Midterm Maneuvers Begin

Manuel L. Quezon III
15 min readMay 25, 2024


The Marcoses take the Vice President Down A Peg

Charles I raises the royal standard at Nottingham, 8/22/1642

There continues to be a debate about whether the President is simply passive, passive-aggressive, or wilier than otherwise assumed; though all of the above is possible, depending on what’s expedient. Still overlooked is that the current administration is part of an identifiable sub-type of regime. the Restoration kind. That has its own dynamics; the President, too, was successfully reared as an Establishment figure by his father. So he and his wife are much more Insiders than his parents were. As this is a world and world-view opaque to the kommentariat, it means there is much more mystery about his mores and methods than should actually be the case.

Apologies for the extended period of no updates. Three of my four most recent columns are related, looking, as they do, at the presidency and the most important test it’s facing, the 2025 midterms. The initial salvos have boomed out and it seems for now that the momentum is with the President. A prelude of sorts is in Executive Methods, which looks at the President’s style of governance as recounted by a technocrat in his Cabinet; the midterms themselves are tackled in Midterm battle begins, which is self-explanatory, and Tales as old as time, which looks at the Senate Presidency. My fourth most-recent, Know your hazards, looks at the interesting story of Project Noah.

The Four Latest Installments of The Long View:

May 1, 2024


Executive methods

By: Manuel L. Quezon III@inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:30 AM May 01, 2024

Over the past few administrations, it seems to me, there has been less of an effort to systematically chronicle, much less, analyze, the manner in which our presidents run their administrations. President Cory Aquino commissioned a systematic review of her administration near the end of her term, and, President Fidel V. Ramos was famously prolific in his commentaries. Like her father, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo studiously and systematically produced a memoir of her time in office in fairly short order after leaving office, and it is likely that had he lived longer, President Benigno Aquino III would have come out with a thorough memoir of his time in public service.

He wasn’t a natural executive and, like so many presidents who came from a legislative background, often chafed at the combination of bureaucratic inertia and endless consultations our system imposes, with a media primed to appeal to this least common denominator in every instance. Yet he was an example of how devotion to duty could impose structure.

The political and institutional, too, are affected in many ways by the personal and this needs careful consideration in reviewing how presidents function-or fail to. A case can be made that our most recent three presidents all subscribe to a uniquely Filipino political and social type: only sons in political families with very strong patriarchs under whose shadow these presidents grew (or were stunted). Here, history weighs heavier than most and likes and dislikes can be inherited or mutated.

No such effort is likely on the part of Presidents Joseph Estrada and Rodrigo Duterte though Aprodicio Laquian came out with an interesting account of his truncated service to Estrada.

Neither have the “Little Presidents,” as executive secretaries have been called since the time of the first one, Jorge B. Vargas, been inclined to write about their periods of service, and for this reason, even commissioned biographies have been economical when it comes to really recording how presidents handled their executive responsibilities. We have a far longer history of executive administration distraction than our neighbors but quite likely a much slimmer volume of serious studies from the perspective of government.

I, for one, can only hope and pray someone like Ronaldo Zamora would do a thorough and candid appraisal of how Palace business is done: in a country where institutional memory is rare, he was immersed in the entire history of the modern presidency, of which his father, as protocol officer to at least seven presidents, was a formidable part: while himself was a wunderkind of sorts in the administration of Ferdinand Marcos Sr. and an ill-fated executive secretary in the Estrada administration. Franklin Drilon, too, with his vast experience and combination of shrewd mess and good humor would be equally interesting in tackling the first Aquino and the Ramos administrations.

These thoughts occurred to me when I ran into two members of the current Cabinet and one of them whom I knew from an earlier administration kindly answered my questions about the President. There are three characteristics this seasoned official considers noteworthy. The first is that the President prefers small to big, and focused to sweeping, meetings. He is the kind who prefers to operate through Cabinet clusters rather than grandly convening the whole which the incumbent finds a waste of time. He is also fairly punctual which denotes mindfulness when it comes to everybody’s, and not just his, executive time. He also prefers that meetings get to the point with an actionable item: What is it that needs a decision of a specific action? I asked if this stemmed from the President’s experience as a local executive but the official candidly said he didn’t want to venture a guess, not having seen the President operate up close when he was still a governor. He did venture the opinion that he finds the President well briefed when they meet; and that the First Lady is not in any way conspicuous in executive affairs.

