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Posts Tagged ‘political party’

The filing of candidacy for the 18,053 seats–from senators to municipal councilors–has ended yesterday. As expected, the majority of key positions will be contested by members, loyalists or affiliates of dominant political clans. The Senate race is heavily affected with the dynastic disease, with almost all candidates of the Liberal Party coalition and the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) tracing their antecedents (and credentials) to political families.

We have the following 18 candidates who are from prominent political families in the two Senate slates: Sen. Francis Escudero, Sen. Loren Legarda, presidential cousin Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, former senator Ramon Magsaysay Jr., Rep. Maria Milagros Magsaysay, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, vice-presidential daughter Maria Lourdes Nancy Binay, Rep. Joseph Victor Ejercito, Rep. Juan Ponce Enrile Jr., former senator Ernesto Maceda, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III, former senator Maria Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal, former senator Richard Gordon, ex-senator Juan Miguel Zubiri, Sen. Gregorio Honasan, former Tarlac governor Margarita Cojuangco, Rep. Cynthia Villar, and Rep. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara.

The three others–former MTRCB Chairperson Grace Poe-Llamanzares, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, and former AKBAYAN representative Ana Theresia Hontiveros–are not known to belong to traditional dynastic clans. Three candidates–Escudero, Legarda, and Poe-Llamanzares–are common candidates of the LP coalition and UNA.

At the local level, political clans and dynasties are all over the political landscape–from the Marcoses in Ilocos Norte to the Dutertes of Davao City. Only a sprinkling of candidates are non-dynasty or non-traditional politician, the most notable of whom are the two Catholic priests on leave who are running for governorship–former Pampanga governor Fr. Eduardo “Among Ed” Panlilio (Pampanga) and Bicol Regional Development Council Co-Chair Fr. Leo Casas (Masbate).

The uncontrolled proliferation of political dynasties betrays the severe weaknesses of the political party system in the country. There simply are no checks and balances in place to curb or even guide the self-serving political agenda–and by extension the carpetbagging economic agenda–of dominant political clans. At worst, these clans turn into warlords with control over territorial fiefs and their power protected by political violence, electoral fraud, and vote-buying.

The weaknesses are starkly manifested in the dearth of original Liberals in the Liberal Party senatorial slate. The three Liberal Party members in the 12-person list are either newly-sworn party members (Madrigal and Aquino) or a turncoat from another party (Magsaysay). In addition, Sen. Pimentel, who is the president of UNA’s member-party, the PDP-Laban, runs under the LP coalition.

In the UNA slate, the situation is much the same with the three leaders (Vice-President Jejomar Binay, Senator Juan Ponce Enrile, and former president Joseph Estrada) reserving seats for their own children (Nancy Binay, Jackie Enrile, and JV Ejercito). Rep. Mitos Magsaysay is from Lakas-Kampi, the erstwhile main opposition party.

The phenomenon of common candidates (Escudero, Legarda, and Poe) can only happen in a situation of  an absence of real opposition. Both the LP coalition and UNA parties are in the ruling coalition headed by President Aquino. The opposition that is the Lakas-CMD-Kampi is a pitiful, dying shadow of its former overpoweringly dominant stature–it cannot even field a single senatorial candidate and its head, former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, is able only to run for a congressional seat in Pampanga.

All roads now lead to Malacañang and Aquino. Of course, the political configuration will change in the run-up to the 2016 elections. Meanwhile the real–but covert–fight in the 2013 elections are between the would-be presidential aspirants in the 2016 presidential elections. As such, what we are witnessing is a proxy war.

Meanwhile, political dynasts sit comfortably and go with the tide of the president’s electoral wishes even as they profess support to all sides of the presidential contest. They are survival specialists, after all.

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The election news lately has been that of surveys claiming to have a list of specific personalities who will win the senatorial elections come 2013 national and local elections. Both the Social Weather Stations (SWS) and Pulse Asia, as well as lesser-known or even fly-by-night survey outfits, predicted more or less the same names in the winning column.

Of course, all of these do not reflect what eventually will be the voter’s choices in the next year’s senatorial elections. The most obvious reason is that it is still a long way from now to election day–the vast majority of the electorate have not yet made up their mind on their voting preferences except for a few candidates.

