As the Philippines go down to vote for a new President on May 9, let’s have a look at how democracy functions in the archipelago and what can be expected from the upcoming elections.
The Tough Road to Democracy
Emerging from nearly a century of Colonial rule of the United States of America and then under a brief though extremely brutal Japanese occupation during the Second World War (1939-1945), the Philippines attained independence on June 4, 1946, leading to the establishment of the Republic of Philippines. It established a multiparty democracy based on the Presidential system. However, political functioning did not prove to be a smooth road as the new democracy was rocked by a major challenge, the Hukbalahap Rebellion which was a Communist insurgency that started in 1942 against the Japanese imperial army invasion but soon turned its guns against the democratic government post independence. It was finally put down under the Ramon Magasaysay government in 1954. However, stability could not last long.
Within two decades, democracy faced a major challenge as President Ferdinand Marcos, who was charged with allegations of corruption, declared a martial law as he neared the end of his term in 1972. The Dictatorship was marked with numerous cases of human rights violations and suppression of dissent including the assassination of the opposition leader, Benigno Aquino Jr. Marcos quickly won Presidency again by calling a snap election in 1986 which many claim to have been rigged. This incited a massive popular protest in the form of the People Power Revolution or EDSA Revolution (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue, after the location of the protest), and Marcos was forced to flee with his family to Hawaii. Corazon Aquino, Benigno Aquino Jr.’s widow was elected President.
President Aquino brought several reforms to install democracy. However, the government faced several challenges including economic slowdown, corruption, national debt, attempts of coup d’état by dissatisfied military men, factionalism, Communist insurgency and Moro separatism.
Another major turbulence came in the form of the Second EDSA Revolution which peacefully overthrew the corrupt regime of Joseph Estrada in 2001. The succeeding government of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was also marked by political scandals and corruption but succeeded in attaining economic growth. November 23, 2009 proved to be the Philippines’ worst political massacre as 58 people including 34 journalists who participated in the convoy of Esmael Mangudadatu were killed by the powerful Ampatuan clan in Maguindanao so as to stop the Muslim leader from challenging their monopoly over power by filing his nomination for the governorship.
Arroyo’s government was followed by Benigno Aquino III’s government which pushed for good and transparent governance. Another tragic event occurred in 2015 when 30 officers of the Philippines Special Police were killed in a clash with the separatist group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the remote town of Mamasapano, pointing to the lingering problem of insurgency and separatism.
In 2016, Rodrigo Duterte, former Mayor of Davao City,won the elections and became the President.
The Electoral System
The 1987 Constitution legalises any party which does not endorse violence to compete in elections.
The Presidential and Vice Presidential elections, which are held at an interval of six years, take place on the second Monday of the month of May. While the Presidency is limited to a single term, the Vice President can contest for two consecutive terms. The President and Vice President may be from different parties. The First Past the Post (FPTP) system is followed where the candidate with the highest vote wins, irrespective of whether she/he manages to secure the majority. In case two or more candidates have the same vote share, the Congress decides the winner by a vote.
Half of the Senators run for elections during the Presidential elections and the other half during the midterm elections. All members of the lower house,regional and local officials run for elections every three years. All elected representatives gain a plurality and are directly elected by the people. Voting is compulsory, with all citizens aged 18 or above enjoying the right to vote. Elections are overseen by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC). The new position holders begin their term on June 30.
How is Duterte perceived?
As the outgoing President, Rodrigo Duterte has garnered mixed reactions at home. His loose tongue (controversial remarks on the 1989 Davao hostage crisis; criticism of international leaders such as Barack Obama) as well as mishandling during the Covid Pandemic which saw the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) slide down by 9.5%, its worse since World War II, has drawn much flak not just within the Philippines but also across the world.
His Tax Reforms for Acceleration and Inclusion (TRAIN) was vehemently criticised by left wing groups as ‘anti-Poor’.
Duterte’s pro-China foreign policy has also been heavily criticised. While his “War on Drugs” campaign has been criticised as one of the worst cases of human rights violations and extra judicial killings by human rights activists as well as international organisations including the International Criminal Court which called for an investigation against him, many in the Philippines still support him as a strong leader who dared to launch a campaign against the drug cartels.
A national survey revealed seven major issues which form the crux of the parameters on which the next President is likely to be elected.
Economy and Covid vaccines were cited by 60% and 51% of the respondents respectively as the major issue. Other issues include jobs, education, corruption, poverty and crime.
