The Long View Evolution of elections

The Long View
Evolution of elections
By Manuel L. Quezon III
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 22:27:00 03/28/2010

FROM the first post-Edsa Presidential election in 1992, to the present, we’ve made a transition from the retail campaigns of the past to the wholesale media politics of the present. If the 1940s and 1950s witnessed the transition from the era when politicians slowly climbed the political party ladder and relied on local leaders to deliver the votes, to a time when the jingle, media exposure and populism gained the upper hand, it was still a time when the personal touch reigned supreme.

Magsaysay heralded the crumbling of the party system and leadership by seniority borne on the shoulders of entrenched local leaders. But those scrambling to be his heirs took things even further: Macapagal barnstormed the country, trying to shake the hand of every voter; Aquino and Marcos helicopter-hopped their way around the country. And as with all transitions for much of this time the old coexisted with the new. The Last Hurrah of the old parties was the 1969 election and then martial law put in place something new that was old at the same time.

Marcos was a man of his generation: his political ideas had jelled during his student days and the Japanese Occupation: the era of the one-party state, of the cozy and obedient relationship between provincial barons and the national leadership, and which was more inclined to flirt with concepts like Bushido rather than Jeffersonian democracy. The controlled campaigns of the New Society were plebiscites rather than elections, yet the collapse of the dictatorship saw the first flowering of mass media, and even technology (and distrust of it) in the truly modern sense. Both proved double-edged swords then, as now; tools for the party in power yet susceptible to undermining the carefully crafted messaging and machinery of the political pros.

The 1992 and 1998 campaigns witnessed another transition, from the Marcos-style big machine politics and the majority-oriented elections from 1935 to 1986 to the more chaotic, minority-takes-all multiparty system we have today. Candidates increasingly discovered that the population had gotten so immense as to make it impossible to pursue a 1960s-style barrio-to-barrio campaign: you could never shake enough voters’ hands to compete with the power of advertising to deliver a message to a gigantic electorate. Yet again, the old continued to coexist with the new; if ballot-stuffing proved increasingly inefficient, manipulating the results by means of accounting tricks was only limited in its effect by candidates being able to maintain a cheat-proof lead.

The 2004 and 2010 elections (in a sense) have restored the old one-on-one nature of the presidential elections with the lesser candidates serving as strategic obstacles to the main contenders: the politics of addition coexisting with the politics of subtraction. In 2004 the administration found itself handicapped by competition on the local level between its coalition partners while the opposition was, itself, divided and clung to old-style populism. In 2010 we are seeing three contending strategies. The administration has machinery, but is saddled with the President’s kiss of death, nationally speaking; the Villar campaign has pursued matters along the line of a corporation, with professional industry managers calling the shots, keeping the traditional politicians at arms’ length. All modern media methods have been used, and resources massively deployed, along the lines of targeting what the campaign believes will not only attract the most voters, but build an impression of inevitability – the bandwagon attempt.

The Villar campaign succeeded in achieving the critical 25-percent rating threshold conventional wisdom held as determining the front-runner. But it did so in August, just when the political landscape changed with the death of Cory Aquino. It deployed its resources to saturate the airwaves in the pre-campaign season, achieving, at one point, near-parity with the leading contender. But it has somehow failed to overtake the leading contender and if the coming polls continue their trend, the gap is once again widening just when electoral rules are limiting the ability of the Villar machine to pour money into the airwaves.

The Aquino campaign, on the other hand, has tried to build a wide-ranging coalition where traditionalists at times unhappily coexist with NGOs. And so, at times, the focus is on the provincial stump and then on the media war: with the Internet becoming a factor for the first time, though perhaps purely in a negative sense for all candidates. While Villar has the Nacionalista Party as a kind of façade disguising the corporate structure of his campaign, the Liberal Party has traditionalists and reformists in uneasy partnership within its own ranks, eyed skeptically by outsiders who themselves distrust the media-centric nature of campaigns today. At the same time, handicapped by a lack of resources and a scrupulous regard for the rules, it could not, would not, and so didn’t, engage in carpet bombing by means of media prior to the official campaign: and focused on the old-fashioned, exhausting, plaza-to-plaza campaigning that invigorates politicians but is no longer the favored means for getting to know candidates for voters.

Where nothing has changed is election day: it will be a battle of getting one’s voters to vote while other voters face disqualification, terrorism, bribery and other means to prevent their voting. Then comes the usual chicanery in the counting, aided by power failures and harassment along the way: as the two leading candidates are now experiencing at the hands of the Comelec. Both have lawyers aplenty to ensure they adhere to the already-generous ad limits. Alleging they’ve exceeded it is the politics of subtraction: to instill doubt in voters that their candidate follows laws the administration creatively disobeys.

