Category Archives: The Philippines

Constitutional Reforms in East Asia, Part I: Progress and Possibility in the Philippines

Talks of constitutional reforms appear to be sweeping across the presidential and semi-presidential systems in East Asia: the Philippines, South Korea, and Taiwan. Constitutions capture the principles – some say, the most sacred principles – around which institutions, legislation, rules, and processes of a country are built.[1] Constitutional reforms, then, are generally significant and painstaking undertakings, often requiring supermajorities in the legislature or the electorate or both to ratify. And, this may be rightfully so: if they are to amend or revise principles that underpin the political, economic, and social structures of a country, the process should not be based on changeable and changing attitudes. Given the significance, the concomitant grip of constitutional reforms across several of the East Asian with a president as head or co-head of government is interesting, if not curious. What level of public support is there for these reforms? And, how likely are these reforms to pass?

President Duterte entered office in the Philippines with a pledge to adopt constitutional reforms to change the country’s unitary system into a federalism, with some powers devolved to the local governments for a more responsive government. Constitutional revisions have been proposed under previous governments: for instance, under President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, talks of constitutional revisions to repeal the term-limited, single, six-year non-re-electable presidential term-of-office surfaced towards the end of the popular executive, while former President Arroyo pushed hard for a change to a unicameral parliamentary system following an impeachment effort against the President for possible electoral irregularities in the 2004 presidential elections.[2] A marked difference between this constitutional reform effort and its predecessors is: President Duterte is hugely popular; as a contrast, President Arroyo was pre-empting protests and demonstrations as she pushed for her reforms.

Does this mean that there is wide public support for the federalist revision? That is less clear: on the one hand, the President was elected into office with federalism as one of his platform promises; on the other hand, Duterte was elected into office with a plurality of 36.7 percent of the total votes cast.[3] Polls report economic progress remains a key concern among survey respondents, so that a key consideration for public support is likely whether federalism will address economic development as promised.

How likely is the constitutional reform to pass? The Constitution provides for revisions in one of three ways: through a vote of three-fourths of the members of Congress; a constitutional convention; or direct petition by the people of at least 12 percent of the total registered voters, and of which every legislative district has three percent signatories. All revisions must then be ratified by a majority of the votes cast between 60 and 90 days of the approval of the amendment. In these processes, President Duterte seems largely unfettered: in particular, he enjoys the support of a super-majority in the legislature, and has high trust ratings that have only recently fallen. Even the Supreme Court has refused to limit the President’s martial law powers in Mindanao. Indeed, President Duterte has already moved to a constitutional assembly so that lawmakers will draft and approve the changes, rather than use a constitutional convention. The constitutional assembly is expected to convene after the national budget for 2017 is passed; the Speaker of the House anticipates that the amendments may be finalized by the end of 2017. If the amendments remain limited to the federalist structure, this is one constitutional revision effort that may fly.

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[1] Strauss, David. 2010. The Living Constitution. New York: Oxford University Press

[2] Hedman, Eva-Lotta. 2006. “The Philippines in 2005: Old Dynamics, New Conjuncture.” Asian Survey vol 46 no 1: 187-193

[3] Election Guide, International Foundation for Electoral Systems. Washington, D.C.

The Philippines – President Duterte Takes Aim … (and Vigilantes Deliver …)

President Rodrigo Duterte’s candidacy when he was campaigning for office was, euphemistically speaking, colourful. Not one to shy from controversy – indeed, he seemed to thrive on generating them – Duterte as presidential candidate likely riled as many voters as he won over. The final election tally showed 16.6 million votes for Duterte, more than 6.5 million higher than the next candidate, Mar Roxas; however, that constitutes only 39 percent of the votes cast. Perhaps as an olive branch to the other 61 percent of the voters, Duterte promised that he would be “presidential” once he takes office, and temper his language, delivery, and modus operandi. That change remains pending, as the recent kerfuffle from President Duterte’s impudent reference to President Obama reveals. Meanwhile, however, the Duterte presidency is on track to deliver on some of the more controversial, and concerning, promises.