Manila’s foreign policy towards China might also be taken into consideration with candidates calling out Beijing for claiming the Philippines’ maritime territories in the South China Sea and allegedly harassing its fishermen. Chinese Foreign Minister and State Councillor Wang Yi stated that the Philippines must not let external “disturbance” in the way of its relationship with Beijing. Duterte and Chinese President Xi Jinping are set to interact as Manila is about to conduct a military exercise with the United States which would be its largest in the past seven years. Though the United States has been routinely criticised by Duterte in his “War on drugs” campaign, proximity with Washington has been a major issue among left wing supporters.
Who are the Frontrunners and what do they propose?
Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr., the son of the former dictator Marcos, has his eyes on the Malacañag Palace.
Marcos Jr., who is fighting alongside Davao City mayor and President Duterte’s daughter Sara Duterte-Caprio as his Vice Presidential candidate, has vowed to continue the current President’s policies. While the President, who once called out Marcos Jr. for drug use and described him as a “weak leader” without naming him, has himself not endorsed his candidature, segments of his PDP-Laban Party, which was founded to oppose the Marcos Sr.’s dictatorial role has come in the support of the candidate.
The others in PDP-Laban stand with Manny Pacquiao or ‘PacMan’, the legendary boxer turned Senator, who has vowed to jail corrupt politicians of the Duterte regime. Pacquiao is not just popular for his glorious sports career but also for his rags to riches rise. He has promised to improve healthcare and education, provide housing and secure economic growth. His Vice Presidential candidate is Jose Atienza, former Environment minister and a Congressman.
Pacquiao is not the only celebrity in the race. He would be facing movie heartthrob and current mayor of Manila, Isko Moreno. He has vowed zero tolerance against Chinese maritime aggression and promised to provide labour reforms, infrastructure and healthcare development. His Vice Presidential candidate is Dr. Willie Ong.
Former National Police Chief who as convicted in a murder case but later cleared of the allegations, Panfilo Lacson is also in the contest. He has vowed to support healthcare, small businesses and eradicate corruption. His Vice Presidential candidate is Vicente Sotto, the Senate President and a former comedian.
While Bongbong Marcos seems to be leading, his support has plummeted in favour of former Vice President and Housing Minister, Leni Roberdo. A Human Rights Lawyer, Roberdo quit Duterte’s cabinet after being excluded from meetings and became one of his fiercest critics. She has questioned the “War on Drugs” campaign on grounds of human rights violation. She has vowed to install transparency in the public sector, improve healthcare infrastructure and lead a government that cares about the people. Her Vice Presidential candidate is a lawyer and Senator, Francis Pangilinan. If she wins, Roberdo would be Philippines’ third female President.
A Long Walk to Democratic Consolidation
Democratic Consolidation refers to the maturation process that a new democracy undergoes to the extent that the reversal to authoritarianism becomes impossible. Even though functioning as a multiparty democracy for nearly four decades, the Philippines’ political system retains several flaws.
The London based think tank, Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) has classified the Philippines as a “flawed democracy”, lagging behind many Southeast Asian nations such as Malaysia and Singapore.
Vote splitting due to a number of candidates vouching for the same position often means that an unpopular leader comes to power. Moreover, instability over disagreements and misgovernance occur when the President and the Vice President belong to different political parties.
Both Civil liberty and freedom of expression are poorly preserved. Protests are often quelled and journalists murdered.
Moreover, A study revealed that around 40% of the Filipinos acknowledged to have known someone whose vote was bought by the candidates.
It can only be hoped that whoever wins the upcoming elections conscientiously works to elevate standards of living of the common people by addressing the pressing issues as well as contribute positively to make the Philippines a full-fledged democracy, for democratic consolidation is not an end in itself but a long journey that needs to be taken by the leaders, individual citizens and civil society groups alike.
Will Indonesia Repeat the History of Population Mobility in Borneo?
Borneo is now in the spotlight due to the Indonesian government’s impending massive migration. Since the Indonesian government announced capital relocation plans in 2019, many people have been concerned about their mobility in Borneo. Thousands of civil servants and their families will be relocated to East Kalimantan in the first phase of this massive mobility. This mobility necessitates significant resources, both financial and in-depth consideration because people’s mobility is never an easy problem.