The name of the game at this point is name recall. This is defined as naming choices from memory of past, present, and claiming senatorial bets, without the benefit of a serious thought about qualifications, character, public service record, and competence. And, of course, voters do not yet bother about platforms or programs of government at this stage.

This fallacy of interpreting survey results this early to make up the senatorial slate results in decisions of convenience, or in opportunistic calculations. By and large, it perpetuates the political culture of personalistic politics, and of populist imagery. The media, of course, share the blame by portraying these survey results as gospel truth, without qualifying and without delineating the boundaries of their truths.

A case in point is Congressman Erin Tañada.  He is among the leaders of the Liberal Party, comes from an illustrious and respected political family, a House deputy speaker, and considered as one of the few reform-oriented young politicians of the incoming generation. He is a strong advocate for nationalism, democracy, and human rights, and author of the constitutionally-mandated Freedom of Information bill–a key legislation advancing transparency and accountability in government. He is supportive of reviving the coco levy case in favor of the coconut farmers and other asset reforms that directly address the poverty of the masses. In a normal world, there would be no question of his inclusion in the reform-oriented Liberal party senatorial slate.

However, the looming big irony of the Aquino-led administration ticket is that Tañada ( and similarly-placed possible candidates) only has a slim chance of being taken into the Liberal senatorial slate. The surveys place him low enough in the scales that he may not be able to win by himself.

The questions hangs in the air. What about reforms? What about good governance? What about the liberal political philosophy? What about a political party platform and program that must be advanced? Decision based on surveys alone, by and large, throws these overboard and favor the popular, the well-known, even the namesake. And, by and large, it speaks of a judgment of an easily swayed, easily manipulated, and easily bought electorate.

We call it traditional politics.

You ask why we have buffoons, clowns, actors, big egoists, and mediocres in the Senate. The answer lies in the surveys. In the real world, surveys are meant as decision guides, to know the strengths and weaknesses of the subject of the surveys, the current thinking of the populace. From the survey , leaders define the strategy, decide on tactics to enable to undertake an electoral campaign and achieve the victory. These are not meant to be the only basis of slate selection.

The late Secretary Jesse Robredo is a recent example. He languished in the low levels of senatorial surveys. Yet when he died and people come to know his reform record and integrity, he had become the reform standard for candidates.

Tañada, in his own right, stands in the same tsinelas that Robredo wore. Will the Liberal Party leave him out?

 

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House Aquino is straining in different political directions as it attempts to simultaneously confront the realities of the upcoming 2013 elections and the requirements of a reform government. Preserving unity in this situation is impossible and it is a probability that the post-2013 political landscape will be qualitatively different from the present.

Today, the Aquino-led ruling coalition stands virtually unchallenged with the once-mighty Lakas-Kampi  opposition reduced to a pitiful handful in both Congress and local government units. The main reason, of course, is the continued support of the people–still a 2-out-of-3 majority–for the Aquino administration.

However, the unsavory side of this strength is the wholesale turncoatism of almost the entire rank of the incumbents to the Aquino coalition. Most of them, I am sure, did it for pragmatic reasons–to maintain the flow of largesse from the seat of power to their own bailiwicks. However, along with the good ones, the bad politicians have also gone over to the incumbent president’s side.

These newcomers now make up the overwhelming majority of the president’s coalition, swamping both the Liberal Party original liberal-minded members and the reform-minded civil-society support base of the Aquino campaign.

O course, the reason behind this trend–started in the run-up to the May 10, 2010 elections and accelerating in the present preparatory period to the 2013 elections–is the imperatives of the 2016 presidential elections, including the building of a winning vote base for the presidential contenders.

Unfortunately, almost all the possible contenders are in the ruling coalition. A messy situation therefore arises, with two coalition senatorial slates and coalition members fighting each other in almost all local positions throughout the country.

One can argue that it is nothing new, that it has been that way for so long–dynasties fighting it out for local supremacy with nary a look at the absurdity of “friendly” parties fighting each other. Well, this is actually the wrong thing to happen to a reform administration. To get sidetracked from the reform path because of the political ambitions of some of the purported drivers of the reform bandwagon.

Within the LP “ruling” party, the newly-clothe LP turncoats are being groomed for candidacy in many local contests. Within the ruling coalition, the PDP-Laban-PMP UNA electoral coalition steadily draws away from the LP which has initiated its own electoral coalition with NP and NPC. By the day, the adherence to the reform “straight path” weakens.

