AAS Annual Meeting

Southeast Asia Session 64

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Session 64: “Enduring Themes in Philippine Politics: What Else is New?"

Organizer and Chair: Belinda A. Aquino, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

Discussant: Cayetano W. Paderanga, University of the Philippines, Philippines

The Philippines is characterized as a modern representative democracy, but this is belied by certain negative themes in its political culture which consistently manifest themselves over time, no matter who or which parties or alliances ascend to the presidency. The most enduring of these themes are: corruption, poverty, insurgency, and dynasty. Singly or collectively, they hold the country back from becoming a stable and prosperous society like its counterparts in Asia. The last presidential elections in May 2010 again reflected these recurring elements leading to cynical comments among Filipinos themselves, such as, What else is new? The popular mood is not only one of skepticism but despair, yet interestingly enough, every incoming administration is greeted with resignation and at times hope. This panel proposal will examine in depth the unchanging nature of Philippine politics attributed to the above factors, and more importantly, to explore how various reforms suggested in the past for structural change can be achieved in the country in the short and long run. For instance, how can the new government make a breakthrough in resolving the perennial lingering Moro (Muslim) issue that threatens not only the nation’s internal security but also prevents economic development in Mindanao? What are some of the doable reforms or initiatives, which can eventually add up to long-term meaningful changes towards a successful rather than a flawed democracy that has prevailed for several decades now? The panel, which is composed of internationally known scholars in their respective disciplines, will not only critique the continuing political malaise in the country, but also come up with concrete suggestions towards the resolution of some of these fundamental problems that have hampered the country from stabilizing its political system and productively growing its economy.

"Poverty and Philippine Politics"
Virginia M. Miralao, Independent Scholar, Philippines

The elimination or reduction of poverty has always been in the forefront of every national administration that comes to power. Every government has a "poverty alleviation" program designed to trickle down benefits to the poor. And indeed, there have been significant gains in gross national product in recent decades, particularly during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal- Arroyo, with growth rates going as high as 5.5%, or even 7% during her last two years. Yet the country has remained poor especially those in the rural areas. Poverty rates vary from as low as 30% by government statistics to as high as 70% by other sources. Why the country is growing GDP-wise and declining in some sectors is a paradox, which is the focus of this paper. That economic anomaly or paradox needs to be explained. I will look particularly into the pattern of income distribution and the generation of wealth on the assumption that these are highly uneven, skewed in favor of the urbanized sectors with ample resources and modern facilities to the detriment of remote areas where the vast majority live on subsistence and substandard level, and territories that are conflict-ridden, such as Mindanao, and some parts of the Visayas like the Samar and Leyte provinces. It is my view that the new administration should deal with the primary issue of poverty first before tackling corruption or other problems that are really caused by the persistence of poverty. It is a vicious cycle, but confronting the problem at its roots is the direction that the new government should now take. It’s long overdue.

"Philippine Political Dynasties: Born to Rule"
Sheila S. Coronel, Columbia University, USA

Since the first Philippine national election in 1906, political families or clans, popularly known as dynasties, have dominated electoral and administrative politics, and monopolized economic power in the country. The kinship networks that make up the core of political parties or alliances are distinguished more by their personalistic ties rather than by ideological differences on issues. This paper examines the roots of the dynasty phenomenon in the Philippines by citing case histories from the Philippine Congress (national legislature) over time in terms of the 7 Ms of dynasty building: 1) money, 2) machine, 3) media and movies, 4) myth, 5) murder and mayhem, 6) marriage, and 7) mergers (alliances). I will also look into the failures of previous measures to minimize dynasty-building (such as limiting the terms of elected officials), as well as alternatives or reforms to promote more open and popular democracy in the Philippine political system.

“The Moro Problem and Peace Process: Dead-end or Light at the End of the Tunnel?"
Federico V. Magdalena, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

This paper will take a hard critical look at the “Moro (Muslim) Problem,” a condition in the early 1900s associated with integrating the Philippine Muslims with the Christian Filipinos to form a viable nation-state. This issue began during the American occupation of Mindanao, but “died” soon after. However, it re-appeared shortly after World War II in a series of Moro uprisings, notably the Kamlon rebellion. The conflict escalated into a militant battlecry during the 1970s, calling for self-determination (or secession) from the hills of Mindanao by a rebel group - the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF). Finally, in 1996 the agitation stopped when the Peace Agreement was sealed, and autonomy was granted to “Muslim Mindanao” under MNLF leader Nur Misuari. But “Moro autonomy” failed and new threats arose led by yet another rebel group – the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) complicated by further depredations by a smaller splinter group, the Abu Sayyaf. Since then, a renewed peace process has continued amid sporadic wars in 2000, 2003 and 2008. What went wrong? This paper discusses certain realities on the ground, explains why the Moro Problem refuses to die, and examines what trajectory the peace process could follow to end the sufferings of all affected people – be they Moros, Christians or indigenous populations.

"Is There a Culture of Corruption in Philippine Society?"
Belinda A. Aquino, University of Hawaii, Manoa, USA

Of all the recurring themes in Philippine politics being discussed in this panel proposal, none is more talked about, dissected, and subjected to all kinds of suggestions for "cure" than corruption. Recently elected Philippine president Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III has made the fight against corruption the centerpiece of his presidential agenda. He has appointed the upright former head of the Human Rights Commission, Leila de Lima, as his Secretary of Justice, an appointment that even left-wing groups have wholeheartedly endorsed. This paper will initially deal with the problematique of whether corruption is so ingrained in Philippine society it has become a way of life. It appears Filipinos are so weary of this "phenomenon" they don't even talk about it anymore, or are so resigned to the reality that it will never disappear from the body politic. The other focus of this paper is to go past the hopelessness the term engenders and explore possible avenues that the new administration can pursue because there are already remedies suggested by several investigations conducted in the past. Due punishment, for instance, has not been meted to even blatant perpetrators, which in turn emboldens future perpetrators of corrupt activities. The government must strengthen the nation's system of justice, which can start with restoring the independence of the judiciary that was undermined by excessive appointments based on patronage, privilege and corruption in previous administrations.