Population mobility in Indonesia is not a new phenomenon, according to historical sequences. Patterns and causes such as poverty, inequality, the role of government, the importance of relationships, and gender disparities all have an impact on this activity. The manifestation of success mobility in society is related to how this aspect is manifested. Furthermore, most people associate mobility with inequality. Individuals and communities are forced to relocate from their homes to places where they can find work or where they are ‘pushed’ to work as a result of inequality. As a result, most population mobility occurs voluntarily in search of a better life. However, in the context of capital relocation, the situation is quite different. People are heavily influenced by the context and location of the receiving area, particularly its political, economic, and socio-cultural aspects, as well as its historical context when they mobilize.
Population Mobility in Indonesian History
The Indonesian government declares transmigration as one of the population distribution policy instruments. Transmigration is regarded as one of the instruments of government policy that can help promote public welfare. Transmigration is another kind of population integration required to support national development. History recounts that transmigration in Indonesia began with the Dutch occupation, specifically during the situation of Indonesian politics in 1905. The government’s worry prompted the start of transmigration in Indonesia. The Dutch colonials observed the island of Java’s high population density.
During the New Order era, Kalimantan was the site of a massive project known as “transmigration.” This project aimed to relocate people from overpopulated islands in order to balance demographic development. Java, Indonesia’s main island, was home to more than 70% of the country’s population. Over the course of two decades, 170 million people from Java, Madura, Lombok, and Bali were relocated. Transmigration has a long history; it began in 1950, replicating a Dutch colonial government program, and was later continued by the Indonesian government after 1945, the year of independence. Previously, transmigration served three purposes: (1) to relocate millions of people from the most densely populated islands such as Java, Bali, and Madura to less densely populated islands, (2) to alleviate poverty by providing land and employment opportunities for Indonesians, and (3) to find other resources in those less densely populated islands. However, this program appears to be a failure. The findings are also supported by the report from Forest Peoples Programme which stated that the transmigration process in the “outer islands,” particularly in Kalimantan, has triggered conflict between transmigrants and indigenous people. The native or indigenous people claimed that the national government provides them with limited access, in contrast to the transmigrants. On the other hand, indigenous people appear to have lacked the adequate infrastructure to support their lives (such as roads, health facilities, schools, etc). On the other hand, land ownership status became very important because indigenous people felt that their indigenous government did not give them their rights and land certificate despite having legal evidence of their land. More than 60% of Kalimantan’s rainforests have been cut down for the transmigration program, causing indigenous people to lose their homes and food sources. Without a doubt, the goal of transmigration threatens the lives of indigenous people. Transmigration enabled landless peasants and homeless people from urban Java to escape. However, by doing so, they destroyed the forest and contributed to environmental degradation in Kalimantan. It can be assumed that the transmigration program has so far failed to alleviate population pressure and poverty in Java. There is opposition to the transmigration program because indigenous people believe it violates their rights. According to the migrants, the transmigration program was only about political tools and power.
The Foresight of Population and Labour Mobility in Borneo
Like the first population mobility in the 1905s, the Indonesian government’s plan to relocate the capital from Jakarta to East Kalimantan has many advantages and disadvantages today. Indigenous peoples, environmental activists, and social scientists are all concerned about the massive plan to transform 200,000 hectares of forest into the country’s new administrative headquarters. This project adds to the existing mining, logging, and oil palm plantation concessions, all of which have had a significant impact on Borneo’s rainforests and forest-dependent communities.
The relocation of the capital could have serious social and economic ramifications for millions of people, particularly Jakarta workers. They don’t know what will happen to them in Kalimantan. Despite the fact that thousands of civil servants and their families will be relocated to East Kalimantan in the first phase of this massive mobility, productive industries that support workers’ lives, such as food and beverage, education, and health services, must not be overlooked in this action. Talking about productive industries entails discussing the labor that went into them. Once they have relocated to a new capital, they should be able to find work or start a new small business. The Indonesian government has not yet prepared for this. Baumann (2016) stated in her book “The Debate about the Consequences of Job Displacement” that workers who have recently relocated to another area (in this case, new capital) are more likely to lose their jobs simply because they have recently begun a new job. These new employment relationships are insecure because they are frequently mismatched and more likely to be terminated prematurely.