Despite his popularity, Noynoy Aquino will end up endangering his own reform agenda and democratic legacy if he cannot rein in his own leaders and his new allies and fellow travellers. The prospect of a lameduck Aquino preesidency looms after the 2013 elections.

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The announcement by Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel, Jr. of a coalition into the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) between the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Laban ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) led by Vice-President Jejomar “Jojo” Binay and the Partido ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) led by former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada is a major indication that the 2013 midterm national and local election season has already arrived. Most political events, including the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, will thus be affected, one way or the other, by these elections or by the requirements of these elections.

Before this, the ruling Liberal Party (LP), under its president Manuel “Mar” Roxas II, has started its own moves vis-a-vis the 2013 elections. It has undertaken a series of high-profile party raiding, primarily from the ranks of a weakening Lakas-Kabalikat ng Mamamayang Pilipino Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-Kampi CMD). One of the recent examples is the switch to the LP of the Ebdane father and son team (Gov. Hermogenes Ebdane and newly-elected 2nd District representative Omar Ebdane) in Zambales.

The LP move and the PDP-Laban coalition building will define the 2013 electoral contest. By no means, however, are these two the only players. There is still the formidable Nacionalista Party led by Senator Manuel “Manny” Villar who reportedly handed the reins to Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr. This party keeps its cards close to its chest but quietly organizes on a nationwide scale.

A new party, the Centrist Democratic Party (CDP), led by Lito Lorenzana, has also organized and is challenging the Lakas-Kampi CMD on its political ideology. Before it, the National Unity Party, led by Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia, split from the the Lakas-Kampi CMD. The latter, considerably weakened due to turncoatism of most of its members to the ruling coalition, is still considered the leadership of the political opposition and is still led by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

A Left party, the Akbayan Citizens’ Action Party (Akbayan) is a significant member of the ruling coalition and an LP ally. Another Left formation, consisting of Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Anakpawis, Anakbayan, and the like, today plays the independent game, although they aligned with Villar’s and Marcos’ NP during the last elections.

At any rate, the irony of the 2013 elections is the fact that opposite wings of the ruling coalition, LP and PDP-Laban, will lead separate senatorial slates. There is also a distinct possibility of a third NP-led slate.

The principal reason for these developments and scenario is the early pole positioning for the 2016 presidential elections. The president has announced his decision to forego any political move to prolong himself in power and will definitely step down in 2016. It thereby precipitated the early scramble of presidential aspirants to maneuver in the 2013 elections and even before to capture strategic resources such as financing, local alliances, and campaign infrastructures and capabilities.

The 2013 elections is a hunting ground for 2016 elections. No presidential aspirant can ignore its importance. Nor can politicians, whether national or local, ignore the implications of the 2013 elections for 2016 elections and on their own political fortunes. The political hunting season is open.

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It is now a certainty that Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona will be impeached. Right now, more than 180 congressmen had already signed the articles of impeachment. Only 95 votes are needed for impeachment. Notably, the vast majority are members of the ruling coalition, led by the Liberal Party. If the record of the impeachment vote against former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez is an indication, then there is a potential 200 plus votes out of the 280 possible total that can be gathered.

The articles of impeachment mention eight counts of impeachable offenses, specifically for betrayal of public trust and culpable violation of the Constitution. Anytime now, the articles of impeachment will be forwarded to the Senate for the impeachment trial.

Of course, the vote in the Senate cannot be predicted at this time and the 16 votes required for the guilty verdict is a steep target. However, the House signatures already define the more possible outcome. It is CJ Corona who will be fighting an uphill battle.

In the impeachment battle, the most decisive factor is the public sentiment. Where it lies and how the legislators read it will be decisive. This was the case of the only impeachments in recent history–that of former president Erap Estrada and that of former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez.

Unfortunately for CJ Corona, his widely-known attachment to the unpopular former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo–the accused in the increasing number of cases of electoral fraud and plunder–will work against him in his own impeachment case. He is an incidental casualty in the anti-corruption campaign of the Aquino Government. The struggle to impeach CJ Corona (and possibly other  pro-GMA justices) is only a facet of the bigger battle to right the wrongs of the recent past and strengthen governance and, ultimately, the fragile Philippine democracy.

