On Edsa day, Mark Thompson appeared on ANC and expressed the opinion that Edsa failed to create strong institutions and an efficient political system. What struck me about his interview was not his observation about the actual formal institutions per se, but other ones, specifically what passes for political parties in our neck of the woods.
This was because of an opinion piece about former vice president Joe Biden’s prospects for 2020, and how Barack Obama, according to insiders, regrets having anointed Hillary Clinton as his successor. In retrospect, Obama apparently feels he should have allowed Clinton, Biden and Bernie Sanders to really duke it out in the Democratic Party’s primaries, instead of convincing Biden not to throw his hat in the ring.
Back in 2010, I had the opportunity to participate in a roundtable with Mark Thompson in Berlin where he suggested there is a division, or cleavage, of political movements and attitudes along two lines: populism and reformism. To quickly sketch things out in terms of personalities, Marcos and Estrada were populists; Ramos and the Aquinos were reformists. This aligns with my belief that, since martial law, there have really been only two coalitions competing for votes, and the result in presidential years owes its outcomes to which coalition fragments less than the other.
In 1992, the Edsa coalition broke up five ways, based on the candidates. The opponents of Edsa divided along two candidacies. In the noise and excitement over Miriam Defensor Santiago’s accusations against Fidel Ramos, people overlooked a disturbing reality: The combined votes of Danding Cojuangco and Imelda Marcos (18.7 percent and 10.32 percent respectively, or 29 percent give or take in total) would have defeated the strongest candidate of the Edsa forces, Ramos, who obtained 23.58 percent. A Marcos machine restoration, just six years after Edsa, was only narrowly averted.
The Marcos loyalist forces in many ways overlap with the fan base of the winner in the next presidential election, Joseph Ejercito Estrada in 1998. The non-Edsa forces combined more effectively than the Edsa groups, which continued to splinter. Estrada’s mandate of 39.86 percent was basically equivalent to the next top three candidates (Jose de Venecia Jr.’s 15.87 percent, Raul Roco’s 13.83 percent and Emilio Osmeña’s 12.44 percent). My colleague John Nery has pointed out that the single politician who might have put up not only a good fight but also quite possibly defeated him was Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who opted to take a less risky route to the presidency, running successfully for vice president.
The 2004 elections could have been convincingly won in turn by Arroyo if the Edsa Dos forces hadn’t split: Roco shaved off 6.45 percent and Eddie Villanueva 6.16 percent, when the official winning margin ended up a razor-thin 4 percent or so. Put another way, Fernando Poe Jr. might have made it if Lacson had not split the opposition, shaving off 10.88 percent.
In 2010, in many respects, large portions of the old Edsa coalition and of Edsa Dos combined in the candidacy of Benigno Aquino III (the vote was split only in terms of the vice presidency, between Roxas and Binay), while the parts that split off from them backed Villar. But Estrada, it could be argued, split the populist vote.
If 1992 was the first post-Edsa presidential race of the post-Edsa era, then 2016 can be considered the last.
And here comes the great failure, where the official rules — a multiparty system, in our case, with no run-off elections —combine with the behavior of those competing under the rules. In 1992, the first post-Edsa national contest, what went undetected was how resilient the Marcos machine proved to be, only losing because it was split. When it combined, it was unbeatable: Estrada obtained, in 1998, a plurality unmatched until Aquino III in 2010. And Aquino proved, in turn, the strength of the Edsa coalition (1986 and 2001 branches); his 42-percent plurality remains unbeaten. But, in turn, when the 2010 coalition split, it proved its vulnerability to the recombined Marcos-Estrada-Arroyo coalition.
The Edsa era began and ended on the failure of its different groups to figure out an orderly, democratic, nontop-heavy way to resolve leadership questions. In 1992, Ramon Mitra won the right to run for president by every standard political measure: experience and party leadership ratified in a convention. Ramos, for his part, bolted the convention, which proved to be the final nail in the coffin of party politics as a group and not just factional activity.
By 2010, the Aquino administration had no means to mobilize and enforce a consensus as to who could lead its coalition. It could not solve the basic question of who could compete for group allegiance, splintering instead on a factional basis. The same dilemma will face the current leadership, which is why the failure is systemic.