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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: 075 - (01/06/10)


An EDSA masquerading as an election
Filipinos have voted for reform and clean government. President-elect Noynoy Aquino won the presidency by a wide margin and the outcome was known in a matter of hours thanks to an automated voting system that tallied the votes much more quickly than anyone had dared hope. Yet with a hostile Congress, likely to be led by former President Arroyo, his task will not be an easy one.

The election is over; the result is known. Senator Beningno “Noynoy” Aquino III, son of beloved former president Corazon Aquino and slain opposition leader, Beningno Aquino II, has won the presidency by a wide margin. The official result will be proclaimed by the Philippine Congress when it meets to canvass the vote ahead of the June 30 inauguration.

Despite widespread pessimism in the run up to the May 10 poll that the automated election—a first for the Philippines—would fail; from that aspect the election appears to have been a success. The dire predictions of failure from many commentators (this one included) did not happen. Perhaps, in part it was because Noynoy had enjoyed such a wide and consistent margin in all the pre-election surveys, any other outcome would have been unthinkable. In the first-past-the-post system employed in the Philippines, Aquino scored more votes than his two closest rivals combined. In second place was former President Estrada while ranking third was Senator Manuel Villar.

Unlike in previous elections in which unsuccessful candidates usually claimed they were cheated of victory, Villar as well as many other candidates took the high ground and conceded defeat early in the piece, congratulating Aquino on his victory. Standing aside was Estrada who, in traditional Filipino style, refused to concede defeat and instead claimed he would bring forth evidence of irregularities in the conduct of the poll. Yes, there were irregularities including claims of vote buying and voter intimidation in some places. Eighteen people we killed in election-related violence on polling day. That is par for the course in the Philippines. But few, if any, are taking the Estrada protest seriously.

In second place, Estrada’s running mate former Makati Mayor Jomar Binay appears to hold a lead over Sen. Ma Roxas who paired with Aquino. In the Philippines, the president and vice president are elected separately and not as part of a common ticket.

Organizing the election was a massive undertaking. There were more than 17,000 candidates ranging from president to municipal counsellor up for grabs and some 50 million voters spread across 18,000 precincts. Thanks to automation, which did fail in some areas—but in far fewer than had been predicted—the results were known almost immediately.. Yet while the Commission on Elections can heave a collective sigh of relief, it was almost as though the elections were successful in spite of the COMELEC and not because of it.

Poll commentator and IT expert, Gus Lagman, believes that both COMELEC and Smartmatic, the supplier of the machines still have some explaining to do. As he said in one of his columns: “flying a plane with technical issues and landing it safely, does not make the pilot or the airline free from liability.” So what were the issues and why, despite the problems, was the election credible?

In the run up to the poll there had been widespread reports of equipment failure and misaligned ballots that produced errors when fed into the optical scanners that read the votes. Some equipment did fail on the day, but the failure was not as widespread as it could have been. More serious were the criticisms of IT experts over the failure of COMELEC to make available the machine source codes as had been promised earlier. Without an independent review of the source code it would have been a relatively simple task for a rogue cheating programme to have been embedded in the software and which would have remained undetected during the trials. That it appears not to have happened does not mean that it could not have happened.

Analysts believe that the poll was successful, not because of the poll management—which has been described in one newspaper editorial as “lackadaisical” but primarily because the people of the Philippines were determined to make it so. In this respect the election has been likened to the “Peoples Power” of EDSA by one writer. Widespread praise has gone to the school teachers who manned the polling stations and acted as inspectors to ensure the polls were fairly conducted and orderly, as well as the voting public who turned out in droves and endured long waiting time and scorching heat before being able to cast their vote and to make it count.

If the administration’s plan in allowing President Estrada to run a second time (despite the constitutional provision preventing any former president from rerunning) was intended to draw opposition votes away from Aquino, it appears to have backfired badly. Poll analysts believe that many voters switched from Villar to Estrada because the massive advertising campaign mounted by the former at a time when the press was reporting a number of his questionable property deals gave his claims of clean government a hollow ring. Having the endorsement of the First Gentleman was the final kiss of death.

Above all, the people of the Philippines voted for clean and honest government—and overwhelmingly so. But will they get it?

If Senator Aquino is confirmed as president he is likely to face both a hostile legislature as well as a scorched earth policy implemented by his predecessor. Outgoing President Arroyo won a congressional seat in her home district of Pampanga. She has resumed the chairmanship of the Lakas-Kampi-CMD coalition in preparation for the convening of a new Congress in July in which she is widely expected to seek the speakership. Sadly two of the best performing politicians—Gov. Ed Panlilio of Pampanga and Gov. Grace Padaca of Isabela—lost to traditional politicians. Other “non-performing [political] assets were also re-elected.

Arroyo has also thumbed her nose at convention and contrary to pleas from most of the country, has gone ahead and appointed a new Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. This act was done just two days after the election and a month before she is to leave office. In making this latest “midnight” appointment she has denied her successor an opportunity to make a choice that was rightly his to make. Aquino will have to deal with a Supreme Court in which all associate justices are appointees of Arroyo. The new Chief Justice, Renato Corona, is a former Chief of Staff of President Arroyo.

Another late appointment was that of her personal manicurist to a senior board position on a government corporation. As one wit quipped in the press, at least President Arroyo did not appoint her horse as an ambassador (alluding to the actions of Roman emperor Caligula).

If the opposition forces won the election battle they have yet to win the war. Aquino will face a difficult period in dealing both with domestic politics and with the economy. While the economy did particularly well during the first quarter of the year—growing by 7.3 percent on an annualized basis. Election spending played a significant role in producing this result and with government coffers almost bare as a result, such spending cannot be sustained for the rest of the year. Again it appears that part of the tactic of the incumbent administration is to leave as little as possible behind.

And there are ominous rumblings from the entrenched elite that if Aquino rocks the boat too hard, the (new) opposition in Congress to be led by former President Arroyo, will use its numbers to impeach the incoming president. This alone is a salutary reminder that the traditional elite intends to ignore the will of the people in protecting their own interests.

Yet the situation is far from hopeless. Former Hong Kong ICAC Deputy Commissioner Tony Kwok, who for a number of years was a consultant to the Philippines Government on anti-corruption issues was adamant that the problems of corruption could be solved in the Philippines but it had to start from the top. Shortly afterwards, he left the Philippines in disgust but the meaning of his statement was clear. At least this time around the Philippines will have, in the person of President-elect Aquino, somebody who takes the corruption issue seriously.

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