The move is of course risky and always in danger of derailment. However, the uncrowning of kings and queens is a necessary path to uphold the sovereignty of the people. So the history of medieval transition to modern democracy goes, so the transition to genuine democracy requires giving back the power to the people.

President Aquino now enjoys the unprecedented support from the people. He has their mandate and stands now on the threshold of history.

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The postponement of President Aquino’s trip to China is just one of the signs foretelling trouble in the China-Philippines relations. If not handled well by both sides, these relations may deteriorate and eventually turn sour.

There are several facets of these relations that collectively describe the entire state of China-Philippine relations. One, there is the historically friendly relations on a people-to-people level.  Two, there is generally productive economic relations. Three, except during the Cold war until the Nixon administration’s “ping-pong diplomacy,” there is the generally friendly and respectful political relations between the respective governments. Four, though there are border incidents due to conflicting territorial claims, there is the openness to accommodate each other’s claim.

In the post-Cold War period, these relations not only flourished but generally grow stronger. Through all the administrations, liberal and conservative, these have not been affected by either the politics or policy decisions of these administrations.

Of course, there are historical irritants–ranging from tendencies of Filipino racism and counterpart local Chinese chauvinism, local Philippine “Maoist” communist movement to conflicting claims over the Spratly Islands archipelago and trade issues. However, these are managed issues secondary to the mainly excellent relations up to the present.

In a few short months, the Aquino administration has significantly weakened these relations. There is a discernible shift from the GMA’s “China card” approach to a more US-aligned position. It is also evident that China, for its part, is not contributing much–and is in fact–applying a calibrated response to the Aquino government’s own China-related policies.

Of course, there were immediate causes for this slight shift. We can cite the Chinese (and Hongkong’s) over-response to the Luneta hostage incidence, the perceived unsympathetic Chinese response to appeals at the highest level for the lives of the three Filipino drug couriers, and the provocations in the Spratlys. Even the recent visit of the Chinese defense minister after a few buzzing incidents in the Spratlys sends a subtle threat signal. The Chinese actions can well be interpreted as an ill-disguised and heavy-handed Chinese pressure diplomatic offensives to test the political will of the new Aquino government.

The US government–for its own national interests–saw the opening and took advantage of it. It strengthened the Obama government  relations to the Aquino government with a new US ambassador, provided a certain naval patrol capability to the Philippine navy, and strengthened the Democratic Party’s ties to the ruling Liberal Party. It thus started a new round of political, diplomatic,  and armed power play not only in the Philippines but in the Southeast Asia as well.

The situation can easily spiral into an arms race or even confrontation. This will not be in the  best interests of the Philippines, the SEA region, or the great powers themselves. Stability and predictable behavior are the current norms of conduct that must be preserved.

The ball is on the Aquino government’s court on this one. How it handles the pressures arising from great power plays in this part of the world will have a bearing not only on its own political future but on the future of the region as well.

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The impending appointment by President Noynoy Aquino of his erstwhile vice-presidential candidate and current LP president Mar Roxas to a key position in his inner Cabinet has several political implications. If the reports are true that the envisioned “Chief of Staff” position is imbued with policy formulation and coordination functions, then effectively the “Little President” hat will have to be given to Mar.

This–more than any other indication–speaks of the high level of trust and rapport between the two. Mar is in an excellent position to act as an alter ego of the president, to represent the latter in many functions, and to go around the country without the burden of daily grind of bureaucratic government.

Of the three closest Cabinet positions to the president–the Executive Secretary, head of the Presidential Management Staff, and Chief of Staff–the latter is potentially the most powerful. Its dominant role in the policy-making process will relegate the Executive Secretary to coordination of the various departments and bureaus under the Executive Department–an important work but nevertheless only an implementation level job only, just like the PMS work.

The CoS position also can potentially negate the advantage of the opposition Vice-President in having a free hand in going around the country. This early, it can only highlight the suspicion that VP Binay and Mar Roxas are once again in a collision course in the electoral race, this time as presidential aspirants.

With President Noynoy as party chairman and more LP senior officials joining the Cabinet, the Liberal Party is headed for a party-based rule–a rare event in the post-Marcos period where rainbow coalitions is the norm. To be sure, the Noynoy administration is still coalition-based, particularly in congress and in the local governments. However, the Liberal Party is bidding to be a real party in power.

Can it make it stick without reforming the entire range of political power contestation in the country? It is too early to say but the prospect is interesting.

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