Top on that list of the President’s promises are the war on drugs and law-and-order, particularly organized crime. The President pledged in his first State-of-the-Nation address that “we will not stop until the last drug lord, the last financier and the last pusher have surrendered or been put behind bars or are below the ground if they so wish.” As if to make good on that pledge, on August 8, 2016, the President named 159 “narco-officials” – mayors, judges, congress representatives, and police involved in the drug trade – and gave them 24 hours to surrender or be tracked down by security forces; on that cue, police and the military disarmed and relieved those in armed services on that list, and pulled out security escorts for those in government.

Indeed, backed by rewards and the President’s assurance of protection, almost 3000 killings have occurred since the President took office, with about half attributable to vigilantes, the Philippine National Police reported on September 10, 2016. The peril of being gunned down has led an estimated 700,000 to surrender, far exceeding the government’s capacity to rehabilitate or support. Notwithstanding, the President has refused to back away from sanctioning extrajudicial killings; instead, while expressing “cause for concern” regarding the vigilante murders, the Presidential Office has declared the war on drugs a success. And, President Duterte has hit back at the senate inquiry into extrajudicial killings with accusations that the chair, Senator Leila de Lima, is linked to drug syndicates.

On other fronts, President Duterte has also made good on his promise to address corruption in the country, by declaring all appointive offices vacant on August 22, 2016, so that the positions may be staffed with appointments made by the Presidential Management Staff. The move affected thousands, and left in office only those appointed after June 30. The President also followed up on his pledge to work for former President Arroyo’s release from prison: on July 30, the Supreme Court ordered her release on the grounds of insufficient evidence against her. And, President Duterte has approved former President Marcos’ burial at Libingan ng mga Bayani, or “heroes cemetery,” despite protests against that decision. That decision has been put on hold by the Supreme Court, which is hearing arguments on that decision.

The President is largely unfettered: he enjoys the support of a super-majority in the legislature, and has a 91 percent trust rating (by way of contrast, Vice President Leni Robredo has 62 percent). His proposed constitutional change into federalism for the Philippines is unlikely to hit obstacles: to that end, the President has moved towards a constitutional assembly, rather than a constitutional convention, so that lawmakers will draft and approve the changes. The use of a constitutional assembly has ignited concerns that legislators may carve a constitution that will save their jobs rather than the country, but the President has assured the public that there is nothing to worry: he will treat self-serving lawmakers “like drug addicts.” A threat that few have difficulty envisioning, it seems.

 

The Philippines – General Elections 2016: Results and Next Steps

Official results for the general elections in the Philippines are now posted: the Commission on Elections (Comelec) announced the 12 senators to the Senate on May 19, while the official canvassing by Congress, which began on May 25 and ended ahead of schedule on May 27. The 1987 Constitution vests Congress with the formal authority to canvass the votes for the presidency and vice-presidency. Voter turnout was estimated at 81 percent, which exceeded the turnouts for the previous general elections in 2010 (74.7 percent) and the midterm elections in 2013 (77 percent).

The final results of the official canvassing show Rodrigo Duterte as president-elect, with more than 16.6 million votes in his favour and far exceeding runner-up Manuel Roxas’s 9.98 million votes. In the vice-presidential race, Leni Robredo’s 14.4 million votes is a tight win over the second-place candidate, Ferdinand Marcos Jr, who received 14.16 million votes. Unofficial results had shown a tight contest in the vice-presidential race, so that, not surprisingly, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and his camp were prepped to challenge the results – including filing a request to audit the automated election system – to stop the congressional canvassing and announcement of the official results. However, that request for audit was denied by Comelec. Marcos Jr. and his camp have promised to keep up the fight. And, President-elect Rodrigo Duterte – who had selected Marcos Jr. as his Vice-Presidential running-mate – may have weighed in on the expected ongoing saga, when he resisted giving Vice-president elect Leni Robredo a cabinet position.