To summarize, population mobility is frequently used as a short-term coping strategy rather than an anticipatory adaptation strategy, especially for individuals or households lacking the economic and social capital to relocate. It may also make those moving to new capital more vulnerable. As a result of these factors, the government should devise creative solutions and adequate plans for the people, especially workers. To avoid repeating history and to create a vibrant place in new capital, the government should work with the private sector, civil society organizations, local communities, and academics to develop sustainable infrastructure and basic services, as well as social protection and income-generating opportunities. Finally, massive mobility in Borneo necessitated a more thorough understanding of the need for multi-sectoral and inclusive policies and measures that combined research, planning, design, and capacity building, with a particular emphasis on workers.
Reclaiming our future
The Asia-Pacific region is at a crossroads today – to further breakdown or breakthrough to a greener, better, safer future.
Since the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) was established in 1947, the region has made extraordinary progress, emerging as a pacesetter of global economic growth that has lifted millions out of poverty.
Yet, as ESCAP celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, we find ourselves facing our biggest shared test on the back of cascading and overlapping impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, raging conflicts and the climate crisis.
Few have escaped the effects of the pandemic, with 85 million people pushed back into extreme poverty, millions more losing their jobs or livelihoods, and a generation of children and young people missing precious time for education and training.
As the pandemic surges and ebbs across countries, the world continues to face the grim implications of failing to keep the temperature increase below 1.5°C – and of continuing to degrade the natural environment. Throughout 2021 and 2022, countries across Asia and the Pacific were again battered by a relentless sequence of natural disasters, with climate change increasing their frequency and intensity.
More recently, the rapidly evolving crisis in Ukraine will have wide-ranging socioeconomic impacts, with higher prices for fuel and food increasing food insecurity and hunger across the region.
Rapid economic growth in Asia and the Pacific has come at a heavy price, and the convergence of these three crises have exposed the fault lines in a very short time. Unfortunately, those hardest hit are those with the fewest resources to endure the hardship. This disproportionate pressure on the poor and most vulnerable is deepening and widening inequalities in both income and opportunities.
The situation is critical. Many communities are close to tipping points beyond which it will be impossible to recover. But it is not too late.
The region is dynamic and adaptable.
In this richer yet riskier world, we need more crisis-prepared policies to protect our most vulnerable populations and shift the Asia-Pacific region back on course to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals as the target year of 2030 comes closer — our analysis shows that we are already 35 years behind and will only attain the Goals in 2065.
To do so, we must protect people and the planet, exploit digital opportunities, trade and invest together, raise financial resources and manage our debt.
The first task for governments must be to defend the most vulnerable groups – by strengthening health and universal social protection systems. At the same time, governments, civil society and the private sector should be acting to conserve our precious planet and mitigate and adapt to climate change while defending people from the devastation of natural disasters.
For many measures, governments can exploit technological innovations. Human activities are steadily becoming “digital by default.” To turn the digital divide into a digital dividend, governments should encourage more robust and extensive digital infrastructure and improve access along with the necessary education and training to enhance knowledge-intensive internet use.
Much of the investment for services will rely on sustainable economic growth, fueled by equitable international trade and foreign direct investment (FDI). The region is now the largest source and recipient of global FDI flows, which is especially important in a pandemic recovery environment of fiscal tightness.
While trade links have evolved into a complex noodle bowl of bilateral and regional agreements, there is ample scope to further lower trade and investment transaction costs through simplified procedures, digitalization and climate-smart strategies. Such changes are proving to be profitable business strategies. For example, full digital facilitation could cut average trade costs by more than 13 per cent.
Governments can create sufficient fiscal space to allow for greater investment in sustainable development. Additional financial resources can be raised through progressive tax reforms, innovative financing instruments and more effective debt management. Instruments such as green bonds or sustainability bonds, and arranging debt swaps for development, could have the highest impacts on inclusivity and sustainability.
Significant efforts need to be made to anticipate what lies ahead. In everything we do, we must listen to and work with both young and old, fostering intergenerational solidarity. And women must be at the centre of crisis-prepared policy action.
This week the Commission is expected to agree on a common agenda for sustainable development in Asia and the Pacific, pinning the aspirations of the region on moving forward together by learning from and working with each other.
In the past seven-and-a-half decades, ESCAP has been a vital source of know-how and support for the governments and peoples of Asia and the Pacific. We remain ready to serve in the implementation of this common agenda.
To quote United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “the choices we make, or fail to make today, will shape our future. We will not have this chance again.”
