Election Fever Has Arrived

With less than a year left before the country is again plunged into another protracted battle for the next set of public officials, the nation is already being ushered to a growing discussion as to who is the best man (or woman) for the job to lead the country in the next six years. Already, battle lines have been drawn, despite the official campaign period to commence not until January next year.

Next year’s election will be no different from the ones that came before. It will continue to reflect the kind of politics that is uniquely Filipino. Forget about the Tories and the Whigs or the Republicans and the Democrats. If there’s one trait Philippine politics can be described as, that is that it was never about the parties who stand for something but about the personalities and what they represent – or at least what the electorates think they represent.

Back in the days when the Philippines was struggling to achieve independent nationhood, one party emerged as the champion of the Filipino cause: the Nacionalista Party. From this party belonged past presidents Manuel Quezon, Ramon Magsaysay, Carlos Garcia, and Ferdinand Marcos.

It was not long after the country’s first political party that fought for the country’s independence found itself not having enough room for other voices that a breakaway group formed the now known Partido Liberal or Liberal Party, with its prominent members, former presidents Manuel Roxas, Elpidio Quirino, Diosdado Macapagal (Marcos used to be with Liberal until he switched back to the Nacionalista Party),and, of course, former Senator Benigno Aquino Jr.

Martial law and the EDSA People Power revolution happened andplaced the country in a new slate upon the establishment of the fifth Republic. Upon the ratification of the new Constitution, political parties sprung up like mushrooms. A system of proportional representation for marginalized sectorsprovided by the Constitution made it possible for interest groups to form political parties to advance parochial causes. Meanwhile, the popularity of the Nacionalista and Liberal parties waned, while new parties emerged headed by the prominent personalities at that time.

Fidel Ramos, a military official instrumental during the People Power revolution, won the Presidency in 1992 under the banner of his newly-minted Lakas ng Tao – Christian Muslim Democrats or Lakas-CMD – the same party President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo joined when she ran for President in 2004. Prior to that, in 1998, another newly-formed party – Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino – installed former President Joseph Estrada.

The 2010 Presidential elections saw the re-emergence of the Liberal Party, when it supported the candidacy of the current President Benigno Aquino III over then apparent candidate Manuel Roxas II, grandson of the party’s founder.

But before we ever get the impression that it is the party that makes the candidate, the truth of the matter is that the reverse is actually the more correct observation. In Philippine politics, it is the candidate that makes the party. Case in point: Mr. Aquino’s candidacy for the Liberal Party in 2010 over then apparent Presidential bet, Manuel “Mar” Roxas. We all know what the story was.

There is no such thing as real “grassroots” politics in the Philippines as it is understood in American politics and people do not generally join a political party because of what it stand for. If there is anything truer in Philippine politics, then that is the fact that it is all about the personalities and not the parties where they belong – or affiliate themselves for the time being, such that when the second Monday of May is done and the Electoral Tribunal declares the winner, every other elected official would try to jump over the fence in time for the assumption of office on the 30th of the June.

So entrenched is the personality-oriented politics in the Philippine setting that show business and politics are almost viewed as synonymous, thereby reducing the search for the country’s leaders to a mere popularity contest.

And no other public office is this observation truer than in the Presidency for the simple reason that the country’s political system is created in such a way that the bulk of governance lies in the executive branch of the government, separate and independent from the legislative branch, in the same model as that of the United States, as opposed to most governments, which adopted the parliamentary form invented in the United Kingdom.

With the legislature now stripped of the power to allocate funds for projects (thanks to the Supreme Court, which declared it unconstitutional), any expense to be made is effectively in the hands of the executive branch, subject only to the general appropriations law passed every year. This setup makes political parties in an even weaker position because any public official not allied with the President risks the possibility of his constituents not receiving any funding for any project he may have promised them. Hence, the practice of jumping over from one party to whatever the party of the sitting President belongs to.

That’s why the Philippine Presidencyis the single most important position to fill in. That also explains why as early as now, names have already floated – others, being floated –with having the intention to run for the country’s top public post. From boardrooms to sidewalks, television to social networking sites, the air is filled with talks as to who will launch a national campaign that according to unofficial estimates will cost around Php 2 billion (US$45 million) to fund.

Here are the most prominent of them all:

Vice President Jejomar Binay

Attorney Jesus Jose Cabauatan Binay, Sr., or more popularly known as Jejomar “Jojo” Binay, the country’s incumbent Vice President has always set his eyes on the Presidential seat after serving as Mayor of Makati City for more than two decades.

He earlier announced he will run for President in the 2010 elections but conceded to be the running mate of Joseph Ejercito Estrada, himself a former President but was later ousted and later convicted of plunder.

Binay beat Manuel “Mar” Roxas II in the Vice Presidential bin in the 2010 elections by a thin margin that prompted Roxas to petition a recount. Now, the two are about to face off again, finally this time for the shot to the Presidential palace.

VP Binay’s claim to prominence is his campaign of better services and facilities in the country’s premier business district, Makati City. That Makati enjoys the admiration of being a well-managed city is a slogan VP Binay banks on to say that what Makati has can also be replicated to the rest of the country.

Who wouldn’t brag about Makati? Before Bonifacio Global City, Eastwood, or Ortigas Center, Makati has been regarded as the country’s financial hub. The city is home to corporate headquarters of the country’s biggest companies as well as satellite offices of international firms.

