The Philippine Star : Winning Philippine elections

News & Interviews
8 July 2021

By Elfren S. Cruz | The Philippine Star

The election fever is beginning to heat up as the election is just a year away and the deadline for candidates’ registration is only four months away.

Politics and elections are more than changing the people in power. In countries like the Philippines, the most powerful institution is the national government. Decisions that come from this centralized type of structure range from lucrative public works contracts to tax incentives for businesses to the choice of locations for school buildings and feeder roads.

At the very center of this power game is the ultimate prize – “access to power.” The center of this political maze is access to the president, the ultimate wielder of power. However, there are countless other circles of power that stretch from the national – senators and persons with national networks of influence – all the way to the municipal mayors and barangay chairman.

One observation about national politics is that the power of local politicians to influence national politics is many times exaggerated. Local politicians mostly understand that to retain their influence and retain their access to whoever is in power they must first ensure that they maintain their hold on local centers of power. I have seen it happen time and again when national politicians become bitterly disappointed when their candidacies are “abandoned” by local politicians.

National candidates need three requirements as a minimum to have a fighting chance. The first is that they have a regional bailiwick where they can appeal to regional loyalties and promise access to power to their regional allies. Second, they need to have their own personal national networks whom they can rely on to prioritize their campaign. Third, they need to have the personal resources that can be used for their own national political machinery exclusively devoted to their campaign.

There are very few exceptions to these requirements. One clear example is if the personal popularity is widespread and unshakeable that this can take the place of a well-funded campaign. Movie stars compose the bulk of these lucky few. This was the case of Erap Estrada when he ran for president. However, this should serve as a warning to politicians. Winning elections is different from holding on to power. There are also times when the circumstances and national events can produce a Cory Aquino. She did not have the resources, but a national network devoted exclusively to her campaign sprung up. This network was mostly voluntary or funded at the local level by politicians and concerned citizens. It would be difficult to duplicate this network, which was rightly called a “movement.” The only Philippine institution I can think of that can create this national movement of volunteers is the Catholic Church. However, except for a few bishops, I do not see any signs of such a movement being organized.

The Church is the most ideal because their parish organizations can actually match the barangay structure. The Church has its own nationwide organization that can watch the ballot boxes. However, aside from a few bishops, there are no signs that the Church will actively participate in the coming election.

There have been some urging for the Philippines to return to the two-party system. Frankly it makes sense to limit the number of political parties. I have lost count of how many political parties exist in the country. The concept of an unlimited number of political parties actually belongs to the parliamentary system. While several can run and end up not having the majority of seats in the parliament, there is a requirement that a government can be formed only if there is a coalition of the majority of members of parliament. In the recent parliament of Israel, a coalition that formed the majority came from parties with ideologies from the right to the center to the left.

Another idea worth studying is that in certain countries, especially in Europe, a candidate must win the majority of votes cast. If this does not happen, then the top two candidates must run against each other. In this way, there is an assurance that the final winner has support of the majority of voters.

Actually, even in the past there have been several attempts to field a third or fourth party. However, since election inspectors with the authority to get copies of votes cast were limited to the two major parties – Nacionalista and Liberal – these attempts failed. In 1953, a Democratic Party was formed with Carlos P. Romulo as its standard bearer. They eventually withdrew and supported Ramon Magsaysay of the Nacionalista Party.

In 1957, there was an element of reformism and nationalism during the elections. Carlos P. Garcia ran under the Nacionalista banner and Jose Yulo ran under the Liberal Party banner. In 1961 Jose P. Laurel ran under the Nacionalista. He lost to Diosdado Macapagal of the Liberal Party. It was said that the Catholic Church moved strongly against Laurel because he supported the law that would require the reading and teaching of the “ Noli” and the “Fili” which the Church strongly opposed. A new party was organized – the Nationalist-Citizens which had a platform invoking nationalist issues like removal of American bases. Its candidates were Claro M. Recto for president and Lorenzo Tañada for vice president. Garcia won that election.

In 1967, there was a romantic interlude in Philippine politics. Ferdinand Marcos won this election. However, a third party was formed – organized and led primarily by the youth. This was the Progressive Party and its candidate was Raul Manglapus. Although it did not win, it showed that there was a youth vote waiting to be tapped.

The 2022 elections will be like past elections, but it will have its share of surprises.

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