Home Editors' Picks Dynasties, celebrities dominate circus of Philippine elections

Dynasties, celebrities dominate circus of Philippine elections

A man wearing a face mask takes part in a simulation for the 2022 Philippine election at a polling station in Pasay City, Dec. 29, 2021. — REUTERS/LISA MAIE DAVID

By Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza, Reporter

PAUL OLID, 23, said he has yet to hear presidential candidates for this year’s elections discuss how they plan to jumpstart the Philippine economy amid a coronavirus pandemic.

“It’s still the same kind of people who are running,” the first-time voter said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “No matter how good their track records are, if their platforms don’t align with what the country currently needs, then it might not solve our problems.”

Mr. Olid may be too advanced for a voter in a country where families monopolize political power and celebrities get elected for their entertainment value.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte will leave his post after six years of turning policies and institutions upside down, and political analysts think Filipinos still have yet to learn that the gamble with an autocratic populist has not paid off.

“We are at a time of great uncertainty,” Ador R. Torneo, a professor and director of De La Salle University’s Institute of Governance, said in a Facebook Messenger chat. “Many stakeholders are waiting for concrete plans for economic recovery but only a handful of presidential candidates have shared their plan.”

He said few candidates have presented their programs, including those leading in opinion polls.

London-based Capital Economics this month said the list of presidential candidates in the Philippines has been uninspiring and bodes poorly for the Southeast Asian nation’s future.

Candidates should be talking about their political and economic platforms four months into the elections, said Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a research fellow at the Ateneo de Manila University Policy Center.

“That would have been ideal for us voters,” he said in a Messenger chat. “It would give us more time to evaluate the plans and possibly even ask questions.”

In its report, Capital Economics said the late dictator’s son Ferdinand “Bongbong” R. Marcos, Jr. was well ahead in opinion polls “but faces charges of tax evasion, which could see him disqualified.”

“He will be joined in the race by a host of other candidates, including a retired actor (Francisco “Isko” M. Domagoso) and a former boxing world champion (Senator Emmanuel “Manny” D. Pacquiao, Sr.),” the think tank said.

There’s also Vice-President Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo, who entered politics after her husband, a local government champion, died in a plane crash in 2012. She beat Mr. Marcos by a hair in the 2016 vice-presidential contest.

She will have to beat him again, which some see as a rerun of the 1986 snap elections, when widow Corazon C. Aquino crushed the Marcoses. That year, a popular street uprising toppled the dictator’s regime and sent him and his family into self-exile in the United States.

“Name recognition goes a long way in Philippine politics, which explains why three of the last four presidents have been actors and the children of former presidents,” it added.

The foreign think tank was referring to ex-President Joseph E. Estrada, who was an action star before he became president in 1998, his successor Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and the late Benigno S.C. Aquino III.

Mr. Estrada was toppled by a popular uprising in 2001 and spent years in prison before he was convicted for corruption and later pardoned by Ms. Arroyo, the daughter of the late President Diosdado P. Macapagal, Sr.

Ms. Arroyo was later jailed under the government of Mr. Aquino, who was thrust into the political limelight after the death of his mother in 2009.

Mr. Aquino, like his parents, came from pedigreed stock — landed, aristocratic families that have long been part of the ruling elite. His campaign was based on a legacy far greater than his own.

Aside from having the first female Philippine president for a mother, his father Benigno Jr. was the country’s greatest democracy champion before he was assassinated in 1983 presumably by agents of the dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos.

“Name recognition doesn’t correlate with competence,” Capital Economics said. “A lack of policy-making experience in leaders (plus high levels of corruption) has contributed to the economy’s poor performance over recent decades.”

“Foreign investors and other countries with ties to the Philippines or have an interest there have often looked closely at political developments in the country as an indicator of stability in other areas like the economy,” said Maria Ela L. Atienza, a political science professor at the University of the Philippines.

Some critics expect Mr. Marcos to follow in his father’s footsteps by reviving cronyism, censorship and military abuse. He will be a step ahead of Mr. Duterte, who revered the dictator and styled his leadership after him.

Aside from corruption, the country’s weak political system also prevents leaders from pursuing economic reforms, she said.

“The country has weak political parties and even a popular president cannot always count on allies in both Houses of Congress to solidly back up much needed reforms that can improve the economy,” Ms. Atienza said in a Viber message.

Mr. Yusingco said none of the candidates have presented a roadmap for their term in the next six years. “Not even a first 100 days plan.”

He noted that only two candidates have campaign websites. “Hopefully, when the campaign period officially begins next month, all the candidates will have websites with details of their programs.”

Few presidential candidates have real policy experience and achievements, said Robin Michael U. Garcia, a political economy professor at the University of Asia and the Pacific.

“Policy-making expertise can be relegated to industry experts and scholars in different fields,” he said in a Messenger chat.

He said a presidential candidate should have a vision and plan for a developing country struck by the pandemic. “He should also have empathy for people so he can follow through on his vision.”