Philippine Elections: Aquino to Become 15th President of the Republic of the Philippines

  • photo courtesy of World Economic Forum www.flickr.com/photos/15237218@N00/8976388887
    May 11, 2010

    In what history will record as a significant step for Philippine democracy, over 75 percent of the 51 million registered Filipino voters went to the polls to elect a new president, vice president, half of their 24-seat Senate, the entire House of Representatives, and 17,000 other local officials around the country.

    With 85 percent of the votes counted, it is all but official—the Philippines elected their 15th president yesterday, May 10, in Southeast Asia’s first-ever automated elections. The country’s new leader will be former senator Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III, son of former president Corazon Aquino and martyred political activist Benigno Aquino Jr.

    At the time of drafting this note, Aquino held an insurmountable lead over the other candidates. He holds 13,098,633 votes or 40 percent. Former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada followed with 8,385,577 or 26 percent. Senator Manny Villar, who once closed the gap with Aquino during pre-election polls to single digits, has already conceded and congratulated Aquino. Estrada has not yet conceded.

    The race for vice president is much closer, but it is likely that former Manila mayor Jejomar Binay overcame a significant early lead by Senator Manuel “Mar” Roxas and may have won the election. As of 3:45 p.m. in Manila, Binay had 12,921,315 votes or 40.95 percent; Roxas had 12,072,145 votes or 38.25 percent; and in a distant third place, Senator Loren Legarda had 3,607,753 votes or 11.43 percent.

    Q1: When does Aquino take office and will his administration make major changes in the Philippines?

    A1: After all the votes are counted, or the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) indicates that all legitimate votes are tallied, the Congress must proclaim the president. This will likely take place in the next several weeks. After being proclaimed as president, Aquino will be inaugurated and assume office on July 1, 2010. It is common for the president-elect to begin to pull his cabinet together between the election and his inauguration.

    Aquino ran on a platform of clean government and anticorruption. He and his team have indicated to us, after seeing the election results today, that they believe they have a solid mandate to pursue a strong governance and anticorruption platform. They have not been clear on foreign policy intentions, as issues related to foreign policy and national security are not strong vote earners in the Philippines. However, Aquino’s close advisers have indicated that he feels very close to the United States and that we can expect a renewal of strong U.S.-Philippine ties.

    Q2: How will markets respond to an Aquino presidency, and since he ran with Senator Roxas, not Mayor Binay, will there be friction in the administration in case the president and vice president are from different political parties?

    A2: Initial signs are very promising. The Philippine Stock Exchange index (PSEi) went up 120.87 points or 3.85 percent on May 11 to finish at 3,262.93, its biggest gain in almost nine months. At one point in the session, the index posted a 156-point intraday gain. The Philippine peso jumped over 1 percent to 45.005 to the dollar, prompting the central bank to step in and buy dollars to calm the local currency’s rise. The peso later pulled back to 45.14, but traders expect the unit to break the 45 level in the near term. Foreign investor sentiment is strongly favorable, particularly on news of the clear winner in the election delivering a president with a mandate for reform.

    Philippine political parties tend not to be ideological. They are platforms for personalities. In the case of Binay, he actually has a very long and close family connection to Aquino. He was a lawyer for Cory Aquino when she was president and protected her interests assiduously. She later made him mayor of Manila. It is believed that the two would work well together if indeed Binay holds his lead and wins the election. Roxas would be prevented by law from serving in the Aquino administration for one year. He could join the government after that time.

    Q3: Will there be friction between the Aquino administration and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo?

    A3: The Aquino camp has been clear that they intend to pursue a strong anticorruption platform, and they have indicated an interest in pursuing investigations into contracts and deals completed during Arroyo’s nine years in office. Arroyo ran for and won a congressional seat, and under Philippine law, she is immune from prosecution while she is in Congress.

    Q4: Weren’t there concerns about the first automated elections in the Philippines being run well? Were there major problems? Could a successful Philippine election set a trend for the region?

    A4: The first automated elections in the Philippines reported were relatively efficient, and their success has likely strengthened confidence in the Commission on Elections. Security officials indicated that the balloting turned out to be the “most peaceful” that the country has seen. Having said that, at least nine people were killed (some reports suggest 10) with up to 12 wounded. It is likely these numbers will increase based on recent history. Revenge and “reprisal” violence generally claims additional lives and casualties following elections. As of 3 p.m. on polling day, 34 incidents of violence were recorded nationwide, including six shootings, five encounters with partisan armed groups or communist rebels, one robbery, one ballot snatching, three cases of intimidation of voters, three maulings, and two improvised explosive device explosions. Experts report that a major contributor to the generally peaceful situation was the security forces’ campaign against private armed groups who have been significantly reduced in number and were put under 24-hour surveillance.

    There were some technical problems with automated polling. Issues emerged immediately after polls opened with some machines breaking down, and the election commission was forced to extend the voting period by one hour. A total of 328 defective precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines nationwide were reported on election day by supplier Smartmatic-TIM.

    Note: The U.S. ambassador to the Philippines, the Hon. Harry K. Thomas, will talk with CSIS experts and associates on Thursday, May 13, at 2:30 p.m. at CSIS. Interested parties may contact SoutheastAsiaProgram@csis.org.

    Ernest Bower is a senior adviser and director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

    Critical Questions is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).

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