2007 Philippines Election: What’s At Stake

Apr. 27, 2007

Starting today, davaotoday.com will run a series of Q&As with some of the country’s prominent political analysts and activists on the 2007 election. In this first installment, Manuel Quezon III, a historian and political analyst, offers his take on the election and its significance to Filipinos and politicians.

What is at stake in this election?
As it has been since 2005, political survival for (President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo), access to patronage and the perks for her loyal lieutenants, who have only begun to enjoy their positions now. For Mr. (Joseph) Estrada, it’s literally life or death, a strong showing by his anointed will give him leverage and guarantee better treatment. For a divided civil society, it’s the last hurrah of an entire generation of middle-class activists who became politically involved in the ’80s, and who are fighting to remain relevant. For the Left, it’s the same thing, a fight to retain their piece of the political real estate. I do not think the actual direction of the country is at stake, though, because most of the political factions are committed to fundamental economic policies and attitudes that are already represented by the administration. The public senses this, I think.

Some say the Arroyo administration is determined to dominate the elections to head off another possible impeachment and political turbulence. Any thoughts on this?

The administration’s own rhetoric has put forward impeachment as a topic: a vote for the administration is a vote against impeachment, etc. That has served it well in mobilizing its constituency, together with anti-Communist rhetoric and the line that a vote for the opposition is a vote for turbulence. I don’t think anyone can deny, then, that avoiding an impeachment effort is an explicitly stated administration goal. What has not been stated is that midterm senatorial elections are a dry run for the presidential elections that come next. This means that any sitting administration needs to show it can deliver the votes, because that is what will give it the clout to be courted by those who top the senatorial elections. An administration that has its slate defeated in a mid-term election becomes a lame duck.

The President can’t afford to become a lame duck. First of all, it would open her up to impeachment. Second of all, it would narrow her options for 2010. If she is only interested in stepping down from power in 2010 unmolested, then she has to be a major, if not the major, player in the 2010 polls. She has to anoint her successor. If she discovers, however, that the leading senatorial candidates are hostile to her, and are poised to run strong campaigns in 2010, the temptation to either pursue charter change, or find other means to protect herself politically, will be irresistible.

There is also the sense that local political groups or politicians are exploiting the administration’s desperation. They do this by getting political concessions from the administration which they would then use to beef up their own political domains. Any thoughts?

My sense is that the president is operating from a position of strength in this regard: the local officials have to go to her, not the other way around. This was perfected between the first and second impeachment efforts, when in the case of the former, the president practically groveled for local support, and the latter, when they had to come groveling to her. The central role of the presidency has been underscored by this election: there are far too many factions and too little patronage for the local factions to demand anything from the president. She can in a sense, be more discriminating and more calculating. For example, she gets Lito Lapid to run against Jejomar Binay in Makati, putting an opposition icon on the defensive. But Lapid’s Makati candidacy means he can’t devote his time or resources to backing his son, Mark, in Pampanga and that allowed the president to quietly support Pineda: until that priest came along it seemed the administration was poised to harm Binay, neutralize Lapid, and enhance Pineda. Multiply this many times, and it shows the president’s attitude toward patronage and politics.

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