Assessing political parties

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.

Chart Data:
Population figures from historical demographic data of the whole country.

Election results:
– 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:
– 1987-1992
Thompson, p. 171
– 1998: CIA World Factbook (2001)
– 2001, 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
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 Clientelistic Democracy
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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Manuel L. Quezon III.

15 thoughts on “Assessing political parties

  1. 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

    That’s fair enough for the LDP factions, but I don’t think it is correct for UMNO. What about the Malaysia’s New Economic Policy (NEP), one of the most ambitious and far reaching affirmative action programmes in the world? The NEP was very ideologically driven – its goal was nothing less than the restructuring of the entire economy along ethnic lines.

    I agree that there has always been corruption within UMNO and jockeying for power. No doubt some UMNO politicians are opportunists, but you could say that of any political party.

    To look at this another way, take Mahathir. He never spent time anxiously “assessing” the way the wind was blowing. In his pigheaded and obstinate way he was prepared to drag his countrymen into the 21st century whether they liked it or not. He was not only a practical politician but a pure ideologue. His book The Malay Dilemma (for which he was jailed in the 1970s) laid out very clearly the path he would take as prime minister. The Asia that can say No, which he co-wrote with controversial Japanese rightist Shintaro Ishiharo, translated these ideas onto a regional canvas by promoting the idea of “Asian values”. In his finest hour, Mahathir was prepared to back his idea of how Malaysia should escape the 1997/98 financial crisis by rejecting the IMF’s recovery package in favor of one of his own – a brave and wise move that enabled Malaysa to recover from the crisis more quickly than most of its neighbours. During his 22 years as prime minister he fashioned UMNO into a radical reformist party that carried out a far-reaching programme that changed Malaysia from an economic backwater to one of the symbols of a resurgent Asia.

  2. Torn,

    “In his finest hour, Mahathir was prepared to back his idea of how Malaysia should escape the 1997/98 financial crisis by rejecting the IMF’s recovery package in favor of one of his own – a brave and wise move that enabled Malaysa to recover from the crisis more quickly than most of its neighbours.”

    Agree completely and without reservation.

    When anti-Mahathirs go around talking about corruption in UMNO, what they failed to realize is that the so called corruption money was pumped back into the national industries, which were admittedly headed by UMNO members, but the money was not “laundered” as such for the benefit of the few as the practice in other countries in the region. The funds were used to grease the wheels of the national economy for the Malaysian people.

    They were used for various economic launching pads to build infrastructure, modernize the health care system, boost national defence, create jobs, enhance education, re-enforce peace and order, and a lot more.

    Mahathir built an independent, wealthy, proud Malaysia.

    Nowhere else in Asia was so-called corruption money been put to good use for the people than in Malaysia.

  3. One should compare Malaysia with other succesful countries, specially those that tackled corruption. Then you will see the cost of UMNO’s corruption. It’s easy to let corruption in Malaysia slide because it is difficult, if not impossible, to measure “lost opportunities”.

    But look at Singapore. No natural resources. not enough land and a lot of people from the same three ethnic groups found in Malaysia. When Singapore was thrown out of Malaysia by Umno led Barisan, its survival as a country was iffy. Look where it is now. I think it got there because it is relatively corruption free . Policies and regulations were adopted and implemented without kickbacks or captured constituencies as primary consideration.

    Malaysia and South Korea entered car manufacturing at about the same time. Compare South Korea’s car industry with Malaysia’s. Korean cars are being sold globally. How many people outside of Malaysia own Protons and Peroduas?

    To put the whole issue of corruption in very simple terms – UMNO built, let’s say ,10,000 kms. of roads. If it weren’t so corrupt they could have easily built 20, 30 or 40 thousand, depending on the percentage of leakage in that country.But ike I said, those missed kilometers are hard to measure.

    We are seeing the results of NEP now. Malays have grown up feeling entitled. Indians and Chinese grew up as second class citizens. Thanks to NEP the races are as divided, if not more so, than during the race riots in the late sixties.

    Malaysia with less than 30 million people and more land and natural resources than they can shake a stick at can certainly afford to waste money and resources to UMNO’s corruption.

  4. MB,

    Mahathir has done more for Malaysia than all Philippine presidents ever did put together for the Philippines.

    That is actually the bottom line.

    He had the courage, the guts to say “no” to the US meddling through Anwar.

  5. MB, the corruption of UMNO that is being flaunted about is realistically a trickle compare to the benefits the country and the people amassed.

    I am not saying that corruption is good or bad but this is a fact.

    I believe I’ve already told you in some earlier posting that during Mahathir’s rein, there was a ceiling of, let’s put it bluntly “bribe” for UMNO which was symbolic – nowhere near the level practised in other countries in the region. The bulk of the funds received by UMNO had to be pumped right back into industry and for buying technology.

    Obviously, compared to Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew, Mahathir may pale a bit but Mahathir, as I’ve always said, was good for his people.

    We mustn’t forget that he had the decency to retire when it was time to do it.

  6. MB,

    I am perhaps being finicky with regards criticism of Mahathir but unless you’ve lived for some time in Malaysia when he was PM, saying “Thanks to NEP the races are as divided, if not more so, than during the race riots in the late sixties.”, I’d say, is stretching it a bit.

  7. BREAKING NEWS…Coup d’etat in Bangkok while Thai Prime Minister is in New York addressing the United Nations!

  8. Mlq,

    Parang nasayang yun analysis ng victory ni Gloria. The author identified Arroyo’s strategy correctly but his assessment of its effectivity falls because the election was rigged.

    However, one might say, in retrospect, that Arroyo’s entire election strategy was to conduct a campaign were she would be within a credible cheating distance from Poe. I believe this was the lesson learned from JDV’s defeat.