For the Senate, Comelec announced on May 19 the 12 who will be taking up Senate. They are, in order of votes received:

Franklin Drilon (Liberal Party) Former senator
Emmanuel Joel Villanueva (Liberal Party) First-timer
Vicente “Tito” Sotto III (Nationalist People’s Coalition) Former senator
Panfilo “Ping” Lacson (Independent) Re-elected incumbent
Richard “Dick” Gordon (Independent) Re-elected incumbent
Juan Miguel “Migz” Zubiri (Independent) Re-elected incumbent
Emmanuel “Manny” Pacquiao (United Nationalist Alliance) First-timer
Ana Theresia “Risa” Hontiveros (Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party) First-timer
Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan (Liberal Party) Re-elected incumbent
Sherwin “Win” Gatchalian (Nationalist People’s Coalition) First-timer
Ralph Recto (Liberal Party) Former senator
Leila Norma Eulalia Josefa de Lima (Liberal Party) First-timer

The party of outgoing President Aquino III, the Liberal Party (LP), will occupy five of the 24 seats in the Senate; on paper, it will also be the largest party in the House, with 116 or 49 percent of 238-seat House. This is followed by the National People’s Coalition (NPC) with 42 seats, and then the Nacionalista Party and National Unity Party, each holding 23 seats. The President-elect’s Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) successfully elected only three representatives into the 238-seat lower House

Notwithstanding, representatives are falling in line with the President-elect. Indeed, since the elections, the newly-elected have either jumped ship to join the President-elect’s PDP-Laban, or aligned themselves with the President-elect; they include prominent LP House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. As a result, the President-elect may have cobbled together a super-majority in Congress.

The President-elect will need this supermajority, to pass his agenda, which includes changing the Constitution and reimposing the death penalty in the Philippines. Some had speculated that the President-elect, popularly known as “Duterte Harry” because of his shoot-first, ask later persona, will be more circumspect with the high office. With the support of a supermajority, that seems unlikely.

The Philippines – Presidential Elections 2016: The Controversial President?

On May 9, 2016, a total of 18,069 national and local positions were decided at elections in the Philippines. Five candidates ended on the final ballot list for the presidential race, although the Commission on Elections (Comelec) had tipped seven to make it to the certified list of “nuisance candidates” out of the total of 130 candidates who filed to run for the certificates of candidacy.[i] They are:

The unofficial tally reports Duterte as the winner of the presidential race, more than six million votes ahead of the second place candidate, Roxas. In the vice-presidential race, Representative Leni Robredo leads Senator Ferdinand Marcos by 200,000 votes. Voters have a vote each for the presidential and vice-presidential races, and surveys leading up to elections show that respondents are not constrained by the presidency and vice-presidency teams running for elections. In fact, split ticket voting – i.e., votes for president and vice-president candidates from different teams – appear to be the norm.

In the run-up to the elections, the presidential race was dogged by the issue of citizenship and residency, specifically for then-front-runner Senator Grace Poe. Poe had scored an early victory in November 2015, when the Senate Electoral Tribunal ruled against the disqualification case against her. However, shortly thereafter, in a 34-page document, the Comelec disqualified Poe from the presidential race for failing to meet the residency requirement. The case went all the way to the Supreme Court; in March, 2016, the Court overruled Comelec in a 9-6 ruling to pave the way for Poe’s presidential candidacy.

Meanwhile, the progression of the case against Poe also saw an erosion of support for her candidacy, and an increase in support for Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte. Duterte had repeatedly denied interest in the presidency, despite equally persistent rumours of the possibility of his presidential run; the candidate finally announced his candidacy in November, due to his “disappointment” at the Senate Tribunal ruling for Poe. Despite or because of a series of controversial stances – Duterte may well be the Philippines answer to Donald Trump in the US – Duterte quickly overtook Poe as front-runner in election surveys. In the last weeks of the political campaign, Duterte’s maintained more than 10 percentage points ahead of his rivals, despite eliciting international criticism for an off-color rape joke made, and notwithstanding allegations of the mayor’s hidden assets that included 49 properties.

The lead-up to the elections also suggests that a Duterte’s presidency is likely to remain as controversial as his candidacy. The candidate has promised to run the country as he did with Davao City, and that has given cause for alarm. In particular, “Duterte Harry” has threatened to punish criminals without due process, including shooting them or feeding them to the fishes. Given Duterte’s alleged involvement with the Davao death squads – where masked vigilantes gunned down criminal- and drug-dealing suspects – such pronouncements are not easily dismissed. The mayor has also promised to abolish Congress if elected, to end corruption. In response, President Aquino II tried to unite the other presidential candidates against Duterte’s run to avert regress of democratic- and political rights in the country. However, as the unofficial results indicate, these have not upended Duterte’s presidency. Without doubt, the next six years will see some contentious initiatives out of the new president.

