Philippines: Election Aftermath

2001

Dr R.J. May

Some notable outcomes of the May elections are already apparent.

The elections were widely represented in the media as, in effect, a referendum on the legitimacy of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, given the role of popular demonstrations and withdrawal of military support for Estrada in her elevation from Vice-President. Such a view of the elections was always somewhat dubious: the Senate is elected on a nationwide franchise, and voters tend to vote for prominent national figures (including a sprinkling of media and sporting celebrities) rather than along party lines, while voting for the House of Representatives, and a fortiori for provincial and municipal officers, is dominated by local patronage networks and parochial issues.

In the event, there was a degree of bipolarity, at least in voting for the Senate, as the supporters of Macapagal-Arroyo and Estrada coalesced into two major groups, both of which scored well: the People Power Coalition (PPP) and the Puwersa ng Masa (PnM, Force of the Masses). Among the winning PnM candidates are Estrada's wife Luisa Ejercito Estrada, who appears to have received a sympathy vote; Panfilo Lacson, controversial police chief under Estrada; and Gregorio Honasan, a former army officer who had played a prominent role in the People Power uprising of 1986 but was later involved in coup attempts against President Aquino before being elected to the Senate. Lacson and Honasan currently face charges over their roles in an attack on the presidential palace two weeks before the elections. This outcome gives the new president a working majority. In the lower house, where there is a large number of small parties and independent candidates, Macapagal-Arroyo also seems assured of a majority.

An interesting feature of the elections concerns the party-list vote. The party-list system was introduced under the 1987 'people power constitution' in an attempt to ensure representation of marginalized smaller parties and sectoral groups. In 2001, 53 seats were reserved for party-list candidates, and some 162 groups were certified by the Commission on Elections (Comelec). Objections were raised that among those certified were major parties and groups which did not represent the marginalized and under-represented. The Supreme Court ruled that declaration of winning party-list candidates be postponed until the credentials of all groups are checked. Comelec has until the end of July to do this. Several groups seem likely to be deleted, including Citizens Against Drugs (MAD) headed by a movie actor and Estrada associate, which polled second in the party-list vote. Notable, however, is the success of the Left: heading the party-list poll is the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP)-aligned Bayan Muna, which stands to gain three party-list members of Congress. Another Leftist group, Akbayan!, also stands to gain a seat, and the left could be strengthened by an agreement in current negotiations in Oslo between the Philippine government and the Netherlands-based National Democratic Front for a peace settlement between communist rebels and the government.

WATCHPOINT: The Left, marginalized since 1986, may be emerging as a significant electoral force.

 

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