Manolo Quezon is #TheExplainer Newsletter — Issue #17 (We Need “Premature” Campaigning!)
We can count! But mistakes do happen.There is, indeed, a “ghost issue,” the mythical #15 because we lost track of the counting. Oh well. This week’s the Long View is connected to an article for a special section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and to a dialogue on an earlier piece with a fellow columnist.
This week’s The Long View
Note that my column today is based on information in Newsletter #9 which contained a political calendar for the 2022 elections.
Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:05 AM July 07, 2021
I hope you managed to read “Today began yesterday,” which the editor of the special section on elections asked me to write. In it, I outlined some of the trends we face in the coming national polls. For our purposes here, a brief review of what’s relevant to this piece: Our parties are like “manananggal,” in that, divorced from the barangay, they have no legs (the grassroots); as Randy David has pointed out, in the absence of the old parties which had not just leaders, but actual members, who thus held intramurals which are called either primaries or party conventions, candidacies today are handled in a manner similar to the way the funding and logistics for stage productions are put together by impresarios. There is, of course, a third way: the convenor model, in which a respected group of leaders comes together to represent different groups, to come up with a method for picking a common candidate.
Taking off from that, I’d like to explore a topic that crops up every electoral cycle which is the small, ineffectual, but noisy crusade against being “epal” in which appeals are made to respect the “spirit” of the Omnibus Election Code. The problem with the electoral rules is that the period for strictly regulating what candidates can, and cannot do, is limited: essentially from Feb. 8 to May 7. Before that, basically anything goes, and it bothers some people. I believe if we only understood what actually goes on before then, we’d understand why the law limits campaigning to the actual campaign period; conversely, why it is not just impossible, but I’d argue, actually undemocratic and harmful, to try to limit behavior before then. Not only because the law isn’t in the business of mind-reading (how can you be required to act as a candidate if you haven’t declared your candidacy?), but because things have to be allowed to play out.
So what’s happening? Why is PDP-Laban engaged in cannibalism, preparing to roast Sen. Manny Pacquiao alive, why is NPC taking in his good friend Chavit Singson and the Senate president, one of its senior leaders, giving Pacquiao advice? Why is there an electronic billboard suddenly singing praises to Salvador Panelo? And so on? It’s because from now to Oct. 1–8, when the filing of candidacies takes place, there are three milestones all political players are keeping an eye on.
The first already passed, traditionally speaking, because June is the season for “initial benchmarking surveys,” when names are weighed according to their political viability. Then, in July comes the last State of the Nation Address of the incumbent president; the time for setting the stage for the anointing of a president’s preferred successor. All through this period until October is what’s called “consciousness-raising” — activities meant to raise awareness of, and excitement/interest/support for, potential candidates: to make it worth the while of all sorts to buy-in and chip-in, to a potential candidacy. It is during this period that the selection of standard-bearers takes place: when, in other words, the parties pick their candidates or, more accurately, candidates pick the party that will serve as their electoral vehicle.
In other nations we see this play out in primaries, mini electoral contests, with delegates to the party convention being the prize; in the old days, without primaries, it was when delegates were courted for the convention. But we no longer have conventions, the last viable one was in the Mitra-Ramos showdown; when Fidel V. Ramos bolted, it killed the convention as a means of resolving candidacy questions. No wonder one of Ramos’ operatives then, now former justice Antonio Carpio, is trying an earlier model, the convenor one, in which elders around a table put forward possible candidates. As for the rest, the candidate comes first, and a party is a formality, an afterthought.
While officially speaking, Feb. 8-May 7, 2022, is the official campaign period for national positions, and March 25-May 7, 2022, is the official campaign period for local elections, in truth for national candidates from the presidency to the Senate, they only have from Feb. 8 to March 25 to actually be campaigned for, by local allies: because starting March 25, it’s every candidate for him/herself as the local races kick off and monopolize the time, attention, and resources of the local candidates.
On another note, March 25, when the ban on appointments (creating/filling positions) and public works kicks in, government essentially goes into suspended animation as no one makes decision and nothing much besides existing payroll gets done: People are packing up.
2022 Began Long Ago Department
This came out yesterday, and provides an overview for my column today. It was for a special section on the 2022 elections in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Philippine Daily Inquirer / 05:04 AM July 06, 2021
Politics in our popular imagination is like the Balagtasan. We think it began in ancient times, but it only began in the heyday of party politics in the 1920s. We view our politics as a spectator sport, but we see it through old-fashioned lenses, as if our candidates still entertain us by making speeches for hours in public plazas.