[i] Those who make a mockery of the election system; those who seek to confuse voters through similarity of names between candidates; and those who have no bona fide or good faith in running for office.

The Philippines – Presidential Elections 2016: Families, Front-runners, and “Foreigners”

On May 9, 2016, a total of 18,069 national and local positions will be decided at elections in the Philippines. The run up to the elections witnessed the five-day candidacy registration at the Commission on Elections (Comelec) between October 12 and October 16, 2015, where a total of 130 filed for certificates of candidacy for the presidential race, and 19 for the vice-presidency. Voters have a vote each for the presidential and vice-presidential races; still, the discrepancy between the top and penultimate offices is instructive about the relative desirability of the respective offices. By way of comparison, 172 candidates are registered to run for the 12 senator seats up for contention, and 192 for the 58 party-list seats in the House. The campaign period for the president, vice-president, senator, and party-list representatives is slated for February 9 to May 7, 2016; for members of the House and other local offices, the campaign period will run from March 25 to May 7.

Clearly, not all 130 candidates who filed as candidates for the presidential race will be eligible to run; the Comelec will rule out “nuisance candidates” so that a final list of about five eligible candidates is expected to be announced around December 10, 2015.[i] The Comelec has also targeted December 10 as the deadline for substitutions, where a candidate substitutes for one that withdraws – such as occurred when LP Manuel Roxas II, the original candidate-elect for the Liberal Party in 2010 stepped aside for Aquino III to run as presidential nominee for the party – or is disqualified. This article surveys the backgrounds of likely candidates to emerge in that final tally for the presidential race, with their running mates, in alphabetical order:

Vice-president Jejomar Binay made clear his interest in the Presidency early on, resigning from his party of 30 years – the Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) – in April 2014 in order to launch his bid. Binay had enjoyed a significant run in the opinion polls – his approval ratings hit a high of 80 percent in Jaunary 2014 – but his ongoing struggles against corruption raps have taken a toll in the polls. Perhaps because of the falling numbers, Binay appeared to have trouble with a vice-presidential candidate: before formally announcing the Binay-Honasan ticket, Binay had wooed former president and current Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada, while Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. – son of former strongman-president Ferdinand Marcos – reportedly turned down Binay’s vice-presidential candidate offer.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago was a presidential candidate in 1992, but lost the race to Fidel Ramos by less than 900,000 votes, and also in 1998. The Senator – who is on her last term in the Senate – made her name as a young judge who ruled against President Marcos’ martial law in 1985. Her latest victory is over lung cancer: the senator has been cancer-free since June 2015.

Davao City Mayor Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte had repeatedly denied interest in the presidency, despite equally persistent rumours of the possibility of his presidential run. Indeed, the mayor did not file a certificate of candidacy by the Comelec deadline. Still, on November 22, 2015, Duterte officially declared his candidacy for the president, because he was “terribly disappointed” with the Senate Electoral Tribunal’s (SET) ruling to dismiss the disqualification case against Senator Grace Poe, currently the front-runner in presidential polls. The official candidate from his political party, Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan, Martin Dino, withdrew his candidacy for Duterte.

If the public opinion polls provide any insights, Senator Grace Poe is the candidate to beat in the presidential race: she has been the most popular of the potential presidential candidates since June 2015. Poe is the actor-turned-politician adopted daughter of Fernando Poe, also an actor who ran for the presidency in 2004 but lost to Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Poe was elected to the senate in 2013 under Team PNoy, and was actively courted by Mar Roxas to be his vice-presidential running mate. Senator Poe’s candidacy has been challenged on the grounds that she is not a natural-born Filipino, so that the recent SET’s ruling is a major victory against her challengers. Poe has submitted to a DNA test to establish lineage with possible Filipino relatives.

Former Interior Secretary, Manuel Roxas II, was endorsed by President Aquino III for the 2016 race. Roxas was original candidate-elect for the LP in 2010, who stepped aside for Aquino III to run as presidential nominee for the party. While earlier polls had a poor showing for Roxas, the candidate’s standing has since improved to overtake VP Binay as the second most popular presidential candidate.