I ventured an opinion of my own that this is all very interesting not least because it somehow isn’t particularly known by the public: but then again it can be said that very little has been known about the way executive business is conducted these days. To which the official shrugged since he is one of the least political people in public service.

May 8, 2024

Know your hazards

By: Manuel L. Quezon III@inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:35 AM May 08, 2024

In a forthcoming episode of “Proyekto Pilipino,” the civics program of which I’m a part, our guest Mahar Lagmay answered our questions about the heat wave that made everyone’s lives a misery over recent weeks. During our discussion, he pointed out that we now have to prepare for something completely different. If the record-breaking heat was an aspect of El Niño, which brings drought in its wake, we now have to brace ourselves for La Niña, in which the rain and flooding will be our new normal for time to come.

He made an interesting point about how much of the preparations made by public and private institutions include assessing risk on the basis of historical models: the impact of events that can be tracked over 100-year periods and its increments. But Lagmay’s point is that with global warming and the accelerating changes to climate it triggers, we have to rely less on the expected and prepare more for the unexpected-if things could be based on records from the past, we have to imagine things becoming very much worse and plan accordingly.

It seems to me we have to demand more proactive thinking on the part of our officials when it comes to foreseeing what might be in store for us when it comes to the climate. Consider the heat wave that hogged the headlines. From the point of view of our relationship with government, its most tangible impact, aside from the large number of deaths we all discussed in private, but which wasn’t systematically reported in public, was the decision to restore the old school year because so many class days were lost due to classes being called off due to the heat.

The thing is, that was an El Niño-related phenomenon. Now we will be living through La Niña, in which case we can expect that more class days will be lost due to rain and floods. It’s perfectly conceivable that when that happens, there will then be a demand to move the school year back to the new, soon-to-be-scrapped, academic schedule. And so it goes. Everyone will be reacting after the fact, without pausing to reflect on what the real problem is. We could discuss, for example, that the real problem is that both summer and the rainy season will be far more inhospitable to young people, moving forward. But to acknowledge this as the real problem might be scary because it would require an even deeper discussion on the kinds of facilities we have when another longstanding problem is that we simply never have enough facilities devoted to educational purposes for the public.

In a more competitive society (because more geared to actual problem-solving rather than finger-pointing), the forthcoming barangay and midterm elections in 2025 should provide the perfect opportunity to demand from candidates, local and national, a less reactive and a more proactive approach to the challenges our changing climate will bring.

Perhaps, individually, we might feel unempowered to make such a demand on our officials. But this is where a basic political truth comes into play. How often have you heard the saying, “politics is addition”? Or that it is “a numbers game.” This is why the power of one matters when joined with others: the one becomes the many and unignorable in any political contest. This is where your associations can definitively matter: be it your alumni association, your civic association, even your religious organization. In as much as media’s reach and clout have been considerably reduced, numbers are numbers and no one can ignore enough comments online or enough petitions bristling with signatures handed to people courting votes.

You will see the danger zones in your area. First thing to ask yourself: Is your barangay/local government unit one of the 57 percent of LGUs that the United Nations Development Programme says use NOAH for planning disaster response? The answer might surprise you.

May 15, 2024

Midterm battle begins

By: Manuel L. Quezon III@inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 05:10 AM May 15, 2024

Since March of this year, when I last reported on the political numbers in this space, the different “aggrupations” as we Filipinos uniquely put it, have changed yet again. Of the two traditional parties, the PDP (formerly PDP-Laban until “Laban” was dropped last April) actually regained some seats in the House of Representatives (from five to 10) but Lakas-CMD also gained (from 92 to 100). For the parties that are essentially commercial subsidiaries, the Nacionalistas went from 34 to 36; the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), from 33 to 38; and the National Unity Party (NUP), unchanged at 36. As to the nominal affiliations of the President and Vice President, respectively: the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas, from 10 to 13; and the Hugpong ng Pagbabago, still only has one congressperson.

The picture in the local arena? PDP lost five governorships (now 14) but unchanged with 29 vice governorships while it has 262 provincial board members (losing seven); Lakas-CMD lost two governorships (now eight), and unchanged with 18 provincial board members, 68 city and municipal mayorships, and 514 city and municipal councilors; the Partido Federal grew the most: It went from 17 governors to 29, and from three to 16 vice governors while Hugpong ng Pagbabago seems to still have none at all.

