It is easy for people looking at an election to focus solely on the candidates, their musings on social media, and the latest polling numbers. But it is important for understand what are key issues that may affect the campaign and that a future government will have to manage.
This post looks at some of the key issues that may affect the upcoming national election in the Philippines.
The first factor that motivates voters are economic opportunities or trying to answer the question “Will I be better off in the next few years?” In the years preceding COVID-19, the Philippine saw rising GDP, increasing wages, low inflation rates and low levels of unemployment. COVID-19 turned all this upside down. The Philippines saw a drop in GDP in 2020, wages fell, the inflation rate increased, and unemployment shot up to 18 percent. While these economic numbers improved in 2021, Philippines economic recovery to pre-pandemic levels is still years away. A particular challenge is inflation which increased by 4.5% in 2021. This increase inflation was driven by higher food prices.
For hundreds of thousands of Filipinos’ seeking employment overseas is viewed as their best employment choice. For the Philippines government, overseas remittances are a major financial boost to the economy and thus overseas foreign workers are encouraged. While remittances have remained high over the past two years, the ongoing challenges relating to travel and working overseas have hurt Filipinos who are exploring careers in other countries.
The issue of COVID-19 and how the next government will manage issues such as the ongoing outbreaks, new variants such as Omicron, and the vaccination process will play a role in how people vote in 2022.
The Philippines has seen almost three million COVID-19 cases since the start of the pandemic and over 50,000 deaths, but unfortunately as of early January 2022, new daily records of COVID-19 cases are being set in the country. At the end of last year, 45% of the Philippines’ 110 million people were fully vaccinated but the rise in COVID-19 cases is resulting the government increasing mobility restrictions across the country with the President threatening to arrest the unvaccinated who leave their house.
While Lena Robredo is encouraging the use of incentives to increase the vaccination rate, the front runner - Ferdinand Marcos Jr – opposes mandatory vaccination and has called for more enforcement of the existing rules.
Crime and Safety
The issue of crime and safety has been a defining feature of President Duterte election campaign and administration. The Philippine, whose rising crime rates prior to 2016 has seen a drop in overall crime since the current President was first elected. Despite the drop in crime, the Philippines still suffers from high rates of crime, violence, and domestic terrorism. This lack of overall safety has resulted in the Philippines being at the bottom of various indexes that rank security in the Asia Pacific region.
The cost of the President’s war on crime has been high with the Philippines incarceration rate being among the highest in the world. The number of deaths relating to war on drugs is between 6,201 and 8,663 although some groups estimate the numbers of deaths is between 12,000 and 30,000 people. One result of this increase in enforcement and arrests is that prison overcrowding is a major challenge with jail occupancy levels exceeding 400% of capacity.
While the human cost of the War on Drugs is quite high, polling has shown the policy has overwhelming support from Filipinos with 82% of satisfied with the President’s policies and actions. Considering such prominent levels of support for these policies, it can be expected that all Presidential candidates will commit to a tough on crime stance to appeal to voters.
A third issue that could play a role in the election is climate change. According to various climate risk indexes, the Philippines is one of the ten countries that is the most affected by ongoing climate change. Its position in the Pacific Ocean makes it one of the world’s most typhoon-affected regions with 19 to 20 typhoons affecting the country on an annual basis. In addition, rising sea levels threaten low lying areas, changes to the ocean are affecting traditional fishing stocks while droughts are affecting Philippine hydro-electric supplies on which it relies for 20% of its power generation.
The Philippines government has recognized the risk that climate change can have their country and in April 2021, announced its goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 75% by 2030 as part of its commitments to the Paris Agreement on Climate Change. Unfortunately, its commitment to the reduction has been challenge by both a lower national budget for the Climate Change Commission which is the lead on this file and by the fact that of the 75% targeted reduction, just 2.71% of the greenhouse gas emissions reduction can be achieved with internal funds, while the remaining 72.29% rests on international funding.
For individual Filipinos, recent surveys show that “85.1 percent of respondents in the Philippines believed that climate change was serious and an immediate threat to their country and well-being.” Much like the issue of crime, the consensus that climate change is a prominent issue to so many Filipinos means that candidates will develop policies designed to appeal broadly to voters.
Despite what you may see on television or on social media, as a rule foreign policy rarely affects national elections. There are of course exceptions to this rule but for most voters it is personal and local issues that influence who they will vote for and not the “Great Game.”
The Philippines physical location in the world - part of the first chain of islands that could potentially limit China’s expansion, the country’s continuing fishing disputes with China, and the fact that it is a treaty ally (and former colony of) the United States - means that outside tensions between the two powers may play a role in the national elections.
While the country swung away from the United States towards China in the first years of the Duterte presidency in very public ways, the last couple of years has seen as small swing back to the US as issues such as a slow Chinese investment and encroachment by Chinese maritime vessels into Philippines claimed waters made the Filipino government re-assess it options.
Strategically, the Philippines will avoid choosing a side between China and the United States but with recent survey’s suggesting that 95% of Filipinos are concerned about “China’s growing regional political and strategic influence” it is highly possible that some individuals will attempt to run on a nationalistic election platform or with anti-China and Chinese rhetoric. While this might be a successful electoral strategy, it would be a very poor decision to alienate the country’s third largest trading partner and its second largest source of foreign investment.