- Geoff Donald
Look Ahead - 2022 Philippines National Election
The Philippines doesn’t always get the attention it deserves but any country that has over 100 million people is worth paying attention to. Now add to that a country whose average age is 25.7 years, whose population is expected to be 150 million people in 2050, whose annual GDP is consistently growing at 6%, and you produce a country that is poised to be a major growth market and a potential regional player.
On May 19th, 2022, the Philippines will be holding its national election where Filipinos will elect a new President, a new House of Representatives, and new Senators. While the Philippines does not always generate interest in national capitals and boardrooms around the world, the upcoming election is worth watching and understanding the internal factors that could affect the election.
As is too often normal in modern democratic elections, the primary focus of media coverage and analysis will be on the Presidential race with less being said about the Senate and House of Representatives despite their importance to the Philippines’ political system. This trend will be heightened as the next President of the Philippine with have to replace Rodrigo Duterte who is limited to one Presidential term under Filipino law. President Duterte is a unique president who personality, policies and communication style have driven much of the Filipino agenda for the past 6 years.
With 304 seats in the House of Representatives and 12 seats in the Senate all up for election, the 2022 national election is consequential one. The Congressmen are split between two types: those individuals who represent a single congressional district and those who are party-list or sectoral representatives. The sectoral representative allows for better representation in the House of Representatives for minority groups, labour unions, and other underrepresented groups. While political parties are a part of the Philippine electoral system, there are currently 36 political parties represented in the House of Representative with the governing party, the Philippine Democratic Party–People's Power or PDP–Laban, holding 82 seats. Just two other parties, the Nacionalista Party and the Nationalist People's Coalition, received more that 10% of the vote in the last election.
While foreign policy and geopolitics are important, elections are more often decided by local issues and factors.
The first internal factor that affects elections in the Philippines is its geography. As an archipelagic nation that consists of 7,640 islands, the Philippines physical layout poses a challenge for political unity, allows the growth of regional based parties and elected officials, and heightens the importance of local issues and concerns over those issues that are more national in nature.
A second internal factor flows out of the Philippines geography and that is the Manila vs non-Manila tension. The Metro Manila region has always played the leading role in government, the economy, and culture in the Philippines. With a population over 14 million people (or 12% of the country), Manila accounts for 32.3% of the country’s GDP. Incomes in Manila are higher than the rest of the country and have increased considerably over the past decade vs those of other regions. Another example of the Manila vs non-Manila factor can be seen with COVID vaccinations. As of September 2020, most of the Manila population has received either one or two doses while other regions of the Philippine’s lag considerably. As a result of this economic and political power being centralized in the Manila region, there is considerable resentment amongst the other regions of the Philippines who residents feel that they are falling behind.
The third internal factor is the importance of political personalities and the weakness of the Philippines political parties. The Philippines has a history of outsized personalities dominating the political scene with President Duterte simply being the latest example of this trend. Political parties tend to be mainly localised to a region, ideologically motivated, or focused on a narrow group of stakeholders rather than brokerage or big tent parties. The current make-up of the House of Representatives with 36 different political parties highlights the weakness of political parties under the Philippines current electoral system. In fact, the current governing party, the Philippine Democratic Party–People's Power which holds 82 seats under Duterte, won new 79 of these seats in the 2019 Congressional elections up from 3. This rapid increase in seats appears to be less about increased interest in what the Philippine Democratic Party–People's Power stands for and more about gaining access to power. It would not be unexpected if the Philippine Democratic Party–People's Power loses seats and influence without President Duterte.
A fourth internal factor in the Philippines elections are political dynasties by various families both at a national and regional level. The Duterte’s, the Aquino’s, the Estrada’s and the Marcos are perhaps the most well-known families at the national level but the list of political dynasties in the Philippines is so massive that it has its own Wikipedia page. Research has shown that an estimate 50-70% of all politicians are involved or associated in a political dynasty within the Philippines with on average 31.3% of all congressmen and 23.1% of governors were replaced by relatives. One result of political dynasties is that these groups are more often concerned about protecting the current system and their own influence than promoting public policies that benefit the general public.
In addition to the political power being controlled by families, economic power is also concentrated among a smaller group of families who are often intertwined with the political dynasties either by marriage or business or are themselves political dynasties. It is estimated that ninety percent of the country's wealth is in the hands of less than 1% of the population and whose wealth has increase by 30% in the past year despite the impact that COVID has had on the rest of the country and its economy. In addition to concentrated political and economic power, there is a prominent level of concentration of the media with two companies having nearly 80% of the market share and in the telecoms industry where two companies, PLDT and Globe, dominated the market. In all cases, these companies are linked to Manila’s economic and political elites.
A final internal factor that could affect the upcoming national elections is the Catholic Church. The Philippines has the third largest Catholic population in the world with over 79% (or 86 million people) of the total population belong to the Catholic Church. The Catholic Church historically played a predominant role in the administration of the Philippines and to this day wields enormous influence on Philippine society and politics. In recent times, the high point of the Catholic Church influence was during the People Power Revolution of 1986 which resulted in the ousting of Ferdinand Marcos after 21 years win power. The Church still has a strong impact in the Philippines society through its education system, especially its universities, and its commitment to social action. Since 2016, the Catholic Church has been outspoken on the issue of killings by police forces. For the upcoming election, the Catholic Church is joining other civic groups calling for “righteous elections” and will focus on voter’s registration and education and poll monitoring.
While the internal factors listed above will have the greatest impact on the upcoming 2022 Philippines national election in our next post, we will examine those external factors that will help shape the race and some key issues.