Clearly, the election news out of the Philippines promises to be abundant, if not interesting, given the total of 18,069 national and local positions in the elections that comprises 235 district congressmen; 81 governors; 81 vice governors; 772 members of Sangguniang Panlalawigan; 144 city mayors; 144 city vice mayors; 1,610 city councilors; 1,490 municipal mayors; 1,490 municipal vice mayors; 11,924 municipal councilors; one ARMM governor; ARMM vice governor; and 24 ARMM assemblymen.

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[i] Those who make a mockery of the election system; those who seek to confuse voters through similarity of names between candidates; and those who have no bona fide or good faith in running for office.

The Philippines – Presidential Election 2016: Is the Vice-Presidency a Venue?

Presidential and legislative elections are scheduled for the Philippines on May 9, 2016. The President and Vice-President are elected separately, so that the elected candidates may come from different parties. Such is the case with current President Benigno Aquino III, from the Liberal Party (LP), and Vice-President Jejomar Binay, formerly of the Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban). President Aquino III is constitutionally prohibited from seeking a second term, but there are no limitations on the Vice President for seeking the presidency. While it may seem that a vice-presidential term is strong endorsement for a candidate to seek the presidency, recent developments in the Philippines provide an interesting take on the whether the vice-presidency is a tenable venue to the presidency.

Although the President and the Vice-President may be from different parties, relations are not necessarily strained. After all, VP Binay was a 30-year member of the PDP-Laban, i.e., when it was headed by the late-Senator Benigno Aquino. VP Binay was also considered a strong supporter of the President’s mother, former President Corazon Aquino. Indeed, as recently as 2013, President Aquino III’s LP and Vice-President Binay’s PDP-Laban engaged in a period of team- and coalition-building to launch Team PNoy – comprising a coalition of the LP, the PDP-Laban, the Nacionalista Party, the Nationalist People’s Coalition, the National Unity Party, and the Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party – that partnered with the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) to field 12 candidates for senatorial elections that year.

Notwithstanding that history as well as ongoing work-relations between the President and Vice-President, ties failed to concretize to the point where the President endorsed the VP for the presidency. Instead, the President endorsed LP Manuel Roxas II, the original candidate-elect for the LP in 2010 who stepped aside for Aquino III to run as presidential nominee for the party. This is notwithstanding polls showing Mar Roxas as the least favoured presidential candidate; the President’s endorsement of Mar Roxas also came after the Vice President made clear that he was after the endorsement.

In part, the competition-versus-cooperation relations may be stoked by the horse-race mentality from approval polls that appear to regularly pit President against the Vice-President. In part, it may be VP Binay’s ongoing struggle against corruption raps. In part, it may also be due to the VP’s clear and unequivocal pursuit of the presidency: in early 2014, VP Binay resigned from his party of 30 years to launch the UNA party in preparation for his 2016 presidential bid. The president of the PDP-Laban, Senator Aquilino Pimentel III, has signaled clearly that the party will not be endorsing VP Binay for the presidency; of course, he and VP Binay had a major falling out just prior to the VP’s resignation from the PDP-Laban.

With President Aquino III’s endorsement of Mar Roxas, Vice-President Binay’s retort was to resign from the cabinet, charging mistreatment as well as incompetence in the current administration. That, in turn, elicited the Presidential Palace’s rejoinder: too late to be complaining about the administration after five years in it? The back-and-forth, if not the events prior to that, certainly underline that the vice presidency is not a shoo-in for the presidency;

East Asia – Presidential Powers and Semi-Presidential Systems

Calls for constitutional revisions have surfaced across four of the presidential and semi-presidential systems in East and Southeast Asia, namely, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and Indonesia. The appeals for constitutional changes have arisen for different reasons: in the Philippines, some have raised the possibility in order to extend the tenure of a generally successful and popular president. In Indonesia, it is aimed at improving governability in the face of a fragmented, uncooperative legislature. In South Korea, the option relates to reducing the powers of the executive for greater accountability, a stance advocated by presidential candidates – including current President Park – in the 2012 campaign. Likewise, in Taiwan, constitutional change offers the prospect of constraining the powers of the president. Despite differences in the objectives of change, one reform frequently suggested to replace existing institutional set-up across the countries is the premier-presidential form of semi-presidential system. This raises an interesting question: what is the underlying problem across the countries that the premier-presidential form may resolve?

