Did you know this is History Week? Dr. Augusto Viviana, who is one of those tireless workers in the civil service I hold in very high respect (he works at the National Historical Institute), in an essay, Dr. Viviana explains why such a commemoration is important.
Here is the paper I presented yesterday at a conference on Philippine political parties held by the Philippine Historical Association, as part of the History Week observance. If I ever get some breathing room, I might try to explore this as the germ of a thesis.
Historical Development of Philippine Political Parties Conference, Philippine Historical Association, Philippine History Foundation, National Historical Institute, September 18, 2006, Makati City
Notes for Assessing Philippine Political Parties
Manuel L. Quezon III
WHEN the Philippine Historical Association assigned me a topic for the conference today, I immediately thought someone in the organizing committee had a naughty sense of humor. The topic for my talk, “assessing Philippine political parties,” neatly sums up what parties in this country do. They assess: how the winds are blowing; how best to rally support for their leaders; they assess the public by way of positioning themselves to best be able to parcel-out the public treasury.
Let us begin with an assessment that flouts conventional wisdom. The Philippines is approaching a century of the most durable, remarkable, party government in all of Asia. We have always had a strong party system, except that it has always been a one party system.
The difficult is that among Filipino academics who are ideologically embittered, there is an understandable, but unhealthy, inclination to consider party politics as not only meaningless, but devoid of legitimacy as an area for study. Not only is this because in our country history is not written by the victors, but by the losers, unlike the conventional wisdom that says otherwise. It is also because of an inherent bias that afflicts every intellectual with a modicum of integrity: ideologically speaking, there is no outstanding difference between past and present political parties. For differences one would have to reflect on nuances; but as for party beliefs, there have only been two parties: Communists and Socialists and everyone else.
The problem is that the Left operates on the underground railroad of history, the mainstream political parties on the aboveground railway. There is more than enough opportunity for the historian to examine each; for the past forty years, the underground has engaged the interest of historians, sociologists and political scientists far more than the aboveground system. And when mainstream political parties are studied, they are immediately judged anachronistic and devoid of merit — a narrow gauge track in an aspiring, Socialist medium gauge world-to-be.
But that is to fall into a cardinal error, I believe: which is, a political system must be examined, evaluated, according to its own merits and its own reasons for being. And only then, judged, even though we all know what that judgment will be: that the mainstream political system is corrupt, debased, and decrepit. But we would understand better why this is so, and yet why the overwhelming majority still cling to it.
The following is a chart (click image to view), which is a work in progress. But this early on, allow me to make some observations in support of my contention.
The first thing we should notice is the difference between national population, qualified or registered voters, and actual voters; filling in the rest of the blanks, will, I think, prove that our devotion to, and interest in, electoral democracy has been less intense than previously assumed.
As for the rest…
IN 1907, the first legislative elections were held for the Philippine Assembly, inaugurating a practically-uninterrupted legislative tradition that will mark its centennial next year (the House of Representatives will be a century old in 2007).
Out of a national population of 7,844,000 people, 104,966 Filipinos were entitled to vote, slightly under the number (143,029) that participated in the popular vote for the American presidency a century before in America (Jefferson’s 1804 election). As it was, 98, 251 voted 59 Nacionalistas, 16 Progresistas, and 5 Independents into office. The Nacionalistas would remain in possession of the lower house for the next forty years. In 1909 and 1912, the Nacionalistas would establish their majority at 62 representatives.
In 1916, when the Philippine Senate was established, the lower house majority of the Nacionalistas increased to 75 representatives, while the opposition groups were reduced to 7 Progresistas, 2 Terceristas and 6 Independents who decided they needed to reinvent themselves as the Democrata Party. The closest the Democratas ever got to being successful, politically, was in the watershed year of 1922.
In that year, out of a population of 10,991,100 and with an electorate of 2,061,000 the Nacionalistas divided on the question of how the party should be rule and manage legislative affairs. Our history paints this election as a crucial one, and it was, but it is interesting to note that what would be the most fiercely contested election of the day only inspired 685,000 qualified voters to actually cast their ballots — not a resounding endorsement of elections, the issues, or the parties. To the lower house were elected 33 Colectivista (former Nacionalistas), 22 Nacionalistas, and 25 Democratas.
Even more interesting is the difference between the party figures above, and the numbers that actually declared their party affiliations when they filed their candidacies: 23 Colectivista, 24 Nacionalistas, 26 Democrata, and 10 Independents. By the day they took their office, the independents had become instant Colectivistas.
The Nacionalistas preferred to reunite with the Colectevistas, creating the Partido Nacionalista Consolidado; the first of two historic chances to create a genuine two-party system was lost (even the Americans had hoped the Colectivistas and Nacionalistas would evolve into liberal and conservative parties). By 1934, again a watershed year as the electorate divided on the issue of support for, or in rejection of, the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Independence Act, the Nacionalistas divided into pros and antis and the Democratas disbanded; the result in the lower house was an overwhelming victory for the Antis with 70 representatives, and a major defeat for the Pros, with 19 representatives. As one observer put it, having disbanded, the old Democratas, now in the Anti ranks, did better electorally than they ever had as a party. Democrata personalities, allied with Anti, achieved 20 seats.
And in the first national election our country had, in September, 1935, what won was not a party but a coalition of Pros and Antis. There would be no single administration party until 1937. When the fusion of Pro and Anti was approved. The President of the Philippines at the time said the country would not have a strong opposition either in ten or 50 years after independence. The next year had the lower house with 98 seats for the Nacionalistas. That’s 100%. Not a single oppositionist won, and at no other time before, or since, has an administration so dominated the legislature. By 1940, in fact, “Partyless Democracy” was being proposed. It was hooted down by youth leaders and the press, but it was a statement of what had always been.
