By Ken Fuller
The scale of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr’s victory in the Philippine presidential election on May 9, where he gained a record 58.74 per cent of the votes cast, has stunned many observers. By contrast, his closest rival Leni Robredo, current vice-president and the main hope of the political and economic establishment, could manage only 27.99 per cent.
The left was represented in the presidential race by labour leader Leody de Guzman and veteran writer, academic and activist Walden Bello, running under the Partido Lakas ng Masa (PLM) banner. Presidential candidate de Guzman received (as of the latest count) 92,070 votes (0.17 per cent of the total), while running mate Bello received 99,740 (0.19 per cent).
Meanwhile, however, PLM senatorial candidate Luke Espiritu received a much healthier 3.4 million votes, coming 34th in a field of 63 (there were 12 seats to be filled), indicating that many PLM supporters may have voted for Robredo in an attempt to block Marcos.
The Marcos victory was to a large extent due to a continuation of the trend which has seen Filipinos shunning mainstream or “respectable” politicians in favour of populist mavericks like incumbent President Rodrigo Duterte, ie those who, due to their plain speaking, strike a chord with the masses, despite their lack of a programme which might serve the interests of the masses.
The fact that Marcos’s running mate was Sara Duterte, daughter of the incumbent, underlines this.
Viewed objectively, it can be said that the problem lies in the fact that while a majority are fed up with the neoliberalism which has guided the fortunes of the Philippines for decades, they have not been presented with an alternative vision around which to unite.
Marcos seems to be intent upon restoring the family name and while many have interpreted this as a desire to rewrite the history of his father’s 1969-86 regime, often regarded as little more than a brutal kleptocracy, it would be possible for him to take an altogether different approach.
There was in Ferdinand Marcos Sr a nationalist (in the anti-imperialist sense) streak, but his attempts to embark upon real development were thwarted by the World Bank and the IMF — by Washington, in other words.
If Bongbong were to resurrect this nationalist approach, undertaking industrialisation in the manner of the Asian “tiger economies,” a new page would be turned in the history of the Philippines. But there are few signs that this will be the case.
Marcos stayed away from all the presidential debates, whereas a candidate intent upon the developmental path would have welcomed the opportunity to communicate his vision to the masses — and indeed, the mobilisation of the masses would be essential for the implementation of such a programme.
During the campaign, he claimed that during his father’s regime the peso was worth two to the dollar (which can now get you 52 pesos), whereas in fact the last time this was true was 1962, when president Diosdado Macapagal entered the first IMF programme. One of the conditions was devaluation of the peso, which torpedoed the country’s initial attempts to industrialise. Any candidate wedded to a serious development programme would have been aware of this.
Topping the Senate poll was Robin Padilla, an actor and convert to Islam, having formerly been a Jehova’s Witness. While Padilla says he opposes tax incentives for foreign investors and wants to increase the incomes of Filipino families, he is also an advocate of federalism (which would render a national vision and programme even more difficult to achieve) and maintains that extrajudicial killings are a legitimate part of Duterte’s anti-drugs campaign.
Coming third in the Senate poll was Raffy Tulfo, a populist radio and TV host who seems to specialise in attracting libel suits.
The performance of Padilla and Tulfo indicates that the electorate’s appetite for “celebrity” candidates, once thought to have been on the wane, is undiminished (although former boxer and current Senator Manny Pacquiao came a poor third in the presidential race).
Then there are the dismal party-list results. For the past quarter century, the Philippines has run a party-list system in which 20 per cent of seats in the House of Representatives are reserved for marginalised and under-represented sectors (labour, the peasantry, the urban poor, youth, women, etc) and for a long time groups inspired by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), the Maoist organisation which broke from the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas-1930 in 1968, did very well, some like Gabriela, the women’s party, winning the maximum three seats.
In recent years, the eight or so progressives in the House have been known as the Makabayan bloc.
This year, such groups suffered a massive setback. Of the 177 groups contesting the party-list elections, only six crossed the 2 per cent threshold of the total party-list vote guaranteeing them at least one seat and none of them were members of the Makabayan bloc or the “softer” left Akbayan. There are a number of reasons for this reverse.
For some years, mainstream parties, personalities, business groups and even military circles have established what are widely regarded as fake party-list groups; this time around, election watchdog Kontra Daya estimates that no less than 120 of the contesting groups fit this description. This means that the genuinely marginalised and under-represented have been crowded out.
Then again, the Makabayan parties have been “red-tagged,” with allegations being thrown that any members of such parties must be at least sympathisers of the CPP and/or supporters of the armed struggle conducted by the New People’s Army.
Such allegations have regularly come from the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, which has also been blamed for the circulation of a bogus Commission on Elections resolution claiming that the Makabayan constituent groups had been debarred from the election.
It must surely also be the case, however, that the mobilising capability of the movement itself has been eroded in recent years. It is possible that many who previously voted for progressive party-list groups have come to recognise the limitations of the system itself: even at the height of its electoral influence in 2010, the left occupied just nine out of 57 party-list seats; add the 229 congressional seats elected from the districts and it is clear that the best that may be achieved via the party-list system is the occasional tactical victory.
Of greater potential than the party-list system itself, however, are the party-list voters. In 2010, almost 4.5 million people voted for left parties in the party-list elections. Most if not all of those parties, elected and unelected, had programmes calling for national development.
Would not those 4.5 million people, or the activists among them, be more profitably employed working to build a Philippine-wide movement for nationalist industrialisation, building support for a programme that would lift millions out of poverty and ensure that in future elections the masses would be conscious of their own interests, ruling out the possibility of voting for “celebrities?”
There are, however, a host of left parties, groups and grouplets and the degree of left unity required for the adoption of such a programme remains a distant prospect. (IPA Service)
Courtesy: Morning Star