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PHILIPPINES


 

 

Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 80,574 77,076 71,400 43
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 1,080 1,020 1,050 135
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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Update No: 041 - (29/05/07)

The counting begins
Filipinos went to the polls on 14th May. At stake were 87,000 candidates competing for 17,889 elected positions in some 308,222 precincts. Some 45 million Filipinos were eligible to vote and it appears that around 75 percent of the total chose to exercise their democratic right. Sadly, the country remains locked into a manual counting system which means vote counting will be extremely slow and with the final results not known for several weeks. 

Aside from voting on a new lower house of Congress, voters were required to chose 12 senators (in the Philippines, the 24 senators are chosen nationally and with half voted in every three years for a six-year term). At the local level, positions ranging from provincial governors, mayors, local governing boards down to local-level barangay captain positions were at stake. (In all: 12 members of the 24 seat Senate, 275 congressmen, 81 provincial governors, 118 city mayors and 17,000 other local officials).

As the vote counting begins, early tallies suggest widespread support-at least at the national level and as measured in the half-Senate election returns-that a significant portion of the populace has rejected pro-Administration candidates in favour of opposition politicians. Of course this could change as the "command" vote comes in and as a result manipulation takes place to produce a result more favourable to the Administration. In a public opinion poll taken shortly before the election almost half those polled expressed a belief that the elections would be dirty and dishonest.

According to National Police Chief, Hermogenes Ebdane, the elections were "relatively peaceful." This needs to be seen in context. The police claimed a few hours before the polls closed that 114 people had died and 132 others had been wounded in 191 election-related violent incidents (ERVI). Of the fatalities, 59 were candidates while 55 were supporters or innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. Thirty of the wounded were candidates while 102 were supporters or civilians. This number could rise before the count is over.

In the 2004 elections, there 189 persons killed and 279 wounded in 249 ERVIs. However the elections andare not yet over and counting proclamation of winners lies ahead so violent incidents are also probably not yet over and the final tally of election related violence can be expected to rise.

Although President Arroyo's position was not in contest (under the current constitution she is due to stand down in 2010) the election was widely seen as a vote of confidence or otherwise in the conduct of her administration. Certainly that is the manner in which the "Genuine Opposition" has sought to portray the contest. Since the Administration was not about to change, many people ahead of the election were cynical about the outcome. In this context, a seventy-five percent turnout (if confirmed) would represent a surprisingly high number. It was, as one newspaper described it, "a no-change election." Filipinos, whether they liked it or not have to live with President Arroyo at the helm until 2010.
In fact and as has been typical of the Philippines for more than a century now; the run-up to the election was totally devoid of meaningful policy debate. Campaigning was almost totally focused on name-recall. Radio and television stations have done particularly well in recent months, their advertising coffers filled from campaign advertising.

In the absence of a coherent policy platform, the political opposition remains a loose collection of politicians united only in the desire to unseat the incumbent rather than a group offering an alternative vision for the country. In many areas they failed to organise at all, leaving the field to Lakas and Kampi, the two major political parties aligned with the Administration coalition and who, with their rich war chests, ended up fighting one another. 

President Arroyo has so far been in power for six years. The first three years of her term were a windfall occasioned by the People Power II event that toppled former President Estrada and which allowed her to serve out the remaining three years of the Estrada term. She is now half-way through a full six-year term having been elected in her own right in the 2004 election. It is worth recalling, as the local press has been wont to do in recent days, that back in December 2002, President Arroyo vowed not to contest the 2004 election because of the controversy surrounding her assumption of power. At that time did she not only vow to step down but also to devote the remaining one-and-a-half years of her presidency to implementing three legacy initiatives: strengthening the economy, healing the deep divisions in society and working for clean and honest elections.

That single act, four-and-a-half years ago won her widespread support at the time and her popularity crested. Since then, after going back on her word not to run and with subsequent revelations of cheating to win the 2004 poll, that popular support has ebbed away.

The economy makes steady progress
In fact under Mrs. Arroyo the Philippine economy has not done too badly. Certainly a benign global climate has helped but nevertheless, the Philippines is currently enjoying the best period of sustained growth in a long while. In fact the government's inter-agency Development Budget Coordination Committee has recently set new growth targets for the next three years.

While the committee retained the gross domestic product growth target of 6.1 percent to 6.7 percent for 2007, it has set the bar higher for the period 2008-2010. The DBCC approved economic growth assumptions of 6.2 percent to 6.8 percent for 2008; 6.3 percent to 6.99 percent for 2009; and 6.54 percent to 7.37 percent for 2010. These estimates are considerably higher than the estimates of other forecasting agencies, including the ADB, World Bank and the Economist intelligence Unit.

