What’s New and What’s Old in Philippine Politics – by CenPEG

Posted on July 1, 2010


You can also download this article by clicking this link: CenPEG Analysis New & Old in Phil Politics July 01 2010

Series of 2010

What’s New and What’s Old in Philippine Politics

By the Policy Study, Publication, and Advocacy (PSPA)
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
July 1, 2010

It would be interesting to see how Aquino III will be able to transcend
his class background and political orientation. In Philippine politics,
promises are bound to be broken unless elected leaders begin to walk the

By the Policy Study, Publication, and Advocacy
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
July 1, 2010

Something new happened in the Philippines’ election system last May and
this was the use of automation for the first time to generate quick
election results. Despite the new technology, however, the elections
hardly changed the country’s political configuration. Political dynasties
remain in power and not a few people’s hopes of promoting reform politics
were dashed with the defeat of reform-minded officials particularly in
Pampanga and Isabela.

The staying power of the old, feudal politics as symbolized by political
clans will make basic reforms in the country’s social and economic
conditions such as endemic poverty, wide income gaps, and weak governance
highly remote. Token “reforms” may be expected from the new administration
corresponding to its campaign pledges. But the large majority will be left
to fend for themselves – as it has been for countless decades in a class
society where a few families rule exclusively, politically, and

In the elections marred by vote buying and fraud, partial results show
some 270 political families dominating the May 10 automated elections each
with two or more multiple positions gained. In the country’s 80 provinces,
at least 53 governors and 26 vice governors come from these political
families. (Philippine Collegian, June 9, 2010) The same partial results
also showed the Ilocos and ARMM having the highest number of families
winning with 22 families in each region gaining at least two seats in all
the municipalities.

Political clans kept their dominance in the House of Representatives with
at least 130 seats or 60 percent of the regular membership. Traditional
opposition and pro-Arroyo politicians also used the Party-list system,
which is constitutionally reserved for the marginalized sectors, to gain
additional seats in the lower House.


Meanwhile, the new Senate will have 16 (67 percent) of its 24 members
coming from political clans. The last elections saw seven winners having
family members and relatives also taking seats in the House as well as
provincial posts.

The latest configuration of national positions underscores how deep the
entrenchment of political dynasties is. The new president, Benigno
“Noynoy” Aquino III, comes from the powerful clans of the Aquinos and
Cojuangcos, whose roots date back to the 19th century. His mother, Corazon
Cojuangco Aquino, ascended to the presidency as a result of the People
Power I uprising of February 1986 that saw the fall of the Marcos dynasty.
His father, Benigno Aquino, Jr., who was assassinated in 1983 is from the
Aquino clan of Tarlac.

Even with the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, the Marcoses were never
out of power with their political, military, and business cronies
rehabilitated under Corazon Aquino’s administration and themselves
eventually taking elective positions. The Marcoses are now back in full
force: Ferdinand, Jr. is a new senator, mother Imelda, now 80, is also
back in Congress, and daughter Imee is the new Ilocos Norte governor.

In southern Philippines, the Ampatuan clan of Maguindanao rose to power
during the Marcos dictatorship and one of their members was appointed
acting municipal mayor by President Aquino. It was during the
Macapagal-Arroyo presidency (2001-June 2010) when the Ampatuans’ political
clout grew giving them control in many of the province’s municipalities
with a well-armed private army of more than 1,000 men to boot. The
Ampatuans delivered crucial votes to Macapagal-Arroyo in the rigged 2004
presidential elections and to her senatorial slate in the 2007 polls. They
backed the administration’s counter-insurgency campaigns in the Autonomous
Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). In the tradition of patronage politics,
Macapagal-Arroyo extended political and military support to the Ampatuans.

With the Ampatuans now facing criminal and rebellion charges for the
November 2009 mass murder, their power has been cut by the rival tribal
clan of Mangundadatus with Esmael “Toto” grabbing the governorship of
Maguindanao. Still, the Ampatuans cannot yet be counted out with at least
10 clan members getting elected despite being implicated in the massacre.


The outgoing president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, will remain in government
this time as a congresswoman from her native province of Pampanga. Son
Datu Arroyo has been reelected as a Camarines Sur representative while
another, Mikey, is trying to claim back his congressional seat through the
partylist Ang Galing Pinoy (AGP). Brother-in-law Igee Arroyo has also been
reelected congressman from Negros Occidental. Mrs. Macapagal-Arroyo’s
Lakas-Kampi-CMD coalition has won at least 120 seats in Congress and a big
number of local government posts. Consistent with traditional politics,
the coalition’s ranks are being dissipated with members jumping ship
toward Aquino III’s Liberal Party, which garnered only 40 legislative
seats in the May elections.