    One cannot engage in dagdag-bawas if there is no contest to begin with, as was the case between Erap and JDV.

    If you will recall, there were allegations of survey manipulation in 2004, where GMA had advance info on where pollsters where going to go next. Rresources where poured into those survey target areas in order to influence survey subjects. This allegations was never proven beyond doubt but it gives an indication of the importance Arroyo’s campaign gave to creating the perception of a close contest.

    My comclusion based on the author’s analysis departs from his because he saw Arroyo’s strategy as the reason for her narrow victorywhereas I saw the same strategy as laying the foundation for credible cheating

  9. Ana,

    I lived in Malaysia. from the election right after Anwar’s sacking through Mahathir’s resignation until past the last election where Badawi was able to recover the Malay constituency that Mahathir lost as a result of his split with Anwar.

    On the price of corruption – Mahathir went on an infrastructure spree duing the mid-nineties, highways, bridges, rails etc. But many of them were not built well, For example, he elevated portion of the highway that goes through Batu caves on the way to Genting is now closed because cracks started to appear and those cracks were attributed to inferior construction materials? We’re talking of a highway that cost hundreds of millions.

    No doubt Mahathir helped Malaysians and Malays. And even the IMF had to admit that Mahathir was correct not following the IMF formula.But it is also undeniable that crony capitalism has prevented Malaysia from achieving its fullest potential.

    Also, peninsular Malaysia’s growth is centered in KL, Penang, Johor (because of its proximity to Singapore) and Ipo to a very much lesser extent. A lot of money is now being poured into Sabah, around KK, because Barisan wants to make sure that Sabah secessionist sentiments never flare up again,

    After Mahathir left, the country looked very good. It semed to have recovered well from the economic crisis. But, Badawi began cancelling infrastructure projects because he said government had no money. Businesses that depended on government contracts began to suffer.

    There was and is still a construction boom in Juala Lumur and Penang when I left but this was private sector driven and it was concentrated on luxury condos, office towers and new developments. And now builders are predicting a glut in rentable space.

    It’s not easy to make a balanced assessment of Malaysia because, as you know very well from having lived there yourself, the government is not transparent. If you want to know whagoing on you have to hang out at the polo clubs, Royal Selangor and the other clubs and hotels and other watering holes of the powerful. What you get is gossip about politics and business. But that’s the closest one can get to real news in Malaysia and at least it comes from the horses themselves. For example, the rumors about Badawi’s son in law have been going around KL and Penang for a long time. What Mahathir is now saying publicly only confirmsthose those rumors.

    What I’m trying to say is, in my first couple of years in KL, I believed that what I was seeing, the surface, was the real deal. When I finally got to get around, and you know that Malaysians don’t take people in their confidence as easy as Filipinos do, I began to see that graft and corruption in Malaysia, cronyism,is just as endemic as it is here. And like,Malaysia gets away with it because it is fabulously rich in natural resources and very underpopulated. In short, there is enough for everyone even after UNMO and cronies have taken their cut. So I measure Malatsia in terms of opportunities lost because of corruption instead of in terms of gains nade despite corruption.

  10. Perhaps, MB, if one were to judge Mahathir’s rein in terms of a real yardstick with which to measure overall success, then I would agree with your statement, “So I measure Malatsia in terms of opportunities lost because of corruption instead of in terms of gains nade despite corruption.”

    But we certainly cannot deny that Malaysia under Mahathir and even after Mahathir could boast that they had done much better, a lot better for their people than many other countries in the region which till today are still striving to reach half their potential, eg Philippines, Indonesia, Myanmar and even perhaps, Thailand with its infant democracy already being throttled.

  11. But you can perhaps answer this: Coould Malaysia have achieved the same economic prosperity and modernization that it has achieved these last 10-15 years without Mahathir?

    To me, what makes Mahathir singularly effective as a leader is that he managed to pull Malaysia together, despite the “corruption” proliferated within UMNO.

    It is as you say difficult to make a balanced assessment of Malaysia even today, even with Mahathir gone. The one true apprehension of Europeans is will Malaysia be able to keep those relative gains today with Mahathir gone?

  12. Very interesting points from both Anna and MB, but I think the original point in Manolo’s piece and my original comment was not whether or not UMNO has been good for Malaysia (and I agree that the verdict must be mixed — or indeed impossible to arrive at, as MB says in a point on the secrecy of Malaysia that I completely agree with).

    However, the point is whether UMNO is a reasonable point of comparison for political parties in the Philippines. My argument was that it is not, as it is an ideologically-driven party dedicated to an interventionist agenda (as opposed to the balimbing, opportunistic groupings that characterize Philippine parties).

  13. i suppose one would have to see if unmo is indeed ideologically-driven. no doubt mahathir was, and is. his political skills reflect the kind of malay strongman that you could say marcos, magsaysay, roxas, etc. were.

    my point was that in the philippines, we have a one party history. regardless of whatever the parties called themselves and renamed themselves. we formalize our factions unlike say, the japanese or even the malays who keep the factions under the bigger single-party tent -which you could say was also our habit from the early 1900s to the war, and revived again in the 70s though the revival could have taken place sooner, had roxas and magsaysay lived. which indicates to me, by broad analogy, that the malaysians are headed in that direction, only we’ve had sixty year’s head start.

    mahathir may be a visionary, but what if his vision is the parsley while the rest of the party goes along with it to get a piece of the roast?

  14. M,

    Thanks for posting my articles but please correct the spelling of my name. Its Julio Teehankee not Teehangkee.



  15. tom,

    UMNOis not a reasonable point of comparison because Phil political parties have not articulated any idology. UMNO does. Whether it walks the talk is a matter for debate but at least it professes a certain ideological outlook that is markedly different from PAS, DAP and REFORMA

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