The Marcos-Romualdez dual party system thus still has the Duterte-Arroyo machine trapped in a kind of political sandwich. I should mention as an aside, that the Nacionalista Party (NP) (down to zero from 12 governors, unchanged with 10 vice governors, 116 provincial board members), NPC (down to nine from 11 governors, and unchanged with six vice governors, 90 provincial board members), and NUP (from nine to seven governors, but unchanged with 67 provincial board members, 125 city and municipal mayors, and 990 councilors) to me, are different political animals altogether since they are corporate subsidiaries, representing permanent interests. The paramount interest of which is to always be part of the ruling coalition.

What that coalition would be called, going into the 2025 midterms, took some time to figure out. For much of the first two years of the Restoration Era, it seemed that the vehicle might be Kilusan ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) which seems to have died in the cradle (its Facebook hasn’t been updated since the President’s birthday-last year). After remaining so petite it was microscopic, the President’s official party, the Partido Federal, started growing in March 2023. There remained the question of the elephant in the room, the Lakas-CMD, which continued to fatten up, though conveniently as the Speaker’s, but not the President’s, party, allowing the President to float above partisan considerations (namely, the rivalry between the Speaker and the Vice President for the presidency in 2028).

Officially, at least, with the KNP scheme dead, PDP somewhat deflated, Hugpong also seemingly stillborn, it’s the Partido Federal that has gone from larva to pupa while Lakas-CMD remains fightingly fat; the branding has ended up sorted out with the two now officially coalescing under the banner and logo of Alyansa Para sa Bagong Pilipinas which was announced on May 8 with a rare public appearance by Sen. Bong Revilla. The President himself told his party to enter into coalition agreements for the midterms with NP, NPC, and NUP-and, because “politics is addition,” Revilla cheerily told the press the door was open to the Veep’s very own Hugpong.

Other parties that are, for example, members of the House majority, such as eight out of 10 Liberal Party representatives, People’s Reform Party, Aksyon, etc., can be expected to join as well, since the main benefit of being in the ruling coalition, besides resources released by the Department of Budget and Management, is having the President referee inevitable disputes over who gets to be the official coalition bet. Pointedly excluded, though, from reports of this opening salvo in the 2025 midterms, is the PDP. Yet of its House contingent, five are in the majority: so while not every PDP candidate will be a target, it now bears the (dubious) distinction of being, for all intents and purposes, the Opposition.

May 22, 2024


Tales as old as time

By: Manuel L. Quezon III@inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 05:10 AM May 22, 2024

Two things happened that proved that the more things change, the more they stay the same-though perhaps not in the ways most people might think. The first of these was the fall of Juan Miguel Zubiri from the Senate presidency. The announcement, rather gleefully made by Jose Estrada (better known as Jinggoy) by way of a prediction to the press, intimated that Zubiri’s fall was inspired by a loss of confidence in him by the Palace: An assertion tearfully confirmed by Zubiri himself when he announced he was resigning (rather than endure a formal removal). The second thing that happened was when a reputable survey revealed that, for the first time, the Vice President’s public standing is lower than that of the President.

The passing of the Senate presidency from Zubiri to Francis Escudero doesn’t change the affiliation of the vast majority of the Senate with the President; but what it did was prove yet again that all politics is local. By this I mean that when Zubiri allowed Ronald dela Rosa to conduct his investigation in aid of humiliation, he really had little choice but to say yes as a politician from Mindanao. If he had put his foot down and somehow quashed a hearing, word would have gotten around that the Senate president from Mindanao had turned his back on the expected beneficiaries of such an investigation-and the Mindanao senators pushing for the hearing. So he had to do it to remain politically viable on his home turf; but having had to do it, he risked the ire of the Palace-or at least, provided a pretext for his colleagues to throw him overboard.

The Vice President’s popularity rating below that of the President’s for the first time, comes after the cold, because undeclared, war between the President’s portion of the ruling coalition and that of the Vice President heated up when the First Lady openly discussed her being displeased with the Veep. Up to that point (and up to now), the President and the Vice President had been careful to avoid criticizing each other, with the combative Veep venting her ire on the Speaker instead. She was equally careful to keep her symbolic defense of disgraced former deputy speaker (and former speaker as well as former president) Gloria Macapagal Arroyo within the same anti-Romualdez frame.

