Books on The Philippines
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
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
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
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