Despite differences in the objectives, one commonality across the countries is presidentialized parties, where the executive-leader has “considerable independence in the electoral and governing arenas.” [1]According to Samuels and Shugart (2009), presidentialized parties result when the “constitutional structure separates executive and legislative origin and/or survival.” The outcome of the president’s independence manifests differently across the countries: in the Philippines, political parties may rally around strong candidates to ensure continuity; in Indonesia, presidents may be saddled with hostile legislatures; in South Korea and Taiwan, presidents may have few incentives to shift focus away from their personal agendas to the parties.[2]

Clearly, the outcomes depend in part on party organization and party-system development  in the countries. What is less clear is that the premier-presidential form of semi-presidential system will resolve the underlying problem of party weakness. It may behoove these new democracies of the Philippines, Indonesia, South Korea and Taiwan, to consider the outlay of time and effort towards constitutional change.

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[1] Elgie, Robert. 2011.

[2] For another perspective, see Cheibub and Limongi (2014). Cheibub, Jose Antonio and Fernando Limongi. 2014. “The structure of legislative-executive relations: Asia in comparative perspective.” In Comparative Constitutional Law in Asia, ed. Rosalind Dixon and Tim Ginsburg. Northampton: Edward Elgar Publishing

 

The Philippines – The President and Political Cha-cha

The issue of Charter Change, or constitutional revision, has gathered steam in the Philippines recently in regards to two areas: one, constitutional revision to extend the President’s term of office; two, constitutional revisions to reduce the powers of the Supreme Court.

Discussion of constitutional revisions towards the end of a popular president’s term – President “Pnoy” Aquino III’s approval at about 55 percent in July is about a 10-point decline from March but still high for the executive after four years of the six-year term – is not uncommon. What is interesting about this discussion of a constitutional revision to the term-limits of the president is its tie-in to the second area, revisions to the Supreme Court’s powers, that relates specifically to President Pnoy’s displeasure with the Supreme Court’s 13-0 ruling on the unconstitutionality of the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) that was administered through the executive office.

Executives in democracies bring the “power” and “arbitrariness” of a single decision-maker into policy-making without the objectionable aspects of those qualities, largely because of the constraints of horizontal accountability between government institutions to check and restrain abuses of power by branches of government or public agencies, and vertical accountability.[1] At the same time, it is useful to note that when O’Donnell (1998) first raised the concept of horizontal accountability, he held “judicial autonomy” as “tricky” because the lack of oversight to enhance its autonomy may lead directly to a lack of accountability (123).[2]

The constitutional revision situation in the Philippines, then, is illuminating for encapsulating the struggle of balancing power with constraints for not one but two branches of the government. But perhaps it is most instructive in terms of the losses from this struggle: the latest polls show approval ratings dipping across all three branches of government.

It is perhaps not surprising that struggles between the branches of government do not usually lead to victors, at least from the perspective of electoral support. This disapproval provides a useful context for evaluating the value of constitutional revisions: it suggests that few consider system-wide changes as appropriate for dealing with conflicts within the government. And it may also serve as a useful reminder: insofar as politicians are generally seen as motivated by self-interest,[3] constitutional revisions that benefit incumbents are also generally not viewed with approbation.

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[1] See discussions in O’Donnell (1998), and Yap and Gibb (2013/14: 160), about horizontal accountability as well as its complement, vertical accountability, where public officials are held accountable through the electoral process, an active civil society, or a free press.

[2] Studies of accountability generally focus on executive accountability, probably because of the potential for abuses related to the position of head of government and commander-in-chief of the military.

[3] Bowler et al, 2006.

 

The Philippines – Political parties and Presidential power

Vice president Jejomar Binay recently left his party of 30 years, the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), to form a new party in preparation for his run at the 2016 presidential elections. VP Binay was a member of the Laban (Laban ng Bayan) Party when it was headed by former senator Benigno Aquino. The Laban Party joined forces with the Partido Demokratiko ng Pilipinas (PDP) in 1986, and has enjoyed significant electoral success – winning the presidency under Corazon Aquino in 1986 – as well as lacklustre performance – in the last 2013 elections, it won one seat in the Senate and 2 of the 231 seats in the House.

