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Nr. 46 / 10. August 2015

For the liberals in 2016 it is all or nothing
Jules Maaten

When over 2,000 Liberal Party activists met in the historic Club Filipino in Manila
on July 31st to hear President Benigno “PNoy” Aquino endorse the candidate for
his succession, there was a palpable sense of history being in the making. Foremost, obviously, because it was the starting gun for a campaign to have two liberals in a row in the highest office of the country – after a drought of four decades
out of office. The anointed successor, Interior Secretary MAR Roxas, who is tried
and tested in cabinets under different Presidents and as a former Congressman,
Senator and Liberal Party leader, has all the right credentials: integrity, experience
and competence. He was also originally the liberal candidate for the Presidency in
the 2010 elections, making way for and supporting PNoy when the clamour for
Aquino’s anti-corruption candidacy became unstoppable. He then coined the
phrase “Country before self”. Roxas is in with a fighting chance, and much depends on his success.

Hintergrund: Philippines Nr. 46 / August 2015


But there was history in the making in a different sense too. Philippine politics is notoriously dominated by personality issues, and often resembles more a soap opera than a serious system of governance. Sometimes being an actor or a sports personality is a bigger asset for a career in politics than
many years of sober public service. Senate elections remind the casual observer of a beauty pageant.
The media write incessantly about who is allied with whom, about family ties, who is where in the
polls and about personal grudges. The event in Club Filipino however, shock horror, was about something else. It was about issues, and one issue in particular: how can the continuation of Aquino’s reforms be assured.
These reforms are known as the daang matuwid, the “straight path”, and they focus on good governance, particularly the fight against corruption. Without corruption there is no poverty, was Aquino’s
battle cry when he was elected President in 2010, and it still resonates. By supporting MAR Roxas,
Aquino has gone for the one candidate who, like him, embodies precisely the values of selfless public
service. That should be a hard act to beat. Typically, two days after the event, MAR resigned as interior
secretary, to avoid any confusion of interests.
The contest will be between MAR
and the current Vice-President,
Jejomar Binay. Binay presents
himself as a man of the common
people, although his many years
as Mayor of the city of Makati
(where he was succeeded by his
own son) have made him a very
rich man – there are rumours of
large-scale kick-back schemes
investigation. In opinion polls
Binay seemed to have built up an
unassailable lead, but these
Aquino, president of the Philippines (r/h) and MAR Roxas
figures are beginning to crumble.
(Photo: Malacañang Photo Bureau)
A month ago he resigned from
Aquino’s cabinet, suddenly declaring himself an opposition candidate and dissociating himself from
the daang matuwid. This would be a re-run of the race for the Vice-Presidency in 2010, in which
Binay surprisingly pipped Roxas by a nose-length at the finishing line.
The Philippine and foreign business community are seriously worried that the next elections may see a
return to the bad old ways. They are happy with the changing perception of their country less corrupt,
witnessed by the spectacular progress made in Transparency International’s annual corruption index,
where during the Aquino Administration the country leaped up from 139th to 85th place in six years
time. On top of that the World Bank continues to predict a 6.4% growth rate, the second highest in
Asia, and ascribes this - what it calls an “Asian miracle” - primarily to Aquino’s anti-graft measures. In
the Global Competitiveness Report, from being deemed as a “mostly unfree” economy in previous
years, the Philippines returned to the “moderately free” category over the last two years under the
Aquino administration. Bloomberg predicts that the Philippines will be the second fastest growing
economy in the world this year - a stunning achievement for a country that has for many years been
Hintergrund: Philippines Nr. 46 / August 2015


considered an under performer. Since 2010, GDP growth under President Benigno S. Aquino III was an
average of 6.2 percent - the highest in four decades. There still remains much to be done, with a quarter of the population living below the poverty line, but the progress is undeniable.
There are likely to be other candidates too, although the full extent of this may not be known until
the deadline for filing of candidacies in October. There are a number of Senators who may run, including newby Senator Grace Poe, plus the crime-busting Mayor of Davao City who may be the dark horse
in this presidential race should he decide to enter the contest.
Poe handsomely beat the competition in the 2013 Senate elections, and is also riding high in the polls
but is unsure whether to run or not. Aquino would like to have her on board the liberal ticket, but she
ponders whether a run for Vice-President is what she really wants as her policies and motivation
come under increasing scrutiny. Thus far she has broadly shown broad support for reforms, although
there are doubts that she supports Aquino’s
peace deal in Mindanao. In any case, she
would run as an independent candidate. Of
course this frees her from cumbersome political party machinations, but also raises serious questions about checks and balances in
case she gets elected to such high office. The
political party system in the Philippines may
be blatantly dysfunctional, with only the Liberal Party resembling anything more than an
electoral alliance, having a political programme and a tradition of collegial leadership. But to cast parties aside entirely is not
Senator Grace Poe at an event for freedom of information in the the solution here. Political party reform is.
Philippines (Photo: FNF)

MAR Roxas has to come from behind in the race towards the May 9th, 2016, elections. Aquino’s support for Roxas, which commentators had predicted would be half-hearted at best, turned out to be
genuine and whole-hearted. This is important, because Aquino’s ratings – albeit not as stellar as they
were during his first years in office - are still comfortably positive and substantially higher than any
President before him at this stage of his six-year mandate, with in June 2015 57% being “satisfied”
(up from 47% in March) and 27% dissatisfied (from 36%). These are numbers to write home about.
What Aquino stands for therefore remains popular. Aquino: “why would we be enticed by a 'maybe'
when we have the sure thing? Number one, someone who's certainly competent, certainly with no
other boss but the people, is not indebted to anyone, and certainly has no other interest but the nation's.” Roxas is that he is the political "father" of the multibillion-peso business process outsourcing
industry in the country – which he subsequently forbade his family members to work in to avoid suspicions of wheeling and dealing. There is also support from unsuspected quarters. Former President
and now Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada, not a known friend of the liberals, has stated that Roxas is “proven incorruptible and qualified” to run for President in the 2016 elections.
In comparison to other candidates Roxas is less flashy, and prefers to discuss policies not
personalities. For a President this may be a good thing, but for a candidate this can make it harder to
strike a cord with the voters. Recently Roxas has come out with more personal and less technocratic
Hintergrund: Philippines Nr. 46 / August 2015


speeches, to general acclaim. The challenge for MAR Roxas and the Liberal Party will be to keep the
electorate’s focus on the issues. This may not be such an uphill struggle as some predict. After all the
Filipino voters in the past have shown a good nose for what the country actually needs. Aquino’s own
election was a case in point

Jules Maaten, Country Director FNF Philippines

Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung für die Freiheit (FNF)
Bereich Internationale Politik
Referat für Querschnittsaufgaben
Karl-Marx-Straße 2
D-14482 Potsdam

Hintergrund: Philippines Nr. 46 / August 2015