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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: 073 - (31/03/10)


It is often said that a week is a long time in politics and with six weeks to election day in the Philippines anything can happen and possibly will. The magnitude of the organisational problem facing the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) was discussed in some detail last month and will not be rehearsed again, other than to note that the Philippines media continues to be full of pessimistic commentary relating to the ill-prepared state of the COMELEC to mount the first ever, fully-automated election in Filipino history – if such it turns out to be.

Comelec Chair, former Justice Melo, continues to express confidence that all will be well on election day although many believe his pronouncements lack conviction. One worrisome sign has been the rapid deterioration in the supply of power; the prolonged dry weather has led to rolling brownouts throughout the country, most seriously in Mindanao where many areas have been without power for 8-10 hours today. Given the level of distrust of government, some read a conspiracy theory into this; the government is deliberately engineering a situation where lack of power come election day would force a failure of the election. It remains a conspiracy theory and cannot be ruled out, but a more likely explanation is simple ineptitude. This is not a government that is big on forward planning.

Already it is becoming a violent election. Indeed, one national newspaper has issued a dire warning that this coming election could be the most violent on record. Looking at election-related incidents since 1992 (when President Ramos won the presidency) the lowest number of people killed in electoral violence was 45 in the 1998 poll while the highest (so far) was in the 2004 contest (148 deaths). In that electioon Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was proclaimed the winner in circumstances that left many people bewildered – not least the other two prime candidates Fernando Poe Jr. and Raul Roco, both of whom have since died. In the days after the election, those “in the know” (meaning sources within Malacañang Palace) privately conceded that Poe garnered the most votes – but after all “it’s all just a game and we fought better.” Tell that to the more than 40 per cent of the people living in abject poverty.

The 2004 poll also took line honours in terms of the highest number of people wounded – 261 in that electoral season. In the 2007 senatorial contest, 121 lost their lives and 176 were wounded. The same newspaper went on to claim ...the three elections under GMA’s watch (in 2001, 2004 and 2007) killed 307 and wounded 598, for an average of about 102 killed and about 199 wounded per election. The three previous elections [before she came to power] totalled only 170 killed and 336 wounded, averaging about 56 killed and 112 wounded per election. The rise (almost double) in casualties and wounded in elections held during GMA’s presidency is an ominous portent for the May 10 polls.”

Indeed, 90 people have already been killed in pre-election violence including 57 murdered in Mindanao last December. That was the worst case of murder on record. One organization, Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) has counted at least 117 private armies that have been formed by politicians to protect their turf on election day.

The situation is extremely volatile although much of the political manoeuvring is hidden from public view. Outwardly at least, administration spokespersons are quick to reassure the public that the government is preparing for an orderly transition of power. Behind the scenes though much appears to be going on to ensure that the outcome will not result in President Arroyo being called to account for her excesses. She wants legal immunity from prosecution; what none of us know for sure is just what game plan she intends to use to get it.

One concern on which we have commented previously is her determination to rule the country until the last possible moment. She will not go into caretaker mode. Although there is a constitutional ban on so-called “midnight appointments” whereby no president can make an executive appointment within 90 days of leaving office (other than a temporary emergency appointment) it appears likely that she will ignore this protocol and appoint both a new AFP chief of staff as well as a new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The likelihood of this happening has just ratcheted up a notch with the Supreme Court itself handing down an opinion (by eight votes to seven) that the ban on such appointments did not apply to the Court. Or is the intention to provoke a constitutional crisis by deliberately thumbing convention thereby providing another avenue for the proclamation of martial law? More conspiracies. Remember, the Philippines thrives on conspiracies.

As of the time of writing, the front runner among the presidentiables remains “Noynoy” Aquino, scion of a leading political family who, if the polls are any guide, appears to enjoy a seven point lead over his closest rival, property tycoon and Senator, Manny Villar. Aquino appears to be the preferred candidate by 36 per cent of those polled while Villar is favoured by 29 per cent. Former President Estrada is back in the race and running third at 18 per cent. Villar is throwing money at campaign advertising but it appears that many people see him as being too close to the present administration for comfort. Indeed the administration’s candidate Gilberto Tedoro is trailing in the polls at only 7 per cent. What happens if Estrada pulls out? That is the question many are asking. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Estrada has struck a secret deal with one of the other candidates and may withdraw at the last minute for some “consideration,” throwing his weight behind one or other of the other prime contenders. Of course, the deal may not as yet have been consummated since the value of his support in monetary terms will grow, the closer it gets to election day.

In almost any other society, this would be unthinkable but in the Philippines, anything can and probably will happen, especially where money and power are involved. Certainly Filipino society is changing but that change is glacial and the nexus between money and political power is as brazen as it ever was. A salutary reminder of this fact was the recently published report of Hong Kong-based Political and Economic Risk Consultancy (PERC) showing its latest country risk rankings for Asia.

Out of 16 countries polled, Philippines came third from last in terms of perceived risk – only Thailand and India scored worse. Even Indonesia, which improved its ranking this year fared better than the Philippines whose score and rank both took a turn for the worse. Thailand’s risk perception was conditioned by the health of its King rather than inefficiency and corruption, which were the predominant factors in the case of both Indonesia and the Philippines.

Our next report will appear two weeks ahead of the election and the following report two weeks after that. We will not have much longer to wait to determine whether the Philippines has reached its nadir or whether the slide will continue. Like most people, we will hope for the best and prepare for the worst. 

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