SWS and BusinessWorld released, today, the latest (March 19-22) survey results for the presidential and vice-presidential derby. Additional background readings can be found in my articles, The Road to Edsa (1996), Men of the year, 2000, and The May Day Rebellion, as well as  Elections are Like Water and Perception is King (2004), An Abnormal Return to Normality and The Perpetual Avoidance of Opportunity, Marcos in Retrospect (2) and The machinery’s in place (2007) In this corner, The possibility of a Majority, A Tandem for Democracy, (2009) What’s at Stake in the Senate Race , The battle for the Arroyo babies, and Errors in Judgment (2010); and John Nery’s articles, The 2010 Race is Set, The Vice-Presidency is Subtraction, An Agenda Waiting for a President, A History Lesson for Chiz, and Nick Joaquin’s Ayos na ang Buto-Buto (1963), Napoleon Rama’s Ferdinand E. Marcos, Man of the Year, 1965, and Teodoro L. Locsin’s Jr.’s Benigno S. Aquino, Jr. Man of the Year, 1971.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

21 thoughts on “The Long View Evolution of elections

  1. We always copy the worst traits from our colonial masters, and that includes our practice of democracy. We copied very well the circus atmosphere and the ward politics of our American masters. But we have not scratched profoundly enough beyond the surface to go into the deeper struggle of ideas that could capture the imagination and the spirit of the nation. While Americans are now experiencing a somewhat cathartic struggle between more government intervention and regulation, and more individual rights and freedoms which, at this point, is seriously dividing their country, our politics doesn’t go far beyond an endless back and forth which primarily consists of the pot calling the kettle black.

  2. That is an indictment of our brand of education, as well as our understanding of our history. Of course, there will always be that what if in terms of American intervention at the end of the 19th century. We were a nascent republic founded on democratic ideas, that were internally generated as opposed to externally applied. The Americans hold their Founding Fathers in great regard. We on the other hand, barely have an understanding of the ideas our Founding Fathers professed in trying to build the Philippine nation-state.

    The UNESCO Policy Recommendations that were released today to each of the candidates has a section in them concerning drawing strength from culture and history and applying them in sustainable development frameworks. Hopefully, the candidates will understand them and, whoever wins, will apply them in their policy formations.

    The end goal would be to develop that kind of nation where ideological arguments can capture the imagination, as you say.

  3. “The end goal would be to develop that kind of nation where ideological arguments can capture the imagination”

    Yes, indeed. Instead of the cyclical seasons of bread and circus. While the masses may be partly to blame, because they are ignorant and can easily be manipulated, I lay the larger blame on our elite, because they should be more noble enlightened. And should set a better example.

  4. It is tempting to say that Pinoys in Pinas have not matured, but that is not so. A large chunk — over 15% of the 25-years-and-older age group — have learned to take charge of their financial future with a single action. Leaving Pilipinas despite the risks and separation pains for a job overseas.

  5. I don’t think a correlation can be made between the educational, social and political maturity of the Filipino and the OFW phenomena.

  6. Look again and understand NoyNoy’s educational program proposals. The direction is straightforward — to prepare more Filipinos to compete, not for the simple jobs of the simple economy of Pilipinas but for jobs overseas where the competition is more heavy-duty. Watch him to quickly parrot GMA’s proposals, e.g. strengthening the English-comprehension skills of Filipino labor.

  7. How do Noynoy’s educational proposals relate to your initially erroneous statement?

    Truly impressive machinations there.

  8. he OFW phenomenon began during the colonial era, particularly when the U.S. was hiring Filipinos on a large scale for their sugarcane plantations and fruit orchards in Hawaii and California.

    But it was during the Marcos era when it was institutionalized as an economic strategy. Marcos, through Blas Ople et al., created the structures which facilitated and energized the OFW phenomenon. It has flourished, and is now a cornerstone of our economy. Without a doubt,it is the most successful economic program any administration has carried out, transcending economics, and becoming a social and cultural phenomenon as well.

    Unfortunately, because subsequent administrations were bankrupt of ideas and could not come up with innovative policies that could wean our economy away from OFW remittances, we have become overly reliant on a one-trick pony. This is unhealthy and dangerous, and giving our country more economic and social options should be the priority of any future administration.

  9. The direction is straightforward — to prepare more Filipinos to compete, not for the simple jobs of the simple economy of Pilipinas but for jobs overseas where the competition is more heavy-duty.

    A Carl Cid pointed out, the OFW phenomenon dates way back before Arroyo, to Marcos’ time…If an idea is good, why not develop it further, even if that idea belonged to a former administration, if its good for the people/country, by all means improve on it, don’t kill it.