Nationwide, the major political clans maintain their hold of the
presidency, Congress, and local governments. In addition, there are
hundreds of smaller political families with local governments as their
turfs. The government bureaucracy is filled by their kin and political
supporters. Many of the clans are warlords protected by private armed
groups as well as by police and military forces. In the provinces, most
political clans are a power by themselves and are often untouched by the

Political dynasties are bound to the presidency by the system of patronage
that the latter dispenses in terms of pork barrel distribution,
appointments, preferential treatment in local government revenues and
development projects, as well as other perks and privileges. They support
the political party of the winning president either as new members or as
coalition partners. Ideological considerations or public service – which
are nil in most politicians – have nothing to do with this traditional
partnership but merely politics of convenience. This quid pro quo politics
makes the president strong and provides resiliency and recovery to
political clans. Even as rivals, however, political dynasties maintain a
history of reconciliation so long as these are for their own interests.
For example, Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr., a business crony of Marcos who was
implicated in the 1983 assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr., supported
Aquino III in the last election. At some point as a member of Congress,
Aquino III aligned himself with Macapagal-Arroyo on the Hacienda Luisita
massacre issue and voted against the opening of the “Garci tapes” linking
the incumbent president to electoral fraud.

The resiliency of political clans is exemplified not only by the Marcoses,
Cojuangco-Aquinos, and Macapagal-Arroyos but also by the Singsons, whose
dynasty dates back to the 1830s, Fuendebellas, Villafuertes, and others.
They also trounced politicians touted to be reformist, with for instance
Faustino Dy beating Governor Grace Padaca in Isabela and Lilia Pineda, an
ally of Macapagal-Arroyo, winning over Governor Fr. Eddie Panlileo in

Economic base

Meantime, the material or economic base is important for the sustenance of
political dynasties. In the past, land ownership, sugar plantations,
mining and logging concessions bankrolled the grab of political power
which in turn was used to amass more wealth. In recent decades, wealth
provided by trade and commerce, banking, telecommunications and media,
food and beverage chains, real estate, corporate law, and other new
industries sent new politicians to government. The accumulation of
material wealth has always been nuanced by a system of landgrabbing,
exploitation and oppression, as well as the misuse of political authority
and corruption thus making income inequalities more severe and economic
crisis more pervasive. Aquino III is both a product and representative of
the ruling class of political dynasties and is basically, therefore,
aligned with his class interest. Aside from this, he is a product of an
election system that still gives an edge to popularity and name recall
rather than to ideological visions and catalysts of change.

In the recent elections, he was supported by influential dynasties and
media owners as well as the corporate elite based in Makati. Some of his
supporters belong to the 20 richest Filipinos whose net worth of PhP900
billion is equivalent to the combined income of the poorest 11 million
families. He is the current “darling” of the U.S. and other powerful
countries with strategic interests to protect in the Philippines, from
investments to military intervention. (Didn’t they use to support
Macapagal-Arroyo before?) The cabinet that he has formed recycles old
faces – former Arroyo officials who will now occupy key positions – with
new ones particularly in the justice post basically providing the
embellishment of token reform. He can always claim he’s his own man but
realpolitik dictates he not only needs the support of powerful endorsers
but must dance through the music of traditional politics of trade offs and
compromises if he aims to complete his six-year term.

The politics of political dynasties and oligarchic parties in the
Philippines has always been against change, consistently beholden to elite
interests as well as foreign powers. Because it is driven by narrow
interests, it is consistently opposed to popular reforms espoused by the
country’s poor and marginalized classes such as land reform, decent wages,
basic social services as well as sovereignty issues and economic
independence. It would be interesting to see how Aquino III will be able
to transcend his class background and political orientation. In Philippine
politics, promises are bound to be broken unless elected leaders begin to
walk the talk by reforming the country’s governance system, initiating
genuine land reform, and upholding human rights, among other basic
reforms. These are the same reforms that Corazon Aquino pledged to address
in 1986 only to disappoint – after six years in office – the millions of
Filipinos who had marched on Edsa I.

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