Philippines: Update on the 2004 Presidential Contest


Dr R J May

The formal registration for candidacy in the May 2004 presidential elections began on 15 December 2003 and closed on 2 January. At the time of writing (22 December), it appeared that the field had narrowed down to four: the incumbent president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo; former Education secretary, Raul Roco; former police chief Panfilo Lacsin; and actor Fernando Poe Jr. A fifth candidate, TV current affairs presenter and former Education secretary, Senator Noli de Castro, remained a possibility. The latter, De Castro, topped the Senate vote in 2001. (For an earlier account of the run-up to the election see Asian Analysis August 2003.)

After initially saying that she would not contest in 2004, President Macapagal-Arroyo eventually announced her candidacy in October. She will be the candidate of the ruling Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (CMD) party. Although the Macapagal-Arroyo administration has been somewhat shaken by the resignation of two senior figures (presidential adviser on security, Renato de Villa, and more recently Finance secretary, Jose Camacho) and by an upsurge of kidnappings for ransom and new threats of a military coup, Macapagal-Arroyo still has a good track record and widespread support. She has recently complained of ‘excessive partisan politics’ and has said she will stay out of politics until after the election.

In December, there was some talk that Macapagal-Arroyo might team up with Roco as the vice presidential candidate, but Roco seems intent on contesting the presidency. Roco, who stood against Joseph Estrada in 1998, heads the Alliance of Hope (Alyansa ng Pag-asa), which comprises his own Aksyon Demokratiko (Democratic Action), the Reporma party of Renato de Villa, and the Promdi Party headed by former Cebu governor Emilio Osmeña. The Alliance of Hope is said to embrace over 50 per cent of Congressional members and to have the support of civil society organizations and labour and peasant groups. Roco also has the backing of the Liberal Party.

Lacson, police chief during the Estrada presidency, but himself accused of involvement in a range of criminal activities, has been endorsed by a segment of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP, Fight of the Democratic Filipino), the largest party in the opposition (see below).

Poe (popularly known as ‘FPJ’) is a popular movie actor, in the mould of Joseph Estrada (who has supported Poe’s candidacy). A high school ‘drop-out’, he is not a party politician (though he has been invited to join the LDP) and he lacks political experience. Reportedly, Poe is also backed by prominent businessman, former Marcos crony and 1992 presidential candidate, Eduardo Cojuangco, head of the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), who announced in November that he, himself, would not be a contestant. Poe also has backing from a number of senior police and military officers.

Within the opposition there has been a push for unity, with the establishment of a Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP, Coalition of United Filipinos), comprising the LDP, Joseph Estrada’s Puwersa ng Masa Pilipino (Force of the Philippine Masses), PDP-Laban, and the People’s Reform Party. There have also been attempts to persuade Poe and Lacson that only one of them should contest the presidency. In November, Senator Edgardo Angara, LDP president and leader of the KNP, announced his backing for Poe as the united opposition standard-bearer, after Lacson ignored a KNP ‘selection process’, but Lacson said he would stand anyway, pointing out that Poe was not a LDP party member. This has caused a split within the LDP and the Commission on Elections has been called in to decide which of the two is the endorsed candidate.

In a survey conducted by the influential local Social Weather Stations in November, Poe and de Castro topped the poll, and many are predicting a Poe victory. However, he has little support from the business or international communities – in fact his formal registration of candidature precipitated a fall in the value of the peso.

WATCHPOINT: Will Poe’s popularity translate into votes against the solid incumbent, Macapagal-Arroyo?


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