    I believe OFWs (myself included) are not as narrow minded (greener pastures) as most would believe, its just that our dreams are shining in distant shores, our view of life goes beyond the confines of the country, some people are happy and fulfilled working here and some are following the beats of a different, distant drummer. Being an OFW demands discipline, imagination, and humor, its another calling, then again, many are called (or wish to be called) but few are chosen, eventually…We go out of the country but then again we never cut the umbilical cord as most give back to the mother land, hopefully this reversal of nourishment flow will result to a better, more equipped younger generation and we’ll see something better. All of us have our own roles to play, we just make the most of the whatever hand this life deals us…the way I see it, the generations get better and better every time, I never look back at “good old days” there is no time like today…

    I wish each president has the wisdom to appreciate the good (not just see the bad) of former administrations and develop them further, that way they don’t have to reinvent the wheel.
    Lets face it, each president has brought something good during his term (though I can’t say for sure with Erap)….

  10. wow! ramrod, i believe this is the very best comment i heard from you!

    On Erap I think, the best think about his administration is his impeachment itself and his going to jail.It showed that we can really get to get back to our President.

    Although GMA, was just TOO SMART to evade it.

  11. In truth, the Philippines was exporting labor even during the Spanish era. A number of Filipinos were seafarers (they would man the galleons) and would settle in places as far flung as Africa. Guerrero province in Mexico is dominated by Filipino descendants.

    But, it was only during ML and post-ML that their labor was leveraged for domestic economic gain. I hope that the next administration will give more support, connect with and look after the diaspora (OFWs included). A country like the Basque country, who has more people in the diaspora than in the homeland, have been able to effectively work with their diaspora for mutual benefit. The Philippine diaspora is an incredible source of economic and social benefit, that remains very much untapped. The Philippine government has a responsibility to look after its citizens around the world. But it would be even better if we can figure out how to get those who have left to become more involved back home.

    I agree with Carl that a centerpiece of the next administration (whomever it may be) must focus on developing local industry and creating new job opportunities – through education, infrastructure development, agriculture redevelopment, entrepreneurial programs etc. The solution is to give those who would go overseas a domestic option – if they would choose to use it. Options are good.

    For example, I know from personal experience that many nurses and doctors have been going overseas, not necessarily because of the higher pay, but because our healthcare system is so backward that there just aren’t any jobs out there for them. And what are available are low-paying just because of the competition. Essentially, the best nurses and doctors go overseas because of a lack of domestic jobs. While our population here (especially on the low-end of the socio-economic spectrum) suffers from a lack of access to responsible healthcare. Healthcare is one of the core industries that needs to be drastically overhauled.

  12. Returning briefly to May2010 elections, who of the presidentiables are offering a credible plan (not just slogans) about :

    …that a centerpiece of the next administration (whomever it may be) must focus on developing local industry and creating new job opportunities – through education, infrastructure development, agriculture redevelopment, entrepreneurial programs etc.

    More and more Filipinos are not waiting, fully aware that “taking matter into one’s hands // OFW-the-program” as an alternative solution to their personal goals.

  13. While the Philippines may have been sending its own people around the world for centuries, it was done on a large scale beginning with the American era. It continued on a largely informal and unorganized manner until Ferdinand Marcos formalized and institutionalized the export of Philippine manpower with the creation of POEA in 1982. Since then, labor has become our principal export and primary natural resource.

    While many good things can be said about the OFW phenomenon, we need to develop other industries and not be too dependent on primarily one industry. One of the dangers of too much reliance on OFW remittances to prop up our economy is developing a malady called the “Dutch Disease”. The Dutch Disease was a term used to describe the decline of the manufacturing sector in the Netherlands following the discovery of a large natural gas field in 1959. It is a concept that explains the theory that an increase in revenues from natural resources will “de-industrialize” a nation’s economy by raising the exchange rate, which makes the manufacturing sector less competitive and public services entangled with business interests.

    In the Philippine setting, the natural resource generating the increased revenues is the export of labor.

    To a certain degree, this also happened in the island nation of Nauru, where the economy became too dependent on the export of phosphates and did not develop other industries. When the phosphates ran out, the economy collapsed.

    When we have an increase in dollar supplies, which are not earned via increased manufacturing or production, nor via government or private sector investments, there will be a tendency for our leaders to squander government money and to go on borrowing binges, both locally and abroad. This is because they will be confident that foreign exchange remittances will provide enough reserves to pay our debts.

    One sign that we are being afflicted with the Dutch Disease is that our Philippine currency has been appreciating, despite unspectacular growth in production and the economy. The strengthening of the Peso may sound like good news to some of us, but it will ultimately backfire, because OFW’s will get less Pesos for their remittances. It will seem like a pay cut, or an added tax, on them. And our local industries will become even less competitive, because the strong Peso will drive up their costs and make their products more expensive. There will be even less incentive to produce and the tendency would be to simply import finished products, which other countries can produce at lower prices.