Return of the Marcos and Great-Power Competition
Ferdinand Marcos Jr., more commonly known as “Bongbong,” won an outright majority in the recent presidential election in the Philippines. Son and name-bearer of former Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos paved the way for the country’s most notorious political dynasty’s shocking return to power. In the words of Filipino columnist Benjamin Pimentel, “It’s as if Kylo Ren emerged and the Empire is back in power.”
In announcing his desire to work for all people, Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the world should judge him based on his presidency, not his family’s past.
“To those who voted for Bongbong, and those who did not, it is his promise to be a president for all Filipinos. To seek common ground across political divides, and to work together to unite the nation.” saidVictor Rodriguez, spokesperson for Marcos, in a statement.
However, the pragmatic words seem to have failed to sway the opposition as he faces countless accusations of election irregularities. Their opponents are horrified by Marcos’ brazen attempt to reinvent historical narratives from his family’s era in power. A protest against Marcos was staged by approximately 400 people outside the election commission on 10th May, primarily by students.
Human rights group Karapatan urged Filipinos to reject Marcos’ new presidency, which it sees as a product of lies and disinformation designed “to deodorise the Marcoses’ detestable image”.
HISTORY OF MARCOS: People Power” Uprising
Ferdinand Marcos Jr is not a new name in the Philippines’ political scenario. The “bloodless revolution” of 1986 in the Philippines that ousted the infamous dictator Ferdinand Marcos, was none other than Ferdinand Marcos Jr.’s father.
The world leaders at the time praised the mass demonstration after hundreds of thousands marched along EDSA streets to protest a fraudulent election. Through the People Power” Uprising, Filipinos proved that a peaceful uprising can challenge a ruthless dictatorship and overthrow military rule.
Marcos Jr and his family escaped to Hawaii following the rebellion and after his return to the Philippines in 1991, Marcos Jr served in congress and the senate. With his return to the Malacañang Palace in 2022, the world anxiously watches whether history will repeat itself or democracy will prevail as Marcos Jr. relentlessly defends his father’s legacy, refusing to apologise or acknowledge the atrocities, plunder, cronyism, and extravagant living, which resulted in billions of dollars of state wealth disappearing during the dictatorship.
MARCOS JR’S FOREIGN POLICY: Continuity or Change?
Considering his political alignment with Rodrigo Duterte, the outgoing President, who has been exceedingly vocal about his anti-Washington, pro-China stance, it is no secret Marcos Jr. favours Beijing. According to Richard Heydarian, a South China Sea observer and professor of political science, “Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr. is the only candidate who has signalled almost perfect continuity with the incumbent populist pro-China president in Malacañang.”
However, Marcos Jr seems to be a President that might play the game more strategically compared to his successor. Among Marcos’s many accolades for his father, one was maintaining a strong security alliance with Washington. Even though, he is politically aligned with Duterte who sought to pivot away from the United States and towards China, Marcos will seek a balancing act. Philippines under Marcos will continue engaging with China, in-line with Duterte’s Pro-China Policy but at the same time will engage, and even bolster a closer tie with the USA, to safeguard Philippines’ sovereignty amidst an aggressively rising China.
When asked if he would ask the American’s help in dealing with China, Marcos Jr said, “No. The problem is between China and us. If the Americans come in, it’s bound to fail because you are putting the two protagonists together.” This statement shows a sense of maturity and solid understanding of the ground realties of the region. Marcos Jr. seems to be the President that keeps his country’s national interest at the very core of all his decisions. He understands how easy it is for a small country to be stuck in the middle of a great-power competition, and that more often and not, it harms the small country’s interests. He envisions Manila as neither heavily dependent on Washington for its security needs nor become a pawn in China’s greater geopolitical ambitions. He wants to have an independent foreign policy, regardless of deepening U.S.-Chinese competition. One that predominantly benefits his country, Philippines.
In contrast to Duterte, Marcos Jr has a very warm and embracing approach towards the USA. Being treaty allies, Marcos Jr refers to their alliance as “a very important one.” He maintained that the alliance “has stood us in good stead for over a hundred years and that will never disappear from the Philippine psyche, the idea and the memory of what the United States did for us and fought with us in the last war.”
Marcos Jr seems to be a realist who understands that in International Politics, states must “engage whenever possible, and contain wherever necessary.” On asked about Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea, he argued that “Philippines will not cede any one square inch to any country, particularly China, but will continue to engage and work on our national interest.”
To summarise, Marcos will, in all probability, modify Duterte’s foreign policy in a way that maximizes the strategic benefits for the Philippines and avoids confrontation with the USA and China.
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