We are taught that the voice of the people is the voice of God, and that is expressed through the ballot. Among our elders, the factors that can censor the people’s choices are known as the “three G’s”: guns, goons, and gold. But as we’ve become a more urbanized and digitally connected nation, guns and goons matter less, nationally speaking, though they are sadly still a reality in many local races. Instead, nationally speaking, it’s data, social media, and the rules that distort the electoral process. What yesterday and today have in common is gold: Politics has always been expensive.
Impresarios as party subs
In 1941 our Senate became what it is today (elected by the entire nation and not by districts) so that it could become a training ground for the presidency. But its proponents also knew the dangers of national office: that celebrity and money could distort elections. So they instituted bloc voting which today’s party list voters would recognize: You voted for a party, and thus all its candidates. This gave parties a fighting chance. But by the 1950s bloc voting was abolished, and soon after, celebrity candidates began to win national positions.
Inquirer columnist Mahar Mangahas of Social Weather Stations has convincingly pointed out that surveys do not create trends in voters’ minds, but fellow columnist Randy David also says impresarios have taken the place of political parties in determining who the candidates are. An impresario is a show-biz term meaning someone who organizes and often finances concerts or plays. In politics, these are the people who promote candidacies and find backers for them. And their chief instruments in putting forward a candidate worth investing in are surveys. Here, ability or track record is secondary to celebrity.
In his June 20 column, Randy David also pointed out that political parties were destroyed by martial law. Parties never recovered even when democracy was restored. One reason was that we kept Marcos’ barangay system, and it evolved so that it’s supposed to be nonpolitical, theoretically off-limits to parties. This cut off parties at the knees, so to speak, making them political manananggal, all torsos with no legs (the grassroots). Plus, presidents discovered they could simply reschedule barangay elections, making them subservient to every president who extends them in office.
The level where the local meets the national is in the House of Representatives, where congresspeople represent local districts in a national body. Even before martial law, no president ever lost the House; instead, if a president lost reelection, then the House stampeded to join whoever won.
With the barangays also freed of accountability because of constant term extensions, this meant the pressure for treating any kind of political affiliation as more than a temporary identity was irresistible. One more thing: We abandoned the two-party system for a multiparty system, but without having what most multiparty systems have, which is runoff elections. This is when many candidates can compete but the top two then square off in another election, so that the winner has a majority.
Instead, we have a system where our presidents are elected not by majority but by minorities. These have ranged from as low as 23.58 percent (Ramos, 1992) to a high of 42.8 percent (Aquino, 2010): never a majority. This has many implications on the ability of presidents to govern and meet the expectations of a population that still imagines the presidency as being backed by the rule of the majority.
Eye on the prize
Up to 2001, Edsa was the defining narrative of our political society. It nipped in the bud every attempt at term extension for presidents, attempts to amend the Constitution, and booted a president out of office. At the time of Edsa Dos, the Internet Age had just dawned; we were not just the texting capital of the world, but also showed how it could topple presidents. You could argue that Metro Manila’s corner of Edsa and Ortigas in 2001 is where Cairo’s Tahrir Square in 2011 began.
It was also where the restoration of the Marcoses began, though it had already begun with Borgy Manotoc’s easy slide into celebrity life. An entire generation of Filipinos would grow up with three givens: the Marcos’ recovering glitz and glitter through celebrity status; popular disappointment with, and fear of, People Power (Edsa Dos and Edsa Tres); and a relentless, skillful representation of the Marcos mythology on YouTube and social media.
Social media as mediator
It is also the period when the people have become increasingly inclined, locally at least, to view voting as a cash transaction. This means the hold even of entrenched dynasties is much weaker: They have to make deals among themselves to all get elected, and their ability to “deliver” votes through means fair or foul is also weaker. In a practical sense, this means “machinery” as a whole is less reliable up and down the line.
This also means that for national candidates, given mass media’s weakness and limited reach, social media becomes all the more crucial, demanding and indisputable as the means to grab public attention and convert voters from skeptics to believers. But there are limits. The power of negative campaigning may be more powerful than ever before, but there is another trend. Beaten up and bruised by the toxic environment of the past decade, so many Filipinos have retreated to chat apps as zones of relative safety and calm — which may or may not be within the reach of campaigns.