In 1941, out of a population of 16,952,000 there were 3,000,000 registered voters but only 1,700,000 bothered to vote; they voted in 95 Nacionalistas to the lower house and only 3 oppositionists. The politicians who flourished under this system and mobilized their electorate didn’t disappear with World War II, or even the populism reinvented by Magsaysay; they held on until Macapagal, when it all fell apart.
The elections of 1946, when 6 Democratic alliance, 1 NP congressmen, were not allowed to sit by LP, was a sign of things to come. The party system under fairly strong leaders such as Roxas and Magsaysay, was instinctively a one-party system which believed democracy consisted of factions within the ruling party. Two details, I think, suggest that the electorate has always known this and has been consistently underwhelmed. In 1953, there were 5,603,000 registered voters but only 3,592,244 cast their votes — even in that famous Magsaysay landslide.
Since then, party discipline has been replaced with an even more personalistic, even less party-conscious culture. 1955 saw the invention of “guest candidate” for Senatorial election; 1957, the first plurality president; with Macapagal in 1961, the second president elected since 1946 without a majority in House (Magsaysay in 1953, Marcos again in 1965), and so party-raiding ensued, a situation repeated by Estrada in 1998 (and similar results, both quickly lost power, unlike the more successful efforts of Magsaysay and Marcos).
Indeed, the secret to political power is, symbolically the Senate but in actuality, the House: it’s noteworthy that in 1922 and 1934, the Colectivists and Antis, respectively, lost in terms of those elected to the Senate, but did strongly in the House. Thus, while the Osmena faction of the NP did well in the Senate races for those years, it lost the political struggle both times.
In 1965 the Party of Philippine Progress under Manahan-Manglapus (harking to Magsaysay plan for 1957) was formed, the suicidal precursor of all reformist mainstream parties like Reporma, Promdi, and Aksyon; in 1969, Macapagal imported Genaro Magsaysay to try to deadlock convention and have himself nominated as candidate and the result was Serging Osmena, who inadvertently helped ensure Marcos won a 2nd term. In 1972 Marcos padlocked Congress, recreated it in 1978 as a unicameral national assembly, with majorities (151 KBL to 16 opposition in 1978, 123 KBL to 60 opposition in 1984) similar to Cory Aquino’s in the reestablished House in 1987: 149 administration-allied congressmen to 49 oppositionists then; a figure that has endured to this day.
In sum, we have had one party government for a century, and let no one tell you otherwise.
The dominance of the Nacionalistas from 1907 to 1941 (and 1945 if you include the Kalibapi which was the same Nacionalistas but wearing a Japanese-imposed collar), and the stranglehold administration parties (though changing in names but not composition) from the KBL in 1978 to the present administration alliance in the House (approaching 30 years in duration) rivals the hold on power of the Kuomintang in China then Taiwan, of the Chinese and Vietnamese Communist parties, the LDP in Japan, UNMO in Malaysia, possibly even Golkar in Indonesia. The period of one party rule would be more complete had Roxas and Magsaysay lived. Both were almost certain to have been reelected to a second term; Magsaysay in particular, at the time of his death, was poised to create his own super-party which would have rivaled the prewar Nacionalistas.
To look at Asian parties, particularly Japan’s LDP and Malaysia’s UNMO, and the squabbling among the factions comprising their leadership, is to see familiar political and party dynamics. What ideology do they possess, beyond the behind the scenes squabbling for the pork barrel in the case of Japan, and the same in Malaysia? None — they do not, state ideologies on paper notwithstanding. In the 60 years of Japan’s postwar history, only one Prime Minister, Koizumi, has even tried to wean the politicians off the pork barrel. When Mahathir gave way to Badawi, patronage dictated that Mahathir is now as politically inconsequential as Fidel V. Ramos.
For Filipinos who whine about foreign-imposed political systems, Japan and Malaysia are perfect reminders that our neighbors have all had such systems imposed on them to one degree or another; and all, like us, have mutated those systems so that their veneer of Western familiarity disguises the thoroughly Asian manner in which they are run. Just as our parties are run. If there is an Asian PoliticalValue, that is the one party state: comprised of internal factions. The Philippine contribution to this has been the ad hoc coalition, which has characterized nearly every popularly-elected administration since the first one in 1935.
Population figures from historical demographic data of the whole country.
– 1907-1933 Dapen Liang, Philippine Political Parties (1937 edition)
– 1933 Liang (1937) p.229
– 1935-1971 Dapen Liang, Philippine Political Parties (1971 edition);
also IPER, “History of Philippine Elections” at
– 1969: Liang (1971), p. 439 n.225; Julio Teehangkee, “Electoral Politics in the Philippines” (table 3)
– 1971: Arturo Tolentino, Voice of Dissent pp. 455-456, p. 461
– 1978 Bonner, Waltzing with a Dictator, p. 165;
Thompson, The Anti Marcos Struggle, p.171
– 1984: http://www2.mbc.com.ph/cgi-bin/mbc/loadspeech.cgi?speechId=1&speakerId=122
– 1987-1992 http://psephos.adam-carr.net/countries/p/philippines/
Thompson, p. 171
– 1998: CIA World Factbook (2001)
– 2001, 2004: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippine_general_election%2C_2004,
CIA World Factbook (2003, 2005),
Julio Teehangkee, “Consoldiation or Crisis of Clientlist Democracy”
Two of the papers I consulted for this were by Julio Teehangkee:
Electoral Politics in the Philippines, which, among other things, helped underscore that there are two “lost elections” in Philippine history. Those of November, 1941, and of November, 1971.
Consolidation or Crisis of Clientelist Democracy, which is an extremely detailed analysis of the 2004 elections and what they reveal about Philippine democracy’s degeneration.
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