On February 9, 2010, the official 90-day campaign for election in the Philippines will commence. With current President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo out of the running because of term limits, the race for the Philippine presidency is currently wide open.
With at least 10 officially registered presidential candidates, the sprint for the presidency will be fast and furious. The presidential pelaton includes: Vetellano Acosta (New Society Movement party), Benigno Cojuangco-Aquino (Liberal), John Carlos de los Reyes (Ang Kapatiran), Richard Gordon (Bagumbayan-VNP), Jamby Madrigal (Independent), Nicanor Perlas (Independent), Gilberto Teodoro (Lakas-Kampi-CMD), Eddie Villanueva (Bagong Pilipinas), Manuel Villar (Nacionalista). The early breakaway consists of former Philippine Senator Manuel Villar and Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III who is currently serving in the Philippine Senate. The impeached but now pardoned former President Joseph Estrada, and Gilbert “Gibo” Teodoro Jr., former National Secretary of Defense, round out the lead pack. With a history of weak political parties, personality politics and celebrity usually winnow the field of “Presidentiables.”
The early favorite between the top two candidates is “Noynoy” Aquino. Aquino’s draw benefits from his being from a political dynasty. His father Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr was the leader of the opposition party during the dictatorship of Ferdnand Marco, and Aquino, returning from exile in 1983, was assassinated at Manila Airport upon his landing. His public death incited the People’s Power movement that unseated Marcos, forcing himself and wife Imelda Marcos into exile. The day of Ninoy Aquino’s death was made a national holiday in 2004. His widow María Corazón “Cory” Aquino was then launched into the political spotlight. In 1986, Cory Aquino became the first post-Marcos and first female president of the Philippines. Cory Aquino’s recent death in August 2009 helps her son’s campaign, drawing on public’s nostalgia of her. However despite his storied parentage, “Noynoy” Aquino has been criticized for lack of his own political talent and experience.
“Rags-to-riches” businessman, Manuel “Manny,” is emerging as Aquino’s main rival. Seen as the populist candidate, Villa started life in Manila’s slums, and he amassed a personal fortune of US$940 million. Before his entry into politics, Villar rose through the ranks of finance, from accountant to real estate executive, and was elected to the House of Representatives in 1992. Gaining power as Speaker of the House, Villar presided over the impeachment of former President Joseph Estrada in 2000 and in 2001, he was elected into the Philippine Senate. Villar, who left the Senate in 2008 is currently facing Senate censure hearings over ethics charges over a real estate dealing involving a road extension project.
Suppressed under dictatorship until 1986, the Philippine democratic process is still relatively young and deadly unruly. While assassinations of presidential candidates ceased, local politics remain contentious and deadly. 121 people were killed in the lead up to the 2007 mid-term congressional elections, and 148 died during the last national election in the 2004. In November 2009, a politically motivated massacre of 57 people, included 12 journalists, occurred in the province of Maguindanao on the island of Mindinao. The targets appeared to be relatives of local gubanatorial candidate Ismael “Toto” Mangudadatu, who were in transit to file electoral registration documents, and the suspects are believed to be supporters of the sitting governor Andal Ampatuan. At the time of writing, 60 people have died in election-related incidents, and the Maguindanao province has been placed under martial rule.
Philippine elections do not often move on which candidate has the best policy agenda, but policy and security reform are the central issues in the 2010. The country faces threats from grinding poverty and domestic violence from terrorist, separatist, and communist movements as well as from clan disputes. And while economists contend that the Philippines is on a track toward economic recovery, structural improvements have stagnated. Unlike its ASEAN peers, the Philippines is still an agricultural-based economy and suffers from seemingly intractable domestic unemployment, and its GDP is highly dependent on remittances sent from its citizens working overseas. Remedying any one of these issues would be daunting, and the next president of the Republic of the Philippines will have to helm drastic and necessary reform for the country to succeed.