The power of three
Three factors that are less popularly recognized affect the dynamics of our national elections (for the presidency, vice presidency, and the Senate). Briefly stated, they are: first, that the most basic of political positions, the barangay, is unaffected by the May 2022 polls because the barangay elections have been postponed to Dec. 5, 2022. The reason for this is that in general, the first order of business for new administrations, whose barangay chiefs were elected around their midterms, is to move barangay elections to secure the support of barangays in the next presidential election.
Second, no administration has ever lost the House, and that includes administrations that end up losing their bid to succeed themselves. Combined with the barangay election postponements, this means that all barangays and congresspeople have to do is stay officially allied with the incumbent in the Palace until a new one is elected, at which point they instantly change sides — which is welcomed by whoever is the new president.
This also means, since these leaders have their own political networks, that they are seeing who is going to win, whether based on their own intelligence or on the surveys.
Which brings us to the third element: Our leaders are like ourselves. An identifiable trend in our voting behavior is that, according to the surveys, after a winner is declared, more of us remember having voted for the winner than actually did. This also means that immediately after assuming office, most presidents will enjoy a bandwagon effect as people rush to support the new presidency. The public calls it unity, but so do the politicians.
You can access this article in another format: audio. I’m hoping there are readers who also like being listeners. Let me know if you’d like more articles provided in audio format.
Manolo Quezon is #TheExplainer Podcast: Episode 2 Today Began Yesterday by Manolo Quezon is #TheExplainer Podcast • A podcast on Anchor — anchor.fm
Audio Long Read #1: On July 6, 2021, the Philippine Daily Inquirer came out with a special focus section on the coming elections which includes this overview, by me, on the trends and realities of our national elections that we tend to overlook or not pay enough attention to. This is the first Audio Long Read of one of my articles. It was recorded during a stormy afternoon, as you’ll hear from time to time in the background.
Colleague John Nery and I have a long tradition of friendly dialogue in our columns — we once co-wrote a blog for the Inquirer — and he continues this practice of an exchange of views in his recent column:
Colleague Manolo Quezon has responded to my previous analyses of the prospects of the political opposition with a sweeping conclusion: Everyone becomes opposition anyway, the closer the next elections get. If true, this makes “opposition” as an analytical concept porous, ambiguous to the point of irrelevance.
But history shows us that this in fact isn’t true. In 2016, both the Roxas and Poe campaigns promised continuity with the reformist agenda of the second Aquino administration, and even candidate Rodrigo Duterte, who did campaign on a platform of change, used the three Comelec-sponsored presidential debates to also promote a corollary message: that he would have no problems implementing other campaign platforms, including that of administration candidate Roxas, as long as they work.
The 1992 and 1998 elections featured more than one viable candidate campaigning for continuity: Ramos, Mitra, even arguably Salonga in 1992; and De Venecia, Lim, Roco in 1998. It’s possible that the two elections which served as a referendum on President Gloria Arroyo may be the rare events with only one continuity candidate each: Arroyo herself in 2004, Teodoro in 2010. (The last reading, however, depends on whether Manny Villar would be classified as a candidate for continuity — remember “Villarroyo”? — or change.)
So even on the simplified basis of continuity or change, “opposition” remains a very real thing.
Interesting take; my thanks to John for continuing the conversation. But: continuity only worked when presidents died: Roxas for Quezon in 1946, Quirino for Roxas in 1949, Garcia for Magsaysay in 1957 (I do think Roxas and Magsaysay would have been re-elected if they’d lived; in that sense the long gap between Quezon in 1941 and Marcos in 1969, the only two who successfully ran for reelection, was an artificial or accidental one); continuity did not work in the failed reelection campaigns of Osmeña in 1946, Quirino in 1949, Garcia in 1961 and Macapagal in 1965; it partially worked for Ramos for Aquino in 1992 but otherwise no, continuity has not proven attractive; furthermore, none then/now thought Duterte was focused on, or elected on, anything to do with continuity.
P.S. regarding John’s column, I’d laid out my views in this column:
The ironic result is one we’ve seen constantly on display without even a blushing effort to disabuse the bald-faced opportunism of it all: In truth, nearly everyone becomes a member of the opposition come the last year of an administration. And why not? We have not had a political system where believers in a cause can join a movement, and rise up the ranks of public service, since 1987.
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Consul: Abigail Salta
Praetors: Carlos v. Jugo, Ramon Rufino, Arbet Bernardo
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