But VP Binay’s name was recently mired after a Senate investigation was launched implicating him for bribery and graft in overpriced construction of the new Makati City Hall and Makati Science High School building. The Binay name was also tainted when a cctv footage caught his son, Jejomar “Junjun” Binay, mayor of Makati, in a heated discussion with the security personnel of an upscale subdivision.

Secretary Mar Roxas

Just like Vice President Binay, incumbent Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel “Mar” Roxas II had set his eyes on the Presidency in the previous national elections. Why wouldn’t he? The grandson of the President of the last commonwealth government and the first of Third Philippine Republic, Manuel Roxas, and a son of a former Philippine Senator, Secretary Mar has always been expected to follow their footsteps, like any other descendant of former Presidents. (President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino is the son of former President Corazon Aquino and former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is the daughter of former President Diosdado Macapagal.)

The death of former President Corazon Aquino in 2009, however, turned the tables against Mr. Roxas’ plan and he yielded instead to then Senator Noynoy Aquino, who rose to prominence by the endorsement of the mourners of his mother’s death. The outpouring sympathies to the Aquinos in recognition of the contribution of his father and mother to Philippine democracy proved to be too strong to be ignored and Roxas stepped aside to make way for the now incumbent President.Secretary Roxas ran for Vice President and lost to incumbent Vice President Binay.

Perhaps no other rumored or reported contender for the Presidency pack as heavy qualifications as that of Secretary Roxas – former member of the House of Representatives for three terms, former Senator, former Cabinet Secretary of Trade and Industry, Transportation and Communication, now secretary of Interior and Local Government, with a degree in Economics from University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School. However, he has been criticized for trying too hard to be a man of action, with some of his hands on management style earning the ire and mockery of netizens in social media.

Recently, after months of speculation and suspense, Roxas was formally proclaimed by President Aquino to be the anointed one and standard bearer of the Liberal party for the 2016 Presidential race.

Senator Grace Poe

Mary Grace Poe-Llamanzares rose to fame following the death of her father, Fernando Poe, Jr., an icon in Philippine show business and Presidential contender in the 2004 elections.

Little much is known about Senator Poe. She graduated at the University of the Philippines with a degree in Developmental Studies and took up Political Science at Boston College in the United States, where she stayed for most of her adult life. She came back to the Philippines to help with her father’s campaign and went back to the United States after the elections.

She returned after her father suffered a stroke and stayed since to join the campaign against electoral fraud, who her camp believed was done during the 2004 elections that resulted in her father losing the presidency.

In 2010, she was appointed chairperson of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) and ran for Senator in 2013 under President Aquino’s Liberal Party.

Poe’s name surfaced as a viable successor to the Presidency with her performance during Senate hearings on the PDAF Scam and the Mamasapano incident, as well as the investigation over the alleged overpricing of the construction of the Makati City Hall and the Makati Science High School building.

Recently, rumors spread President Aquino was keen on endorsing Poe, after reports confirmed she met with the President. The meetings yielded no positive result and Aquino went on to anoint Roxas as his candidate.

As of press time, it is still unknown whether Poe plans to run for President or Vice President. She still has three years left of her term as Senator and is still eligible to run for another Senate seat.

However, Senator Poe’s citizenship is being put at issue as she was only adopted after she was found by the door of a Church somewhere south of the capital. The issue has been there since, but no one dared raise it during the Senatorial race. But now that she seemed to be not discounting the possibility of her running for President, that restrictive constitutional qualification of being a natural-born citizen is now proving to be a thorn.

Rodrigo “Roy” Duterte

Fourth on the list of names floated to take his shot at Malacañang is Rodrigo Duterte, a long-time mayor of the city of Davao, south of the Philippines.

A lawyer by profession, Duterte has served as Mayor of Davao City since 1988, having been elected for six terms with only one term interval to go around the three-term limit set by law to hold a local government position.

He is largely credited with the city’s reputation of being a safe and crime-free metropolis. However, the reputation comes with a price tag. Duterte is being linked to a vigilante group who practice extrajudicial killings of suspected criminals and lawless elements within the city. In many interviews, Duterte openly expresses he would rather kill anyone caught in the act of committing a crime within his jurisdiction. This candid iron-fist policy earned support from citizens who are getting tired and frustrated of the government’s efforts in curbing crimes in the country.

Several social media pages, groups, and communities were created to attract support base and convince Mayor Duterte to run for President, but he has earlier expressed he does not intend to. But in a country where word of honor or integrity is rarer than the endangered species of the Philippine monkey-eating eagle, no one can really say he will be true to his word, despite the firm statement.

Lesser Characters

While Roxas, Binay, Poe, and Duterte have emerged as the strongest contenders for next year’s Presidential race, other names have also floated, namely those of Senators Alan Peter Cayetano, Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos, Jr., and Antonio Trillanes IV. These personalities have either expressed their ambition of becoming President or lured by supporters or surfaced in surveys.

In a country where party loyalty is a dying character and turncoatism is an acceptable practice, alliances and coalitions will be formed and broken until the day of the elections. Thanks to initiatives by the media and other patriotic groups, recent political trend has placed national concerns and real issues in focus during campaigns. But how effective they were to direct the Filipino voter’s choice can only be speculated. In a country where most, if not all, people see the elections as choosing the least evil among the candidates, the one who paints a better version of himself – by however means, including pecuniary ways – has a greater chance at winning.

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