The Explainer Newsletter — Issue #3: Election Merry-Go-Round №1

It’s Monday and as our newsletter evolves, hopefully this can become a semi-regular sub-feature: something to chew on until May 2022 at least, as the Twilight of the Great Eagle Father proceeds and the question of the succession unfolds.

A note on why “Electoral Merry-Go-Round.” It’s a homage to the Free Press’ prewar Washington correspondent, James Wingo, who wrote a regular feature-column, “Independence Merry-Go-Round” which, if only it were collected and published as an anthology, would give a vivid, contemporary view, of the independence movement. You can get a flavor for his cheeky style from two samples, Cold feet, designer, super-toaster, editorials, etc., June 1, 1935 and Only Garner can tell hearings’ outcome, August 20, 1938.

Electoral Merry-Go-Round:

The past week,in summary: Attack of the Cusi monster; Pacquiao punches back; Go is gone; Gibo is back.

Last week ended with the Cusi crusade against Manny Pacquiao, who was proven to be a party president without any real authority in his party. When Pacquiao countered a circular from Cusi, calling for a party caucus, by saying only he, and not Cusi, could call for a meeting, the Palace weighed in on the side of Cusi. A rearguard action seems to have prevented the outright removal of Pacquiao as party president, but all that’s been achieved is to postpone it for a date closer to the President’s final State of the Nation Address.

What followed were two surprises. Senator Bong Go, who’d enjoyed the boosting efforts of state media for months, essentially threw in the towel and said he wasn’t interested in seeking the presidency. A face-saving way out of the inability of his candidacy to take off. This only redoubled speculation that out of options, the President and his people would push forward the candidacy of the president’s eldest daughter.

Then came a surprise courtesy of the former budget chief of former President Arroyo, who’d only, days before, been in the news for a supposed assassination attempt against him. It may have left him unscathed but also primed for media attention when he needed it.

What followed was the obligatory kowtow photo: here be Gibo and Inday and friends.

The Palace, for its part, decided to just blow smoke to obscure the landscape: essentially a holding statement that makes it impolitic for anyone to act too independent or at least, prevent fights from resulting in walk-outs from the ruling coalition this early on.

The context to this of course was the increasing independence of Pacquiao, who’s feeble signs of straying from the party line already unleashed the Cusi monster. But after the lynching in Cebu, Pacquiao started taking Cusi to task for the power failures that started last week. Something had to be done. And so, a change in focus, away from the Cusi-Pacquiao crisis and instead, the reintroduction of that blast from the past, Gibo Teodoro.

For his part, Ferdinand Jr. went to kowtow in Davao, while Isko Moreno has taken to sounding moderately independent of the Palace when it comes to Covid-related things. Lest the public think this is the start of his permanently distancing himself from the President, the Palace thus announced it like Isko. Keep your friends close, and your enemies…

This of course leaves the Vice-President out in the cold; but she remains non-committal.

The evolving nature of our presidential elections

The harsh reality is that in a time of very little bread, we now have a bumper crop of circuses. The President and his people have an age-old dilemma: popularity of one is, in many ways, non-transferable; and the hardest campaign to mount is one whose message is continuity.

Pulse Asia explains its February-March snapshot of public opinion as follows:

Across geographic areas, it is only in Mindanao where a clear choice for president emerges as 60% of its adult residents express support for Davao City Mayor Duterte. In Metro Manila, the leading candidates are Manila Mayor Domagoso (24%) and ex-Senator Marcos (18%). Those in the rest of Luzon are most inclined to vote for former Senator Marcos (19%), Davao City Mayor Duterte (17%), Senator Poe (15%), or Manila Mayor Domagoso (13%). Among Visayans, Davao City Mayor Duterte (21%), Senator Pacquiao (15%), and Senator Poe (14%) receive the most support.

Small pluralities in Classes D and E (26% and 29%, respectively) favor Davao City Mayor Duterte over the other probable presidential bets. However, in Class ABC, three (3) individuals record essentially the same voter preferences — Davao City Mayor Duterte (28%), former Senator Marcos (20%), and Senator Poe (16%).

The May 2022 vice-presidential race is a close one involving Manila Mayor Francisco Domagoso (16%), Senator Emmanuel Pacquiao (15%), and Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte (15%)

Jon Nery last week pointed out that key for the President and his people, is to keep the Mindanao vote solid; the various pilgrims going to Davao to kowtow to Inday Duterte brings gifts of their own: Marcos Jr. can point to his strength in Luzon; what, exactly, Gilbert Teodoro brings to the table is less clear. As Abi Valte also pointed out, from now to October, the name of the game is to bump up awareness of candidates interested in running and conversely, lower the ratings of their perceived opponents; and to somehow, cobble together a coalition that can secure the minority required to win in a multi-candidate race — including encourage some candidates to run, to divide the votes of other candidates.