Exports are seen growing by 12 percent year-on-year in 2008, 13 percent in 2009 and 14 percent in 2010, while imports are projected to rise 13 percent in 2008, 14 percent in 2009 and 15 percent in 2010. The recent announcement by Texas Instruments of a new $1 billion wafer plant to be built at the Clark Economic Zone will provide a welcome fillip both to Foreign Direct Investment and to manufactured exports. The Philippines won out over Thailand and China as a site for the new plant.

Even ahead of the TI announcement FDI was showing signs of revival. Foreign direct investments (FDIs) registered a net inflow of US$551 million in February 2007, bringing the two-month FDI level to US$633 million, or up by 33.5 percent from US$474 million a year ago. Reinvested earnings for January-February 2007 at US$32 million were also five times higher than last year's US$6 million on the back of higher retained earnings of foreign banks in their local branches. 

Export revenues in the first quarter were up by 13.1 percent to US$12.3 billion according to government agencies. This allowed the Philippines to produce a trade surplus over the first quarter of 2007.

Sadly though, the positive news on the economic front was again tempered by less than favourable news in terms of social infrastructure. According to the National Statistical Coordination Board the educational performance of elementary and high school students in the Philippines is showing renewed signs of deterioration according to student scores n the latest National Achievement Test. This again underscores the high price that has been paid by curtailing government programmes in essential areas such as education and health and which will hopefully be reversed in coming years with the budget deficit now appearing to be under control.

Divisions in society
The divisions in society between the "haves" and the "have-nots" remains and indeed have heightened during Mrs. Arroyo's term. She began as a controversial president and remains so to this day. Indeed the fact that she has turned her own back on reforms she vowed to implement has lost her considerable support even among those who, at the outset of her term, gave her the benefit of the doubt.

Political patronage remains widespread and President Arroyo has done little to bring about a meritocracy in government service. At the provincial level the political clans that have dominated local politics for the past one hundred years remain firmly entrenched. Indeed while it may be a truism that incumbent governments use the benefits of incumbency to win elections, President Arroyo appears to have pushed the envelope well beyond accepted norms in a society that claims to cherish a democratic ideal. To many, Mrs. Arroyo is seeking to turn the clock back towards a Marcosian style of government. Time will tell whether this is so or not but certainly the government's failure to reign in the military; widely held responsible for the disappearance of left-wing activists and the unsolved death of journalists suggests to many that the President is actually powerless to do more than utter lip service to the ideal of responsible government. Most recently the partiality shown towards pro-Administration candidates by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) and the Office of the Ombudsmen (which has been seen to be harassing opposition candidates) are seen as further evidence that the Administration is failing to deliver proper governance and is determined to win at all costs.
Thus the present election will retain the status quo despite window-dressing at the margins. There are little to no expectations of change. For that the country will have to wait until 2010. It is here that President Arroyo still has time to make her mark.

Clean and honest elections
Elections in the Philippines have been neither clean nor honest and the present one is no exception despite the claim that is has been "relatively peaceful". No doubt before too much longer we will also hear the claim that it has been "relatively honest."

Yet, in the 21st century, the Philippines remains locked in the same system of manual counting and tallying that has been used for the past 100 years and attempts to automate the election procedure have been stymied (many would say sabotaged). 

While early returns in the present election suggest widespread support for those candidates less closely aligned to the Administration Team it is too early to tell whether, particularly in the national tallies, the early leads of the opposition and "independents" will be retained.

It does suggest however, that while the government may be locked in the technological dark-ages, the rest of the population is not. Cellphones with multimedia capabilities are now starting to make themselves felt. Both major television networks have set up web blogs through which the public can text or upload videos of cheating and irregularities. Manipulation of the result this time around may not be quite so easy as it was before.

Interesting to watch will be the outcome of two local elections especially: one of these is in Pampanga Province (the President's own bailiwick) where two well-honed political rivals, one aligned to illegal gambling interests and the other to illegal quarrying are facing an uphill battle against an independent Catholic Priest who joined the race late in the game but who appears to be outpolling his political rivals. The second race is in South Cotabato where celebrity boxer, Manny Pacquio, despite his charisma, appears to be trailing the local re-electionist politician, Darlene Custodio. Media personalities appear to be polling poorly-a sign that perhaps the electorate at large is becoming more sophisticated.

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