Our presidential election institution – an evolution


The most awaited decision on the deadline for substitution of candidacy for office in the coming 2022 presidential elections was that of Sara Duterte, daughter of the President and currently mayor of Davao.

Main candidates for the presidency. Many supporters in the administration were encouraging her to run for president. However, she went in defiance of the original playbook. She filed for candidacy as vice president.

This final decision gives greater clarity to the principal contenders for president and vice-president for the May, 2022 elections.

A Bongbong Marcos – Sara Duterte team up is apparent and forthcoming. This could consolidate two powerful political forces, the large bloc of votes associated with these two candidates, one from northern Luzon and the other from Mindanao.

How the other presidential candidates – Leni Robredo, Isko Moreno, Panfilo Lacson, Manny Paquiao –react to such a development?

There is enough time in the future to analyze the implications of these events.

For now, my concern is to recount how the evolution of our presidential election politics has come about. Here it is.

Leadership fights before 1936. Under American rule since 1907, the Philippine Assembly became the training ground for Filipino leadership. The dominant political party among elected representatives was the Nacionalista Party and its Speaker of the assembly, Sergio Osmeña for years exerted that leadership.

Competition for supreme leadership broke loose when the Philippine Senate was created in 1916. Manuel Quezon, also a Nacionalista, became the Senate President.

Then followed essentially an intra-party competition for leadership between Osmeña and Quezon, two different strong personalities.

Manuel Quezon bested Sergio Osmeña in that struggle by 1934. Quezon was instrumental in securing and in getting accepted by Filipinos the second American offer of independence (Tydings-McDuffie law, 1934). Osmeña who secured the first offer of independence (Hare-Hawes-Cutting law, 1933) lost the leadership when Philippine Congress rejected that law in a vote that followed Quezon’s declared opposition to it.

Commonwealth presidential politics. The Commonwealth presidential elections of 1936 were the first ever such election in the country. Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmeña coalesced and ran as a team for president and vice president. The united Nacionalista party ticket had a landslide win over the weak candidates.

This position of dominance continued with the elections of 1941, which reelected former president Quezon and vice president Osmeña.

Independence politics. Elections held before the grant of independence in 1946 pitted Sergio Osmeña (who had succeeded to the post after Quezon’s death in 1944 in the US) and Manuel Roxas, who (incidentally was Osmena’s close ally in the struggle for party leadership against Quezon during the 1930s).

Election politics split the Nacionalista Party essentially on the issue of parity (equal rights of American citizens), plus trade preferences and on the personality of the leaders. The Liberal wing favored the parity while the Nacionalista wing was against it.

The victory of Roxas (who became the first president of the newly independent Republic), established the Liberal Party as the government in power and the Nacionalista party as the opposition.

But within the two parties, which remained dominant, there were splinter parties that never got fully established. The name of the game in the choice of presidents was to remain within the party or to shift to other parties, of course, with the support of party insiders.

Ramon Magsaysay was the secretary of national defense of President Elpidio Quirino, of the Liberal Party. In 1953, Magsaysay became a Nacionalista candidate to contest the presidency against his former boss who was the incumbent president.

In a similar way, Ferdinand Marcos was a Liberal party leader. Seeing no path to the presidency within the Liberal Party because Diosdado Macapagal was seeking reelection as president, Marcos bolted to join the Nacionalista Party and defeated Macapagal in the process.

Martial law and People Power redefine presidential elections. In 1973, President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law and adopted the 1973 Constitution.

The 1973 Constitution mandated a shift toward a parliamentary system of government, to veer away from the American model of government. The new government structure was more similar to the French system of a strong president, supported by a popularly elected parliament.

When martial law was lifted in 1981, elections returned. In 1986, a snap presidential election led to the challenge against Ferdinand Marcos by a coalition of opponents, led by Corazon Aquino.

The political convulsion of the moment – People Power – happened during the unfinished counting of the election results. Corazon Aquino was declared the new president and Ferdinand Marcos was exiled.

Multi-party system of People Power.  Former president Aquino adopted a new Constitution in 1987, which has become the framework that governs current Philippine elections.

Among its relevant features to this topic was the reversal to the presidential system and the return of Congress in the mold of the 1935 Constitution.

A variation in the political party system was the introduction of the party-list system in the membership of the House of Representatives, about 20 percent of the membership of which was reserved for such a system.

One consequence of this new system was the decentralization of the party system. Coalitions supporting the candidacies for presidents, vice presidents and national elective officials became more decentralized, with more political groups and coalitions of parties.

This weakened the pre-eminence of the standard political parties. Today, the Nacionalista Party and the Liberal Party are small remnants of their past. Candidates for president and vice presidents have become emergent mainly from coalitions of many political groups.

A further outcome is that the candidates for the positions of presidents and vice presidents tend to be more numerous than before 1973. Since victory in the elections as provided in the constitution is by the highest number of votes gathered (that is, by plurality), all of the presidents elected after 1987 – Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Benigno  Aquino, and Rodrigo Duterte – were elected by less than half of the voting electorate.

Each of these presidents won by plurality of votes, but were voted only by a minority of all participating voters given that “majority” is defined as one-half of all those casting their votes plus at least one more voter.



For archives of previous Crossroads essays, go to: https://www.philstar.com/authors/1336383/gerardo-p-sicat. Visit this site for more information, feedback and commentary: http://econ.upd.edu.ph/gpsicat/


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