidency) and Ramon Mitra divided their resources from the former Aquino alliance groups. Together they could have amassed 23 percent (Ramos) and 15 percent (Mitra) to make up 38 percent of the total votes cast.

In contrast, Imelda Marcos (with 10.3 percent of votes) and Danding Romualdez (with 18 percent of votes) could have amassed 28 percent of total votes. The popular Miriam Defensor then, a kind of lone wolf candidate, did secure nearly 20 percent of the votes, almost beating the winner Fidel Ramos.

Resounding mandate vs. effective exercise of leadership. As long as the president can exercise the full powers of a president, a minority president is not a matter for concern in the exercise of national leadership.

Yet in other countries, a run-off of the two largest vote-getters in an election with many candidates is often an integral part of the political exercise in order to give the new leader a clear and resounding mandate.

The idea that a “majority president” can exercise stronger leadership after a run-off has many adherents of support. That it makes a president more a representative of the choice by all the people makes sense.

Yet, a minority president can effectively mobilize resources through the many powers of the presidency and can succeed as well.

To be continued