There are few rules in Philippine politics, and one of them is that the public punishes vice presidents perceived as unsupportive or quarrelsome with presidents. We may elect them separately but once elected, the public considers it the job of the veep to support the president and when there is a falling out, it’s the vice president who takes a hit. One of the oldest misunderstandings of this dynamic has been the perennial but lazy tendency to compare the mandates of presidents and vice presidents to the detriment of the president when their vote percentage is less than the vice president’s. This is lazy because it overlooks the difference in the quality of the contest for each position; but what such laziness guarantees is to make the vice president who is compared in such a manner with a sitting president, the object of that sitting president’s jealousy-and even enmity. Not least because of the distinct possibility the veep chose to run for that office because of the probability of being defeated by the one who eventually became president.

Equally old is the affliction of candidates and observers alike who compound laziness with conceit: thinking that somehow, a veep’s exceeding the votes of a president somehow reflects a political standing that is uniquely immune to the political dynamics of the past. Yet here we see on display the same old dynamics being on display: that the moment the First Lady (the “bad cop” to her husband’s “good cop” in their political tandem) declared open season on the Veep, then the old, traditional, instinctive backlash against a veep perceived to be troublesome, kicked in. This places the Veep in a dilemma. Stay and remain publicly loyal, and risk looking either naïve or opportunistic; leave and go into open opposition, and risk validating the accusations and appear not only guilty but inept. In either case, the risk is a palpable one: to lose the aura of inevitability.

Additional Readings

Postmodernist Senate President:

Mucho ado about the new Senate President’s yearbook page:

Shared by Rommel Lopez on Twitter
Prior to Duterte, the only previous inaugural held at Malacañan Palace: Ferdinand I’s ad hoc emergency one, February 25, 1986. Behind Chief Justice Ramon Aquino is Food and Agriculture Minister Salvador Escudero.

A reminder of the close ties between the Marcoses and the Escuderos, and maintained in a sense by Francis Escudero’s longtime affiliation with the NPC, a political vehicle established by Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. when his bid to wrest away the Nacionalista Party from the Laurels failed. But I’d like to point you to a blog entry of mine from 2009, Notes for an essay on Escudero: Portrait of the Politician as Beyond the Clutches of History which suggests dynasts like him have to be viewed from a perspective different from the usual, easy, inheriting-affiliations one; rather, he is a product of his generation. I quoted John Nery in that entry:

As I’ve written before (the first time, I think, was in 2005), Escudero strikes me as the acceptable face of the Marcos restoration. Here’s a thought in search of a consensus. Perhaps Escudero declined to answer the real question because the people may not be ready to hear him profess any admiration for the late dictator.

As for myself, in the same entry I suggested,

Yet equally possible and to my mind more possible that he is the exemplar of his generation in viewing history as at best, a burden but more likely, as simply irrelevant; and also, an exemplar of the approach, then, to governance simply in tactical and not strategic terms; the first non-Romantic: and also, freed of the notions of the presidency as Chief Modernizer of the Land; does this make him the first Postmodernist, even?

Escudero gained fame as one of the “Spice Boys,” his generation’s monicker for what the older generation referred to as “Young Turks” in politics -the up-and-coming new faces of future leadership; now having achieved the Senate Presidency, Escudero does so no longer as someone particularly young, but as a middle-aged fixtures of the Establishment, led by a President who similarly achieved restoration as a senior citizen.

One step closer to reviving divorce

An interesting entry by Erin Cook in Dari Mulut ke Mulut, parsing the progress of the divorce bill in Congress:

A remarkable hurdle passed in the Philippines where the long-fought-for divorce bill has passed its final reading in the House. The voter breakdown shows how contentious the issue remains: 126 lawmakers for, 109 against and 20 abstentions, the Inquirer reported Wednesday. It now goes over to the Senate.

It’s not the no-fault divorce we see elsewhere in the world but the Inquirer link above shows us the long, though likely not exhaustive, list of reasons one could give. Still, the Philippines has infamously remained one of two countries in which divorce remains illegal — the other is the Vatican. And this is an enormous win for advocates who have fought tirelessly for decades.

We’ve been here before. The House passed the bill back in 2018 before it died in the Senate but, Congressman Edcel Lagman and author of the bill Edcel Lagman says, a different, less conservative Senate (more on that mayhem below) this time around gives him cause for hope.

I’ve been looking at this story for a long time, see The Secular Ideal (Revisited) from 2012 and Divorce lost in the debate from 2017.

Originally published at https://mlq3.substack.com.



Manuel L. Quezon III

Columnist, Philippine Daily Inquirer. Editor-at-large Spot.ph. Views strictly mine. I have a newsletter, blog, podcast, and Patreon.