    Having an artificially strong currency elates our leaders because it seems to keep inflation at bay and seems to make our economy look strong. But it’s like consuming junk food. It tastes good and it’s so convenient. But, ultimately, we become obese and complacent, and it takes a toll on our health.

  14. Looks like Arroyos plan is already happening.

    First, she run in her Pampanga district.

    Second, she has a strong presidential candidate when the Garcias of Cebu lately threw support behind Manny Villar per instruction of the First Gentleman.

  15. “One sign that we are being afflicted with the Dutch Disease is that our Philippine currency has been appreciating.”

    It is not necessarily bad. Even the export industry which is traditionally affected by strong currency is on the rebound. According to BSP Governor, the book to bill ratio (order now deliver later) has increased. Strong currency did not stunt demand for BPO services. Per Tentangco, the BPO industry is poised to grow due to strong demand for back office, engineering and financial services.

    There is also the incentive to allocate more for local consumption to offset losses on export prices, which in turn help push prices and inflation down. But the advantage of strong peso is for the local industry to pay-off foreign denominated loans and go for expansion. Now is the time to rehabilitate those expensive equipment in the energy sector and develop excess capacity for the future which is currently lacking due to hydroelectric shortfall.

  16. Given our track record, most of the benefits of a strong peso will go to consumption and to money salted abroad. Not to investments. This has always been the case in the past and, unless there are circumstances that make investing locally overwhelmingly attractive, is bound to happen again.

    Speaking of the BPO industry, this saw its fruition under the present administration. In the years ahead, it will probably cite this as a feather in its cap. It’s certainly been the most promising and exciting industry to come along since the garments and electronics boom during the mid to late ’90’s.

    While the prospects for BPO are bright, the jury is still out on how profound a stimulus this will be for our economy. Unlike the OFW phenomenon, BPO has still to be tested by time, even if it did come through the Great Recession of 2008-2009 largely unscathed.

  17. Agree with Carl Cid, the country has to come up with better and sustainable ideas to improve local investments and productivity with some degree of urgency. Putting all our eggs in the OFW phenomenon may not work forever…and BPOs may not be enough. I’m quite perplexed though with the free trade agreements we have currently with ASEAN, China, Korea, and Japan with “zero” tariffs on importations as these are killing our local manufacturers. The cost structure of local production is driving prices up thus allowing them to get clobbered by goods coming from other asian countries, and with zero tariff, its quite disastrous…

  18. Pilipinas productivity is poor compared to, well, the world. On low-cost items, Egypt, Vietnam, China and many others are more efficient than Pilipinas. On food production, Egypt, USA, Vietnam, China, Thailand, Canada, France, Australia — the list is HUGE — many countries are more efficient than Pilipinas.

    On high-technology items…. can’t even comment.

    On medium-technology items like shoes and slippers, clothes, car-headlights, rifles and pistols, beer, patis, toyo and pancit noodles, cookies, plastic products, toys… many countries much more efficient than Pilipinas.

    Efficiency has to improve. One way will be to lower the wages. Another way is to increase the productivity (which other countries have addressed by lowering their energy costs, increasing the knowledge-driven productivity of workers, increasing the over-all productivity by bringing in CNC- and other high-technology machines).

    None of the CNC- and high-technology products that USA has sold to China are banned from being sold to Pilipinas. The high-grade Solingen steel sold by Germany to China — available to Pilipinas buyers.

    Intel, Dell, ABB would bring in the high-tech equipment to Pilipinas… except for the fact that Pilipinas productivity is significantly lower than China’s or Thailand.

    Who again of the presidentiables have provided a roadmap to getting Pilipinas productivity to be at least on par with Thailand?

  19. you may wish to read Dr. Isagani Cruz’s views:

    I have to hand it to Noynoy. He is the only presidential candidate that has thought through the problems of education in our country. Even if all the candidates say that they regard the deterioration of public education as the most important and pressing issue to be faced by the new government, none of the others have put forward any kind of education reform program that makes sense.

  20. Most educators I have spoken to regard Senator Aquino’s basic education platform well. I have some quibbles with it, such as the Madaris school within a school (very delicate and I have not come across an example where this works) and his alternate stream of technical vocation. My view is that it additional vocational classes should be designed as elective-based, but every student should have the same core education encompassing more history/culture/science/math. Curriculums need to be reworked dramatically.

    Also, I would like to see his take on fixing higher education; which is really where a lot of good can happen in terms of re-engineering Philippine society.

    But on the whole; as Dr. Cruz said, he has the best and most well-thought out action plan vis-a-vis education.

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