With VP Binay’s departure from the PDP-Laban, the party has announced that it will leave the main opposition coalition, the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). The UNA was an electoral alliance formed in part with VP Binay’s support as national chair of PDP-Laban. However, PDP-Laban President Senator Aquilino Pimentel III was opposed to the coalition and did not run under the UNA banner for his senatorial seat but, instead, under the administration’s Team PNoy, which he successfully secured.

The situation with the PDP-Laban and the UNA underscores changeability in political parties in the Philippines and renews the question: how does this changeability affect presidential power and policy performance in the country? The answer – discussed at greater length below – is not hopeful: the changeability undermines programmatic political development and fails to displace personalistic money-centric politics.

Studies identify at least three fundamental roles for political parties:[1] (1) as vehicles to mobilize support for elections; (2) as a political pillar encapsulating regularized patterns, such as programmatic political contestation rather than personalistic politics or candidate-centered politics; and (3) undergird executive-legislature relations that frame political performance.

Do political parties perform as vehicles to mobilize support for elections in the Philippines? On the one hand, thus far, presidential candidates have continued to run under party labels; on the other hand, it is debatable if this represents a rallying under political parties or if political parties are rallying around strong candidates. Thus, for instance, the 2013 elections for the senate are not necessarily indicative of political party performance as much as Team Pnoy’s success.

Are political parties in the Philippines encapsulating regularized patterns? The answer to this is less ambiguous than the previous: studies show that political trust remains low in the Philippines, and the electorate remains sceptical of political institutions and representatives of Congress, Senate, and political parties.[2]

Do political parties undergird executive-legislature relations that frame political performance? As the PDP-Laban and UNA situation indicate, and the rebuilding of the Liberal Party under President Aquino III suggest, political parties are still working out their coalescence. While this process is underway, executive-legislative relations continue to ride on personalistic relations. This means that successful policymaking generally carries high transaction costs.

Clearly, political party institutionalization in the Philippines will benefit the country in the immediate term and the long run. There is reason for hope: as executives and legislators become increasingly cognizant of the significant political and social costs in running personalistic campaigns and as the anticorruption efforts deepen, the trends will converge towards greater institutionalization.

The Philippines – Rehabilitating presidential confidence following a crisis

The mounting criticisms of President “Noynoy” Aquino’s handling of the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan underscore the impact of natural disaster management on assessments of governmental performance, particularly presidential performance. Public administration and policy studies offer a wealth of lessons to governments on what to do or not do in these instances of crisis-management, and this essay will not tread the grounds so well-articulated by these experts.[1]

Instead, this essay deals with an issue integral to performance following a crisis: how does the President rehabilitate public confidence following this fallout? It is often difficult to isolate the effects of public disapproval of specific incidents: for instance, how much did Katrina affect public approval of President G. W. Bush, given the other “missteps” that followed in the heels of Katrina?[2] Nevertheless, precipitous declines in public disapproval reduce legislative support for a president’s initiatives.[3] What may the President do to rehabilitate public confidence, particularly in a democratizing country where slowed or stalled reforms are hazardous to political, social, and economic developments?

Adapting from studies of credible apologies,[4] two processes are integral to this effort: (a) review and assessment by committees comprising non-government citizens; (b) reparations to the affected. The review and assessment makes clear that the President and his administration have a commitment towards transparency, accountability, and capacity-building, and the composition of these committees by non-government personnel is directly relevant to the government’s credibility. Reparations underscore the President’s vested, empathetic response that acknowledges the impact and devastation on lives and livelihood; this ability to relate often distinguishes good leaders from the rest.

The massive humanitarian aid to this disaster emphasizes the national and international efforts that have rallied to help with the tremendous tasks of recovery and rebuilding. In the face of such work, rebuilding of public confidence may be relegated as a natural offshoot of work to be accomplished or scuttled to the sidelines for at a later date. Hopefully, it is clear that purposeful rebuilding of the country and public confidence concurrently is more effective for short- and long-term stability and success.