When it comes to the electorate, topics I find personally very interesting on the basis of conversations I’ve had with academics and politicians, are the following, very briefly:

  1. From a conversation close to 20 years ago with Dodong Nemenzo: internal migration changes, so that formerly Tagalog areas have become Ilocano (the Ilocos itself, because of migration abroad, has become “depopulated”), formerly Cebuano areas in Mindanao have become Ilonggo, yet there is a Cebuano enclave in Ilonggo areas; a priest in Cebu around the same time told me Cebu is 10% Moro, dating to the exodus of Moros from Mindanao during the 1970s.
  2. From a local politician, a trend going on for three or four elections now: as the economy has expanded and more ways to move ahead open up, fewer and fewer people are interested in running for office. The politician said, in the past every party had multiple aspirants for every position; now, they’re hard-put to scrape up a slate; the result is formerly warring families/parties divide up positions among themselves. Another reason for this is, may be related to item 1: as old populations move away and new migrants take their place, the ties between the political families and the electorate weaken; the result is an increasingly mercenary electorate which has no ties to the candidates and no interest beyond being paid for their votes. This makes even the most local of local races extremely expensive, which pushes political families/parties to divide the positions rather than contest them, to bring down costs.
  3. This also means that since every local office must be bought, and the only cost control is to limit races to uncontested ones, it also results in local leaders being unable to offer any real machinery to national candidates. This in turn magnifies the influence of organized groups such as the Iglesia ni Cristo or other organizations that still offer a “command vote.” It also means that media — previously TV, radio, and the papers, today only meaningfully, TV plus social media — is paramount, gobbling up the lion’s share of funds raised. A corollary to this is that the corporate conglomerate parties — political parties that are essentially owned by big businessmen — subsidize the costs of campaigns for their affiliated congressmen who then operate as disciplined blocs big enough to exercise a veto in Congress, but not so huge as to be too expensive for their owners.
  4. All of these make for fabulously expensive campaigns which is why no real change has been made to the system, because if we had real majority-producing presidential elections, the cost would be stratospheric. Instead, the system is won by those best able to game it to produce a minority only slightly bigger than the next biggest minority. A majority comes automatically after victory: an instant majority in the House, instant obedience by the barangays who are nominally supposed to be “non-political”.
  5. In the past, government machinery has been proven to be a myth in terms of having a big effect in end-of-term elections. I do think as I mentioned last week, this administration will be able to enjoy two unprecedented advantages: a. the police are motivated to actively “campaign” for the administration, and they are politically ascendant now because of the so-called “war on drugs” and the pandemic, to the extent that their normal diffidence towards local authority is out the window; b. the pandemic provides a pretext to come down heavily on any local government that proves uncooperative.

That being said, let’s look at political geography.

Deep Dive: The landscape of elections

Downloadable — free! — is The Philippine Electoral Almanac, produced under the auspices of the office I headed. Do download it, I think you will find it informative and useful.

Philippine Electoral Almanac Revised And Expanded : Internet
The Philippine Electoral Almanac traces the history of Philippine elections. This revised and expanded edition goes as far back as the precolonial period, when…

For this newsletter I’d literally like to take a page — several pages, actually — to take take a deeper dive on something about the forthcoming elections. It’s the landscape of the candidates and the electorate, so to speak.


This map outlines a basic truth: Luzon’s votes equal those of the Visayas and Mindanao combined. In a sense, this may explain why the old idea of a North-South tandem for the presidency and vice presidency, current from 1935 to 1965, had become obsolete by 1986, when both main tandems were strictly composed of Luzon candidates (Aquino from Tarlac, Laurel from Batangas; Marcos from Ilocos Norte, Tolentino from Manila).

This becomes even clearer when broken down into specific provinces; Cavite, Pangasinan, Laguna, Bulacan, Batangas, Rizal and Nueva Ecija are all in Luzon. The Visayas has two, Negros Occidental and Cebu; Mindanao, only one: Davao del Sur.

And in Luzon, 71% of the votes are in the fabled Lingayen-Lucena Corridor, which accounts for a whopping 40% of the national total. This is also where the reach of media — TV being the media that counts most — can be considered the most pervasive.

There is, too, the heavily urban nature of the electorate. So, this being laid out, let me close with a little show-and-tell.


Speaking of the Electoral Almanac… Among our last activities in PCDSPO which handled The Official Gazette and the Presidential Museum and Library, was an electoral map of the 2016 elections. It would have made a perfect addition to the Philippine Electoral Almanac.

Many ways to read the map. One is, the Yellow, Light Blue, and Orange areas (Roxas, Poe, and Binay) can be considered the area of the old 1986–2016 Coalition, first fractured when Aquino and Binay split and split again when Poe left to contest Roxas. Another is that the Duterte areas in Dark Blue constitute the Marcos-KBL-NP bailiwicks, the Cebuano ethnic vote, and the (Favorite Son) Mindanao vote, the first such regional vote since the time of Emmanuel Pelaez. What’s remarkable too is the Metro Manila vote, which, except for the home turf of the Binays, went for Duterte. What this has going for it is the traditional notion that “Manila votes opposition” regardless of who is in power; in that sense, it’s to be expected; but since Nick Joaquin always argued that Manila has been a Visayan city since the end of World War II, it can also be considered a Cebuano voting area?

The Vice-Presidential results with fewer strong candidates, also suggests the extent of what might have been, had the 1986–2016 Coalition not been fractured; while Cayetano in the end, was the spoiler for Marcos (so would have been Escudero and Trillanes for Robredo, actually). Put another way, Cayetano took away more votes from Marcos than did Escudero and Trillanes from Robredo.

It’s interesting to compare the Roxas portion and Marcos portion to previous elections, including those in which their fathers were candidates. Add to this, Gilbert Teodoro’s showing and that of the uncle to whom he owes his political clout, Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. How solid is the so-called “Solid North”? Is there “Cojuangco country”? The maps suggest there might be.

Let’s use 1965, Marcos’ first term, as a kind of benchmark for his political math, a combination of his own bailiwick, the Ilocos, Nacionalista party bailiwicks such as Batangas and Bohol, and the Panay of the Lopezes; while the Macapagal and Roxas areas point to their own bailiwicks such as Pampanga and Capiz, and those of the Liberal party, such as Quezon Province, and Cebu.

The Marcos map from 1965, above, bears comparing to Marcos, 1969 and Marcos, 1986, plus later, Imelda Romualdez Marcos in 1992 and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in 2010.

A comparison of Gerardo Roxas in 1965 (above) and Manuel Roxas II in 2010 is quite interesting.

The 1969 election was an outlier in that it belongs to a very small subset of pre-martial law elections: the landslides, though in this case, to the even smaller subset of second term landslides, as there were only two such: Quezon in 1941 with 81% and Marcos in 1969 with 61%, the only presidents ever re-elected to office. The larger subset of genuine landslides are only three: Quezon’s first term in 1935, Magsaysay’s first term in 1953, and Marcos’s second in 1969.

We don’t discuss it as such but the Aquino-Marcos showdown in 1986 was the last of our two party contests, essentially.

The Vice-Presidential result also suggests the brute force of the KBL machinery as the only value-added seems to have been Tolentino’s home turf of Manila, while Laurel’s showing ex-post-facto underscores how realistic his chances for winning the presidency actually were: he won more provinces than Aquino.

1992 requires a more careful reading. First thiong’s first: I remain convinced that the untold story here is that the Marcos Loyalist vote could have turned this into a Marcos Restoration — except it was split between Imelda Marcos and Danding Cojuangco.

On one hand, the Imelda Marcos-won areas can be understood to be the Loyalist heartland(s); but since Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. was consolidating most of the old Nacionalista machine (he had lost a showdown over control of the NP franchise with the Laurels, who got to keep the old party name, but arguably, Cojuangco ended up with the old NP-KBL machine), which is why I argue that the two, then, can be said to have split the old Marcos-KBL-NP machinery and territories.

The showing of Joseph Estrada — himself the chief example of the politics of celebrity, but himself an out-and-out Marcos loyalist, shows the possibilities if Imelda and Danding hadn’t split the Loyalist vote.

2010 on the other hand, ; the surprise was how Joseph Estrada with his own fan base; Villar, as new owner of the Nacionalista party, could appeal to the old Loyalist bloc in the Ilocos, but not in South.

For the Vice-Presidential race, Manuel Roxas II in 2010 bears comparison with himself running for president in 2016 and his father running for vice president in 1965.

Now since it’s highly unlikely there will be another Roxas campaign, there is one aspect of his candidacy that bears watching in 2022. The President has been hostile to “Roxas country” throughout his presidency; it has remained independent of his control; it can, arguably, prove an electoral problem for an administration aiming to succeed itself. This is just one factor in many, affecting the geographical aspect of putting together a winning coalition.

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