political parties

[ANALYSIS] Authoritarian contamination after EDSA

Julio C. Teehankee
[ANALYSIS] Authoritarian contamination after EDSA

Illustration by Alejandro Edoria

If the Marcos-Duterte tandem wins in 2022, this would place the Philippines in a full political cycle with authoritarian resurrection

Final of three parts

Read first part: [ANALYSIS] Vestiges of authoritarianism and return of Marcos dynasty

Read second part: [ANALYSIS] Marcos na rin? Authoritarian dispersion in PH party politics

In the political science literature, authoritarian diaspora refers to personalities formerly identified with fallen dictatorships who migrate across multiple parties in the period of democratization. Authoritarian contamination is a potent variant of the authoritarian diaspora since it infects democratic parties or parties that struggled against authoritarianism or were founded in its aftermath to consolidate democratic gains. This type of infection serves to weaken democratic norms and values within a political system already compromised by patronage and clientelism. 

The Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) and the Lakas Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) were the two dominant parties in the immediate post-Marcos period. These parties were founded in the aftermath of the dictatorship to consolidate democratic gains. However, the lethal combination of dynastic politics and constant party-switching has infected these parties with vestiges of authoritarianism. Both parties have pledged support for the 2022 vice presidential run of Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, in tandem with Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. as president.

Weak party discipline and low party institutionalization in the post-Marcos period have resulted in breakaway factions constantly forming new political parties. Carved out of a major faction in the anti-Marcos party PDP-Laban, the LDP was organized in 1988 by relatives and close allies of the late president Corazon Aquino to merge all political parties supportive of her administration. The Lakas-National Union of Christian Democrat-United Muslim Democrats of the Philippines (Lakas NUCD-UMDP, later renamed Lakas Christian Muslim Democrats or Lakas CMD) was formed in 1991 when then-defense secretary Fidel Ramos lost in the presidential primaries of the LDP.

Lakas-CMD was formed in the spirit of the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution that ousted the Marcos dictatorship. It was a merger of the Lakas ng EDSA party founded by Ramos and the National Union of Christian Democrats (NUCD) founded by former senator and anti-Marcos leader Raul S. Manglapus. Lakas-CMD supported Bongbong Marcos’ failed vice-presidential run in 2016 and has endorsed his presidential bid in 2022. Recently, the party and its chair emeritus, former president and ex-House speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo successfully brokered the formidable tandem of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Sara Duterte.

LDP: Cory’s KBL

The formation of the LDP was an outcome of earlier efforts by then-House speaker Ramon Mitra Jr. and Jose “Peping” Cojuangco to merge all political parties and groups supporting the Aquino administration into a single party similar to the KBL. An alliance for the 1988 local elections was forged between the two parties headed by presidential relatives Cojuangco and Paul Aquino – the PDP-Laban and Lakas ng Bansa – to pave the way for this merger. The alliance fielded a common slate in 53 out of 75 provinces. These included politicians formerly affiliated with the KBL. The machinery built around the traditional leadership networks in the provinces and regions by the former dictator may have been dismantled, but Marcos’ political leaders have preserved their enormous clout at the local level.

After the local elections, the formation of the LDP in 1988 formalized the merger. The core of the party was built around Lakas ng Bansa and the PDP-Laban. Speaker Mitra was elected party chair, and Representative Cojuangco assumed the position of secretary-general. The new party opened its membership to all kinds of personalities and political persuasions. Bereft of any clear political ideology but totally armed with patronage and access to state resources, the fledgling party was able to attract a large number of congressmen, mayors, and governors. 

Between 1988 and 1991, its membership in the House grew to 154. Out of the 148 congressmen who ran under several pro-administration parties, alliances and coalitions, the LDP was able to recruit 123. Of the 30 elected oppositionists, 17 affiliated themselves with the new party. Seventeen independent legislators also joined the LDP. These legislators were politicians identified with the Marcos administration who distanced themselves from their former patron, ran, and won as independent candidates. They formed a legislative bloc known as the “Group of Independents” headed by former KBL stalwart Ronaldo Zamora. The group formed the core of Mitra’s faction within the LDP. By the time Mitra declared his candidacy for the presidential election in 1992, the LDP, which was founded in the spirit of the anti-Marcos struggle, had morphed into another KBL.

The LDP suffered the same fate as the KBL after Mitra lost his presidential bid. Cojuangco attempted to consolidate the LDP by running for the speakership in the House of Representatives, but a majority of the legislators had already switched to the new party in power: the Lakas ng EDSA-National Union of Christian Democrats (Lakas NUCD). The LDP reorganized itself under the leadership of then-Senate president Edgardo Angara, and became the primary opposition party under the Ramos presidency. Edgardo Angara was a Marcos-era technocrat whose firm lawyered for Marcos cronies. The party briefly entered into a coalition with Lakas for the 1995 mid-term elections to form the Lakas-Laban coalition.

Later, Angara orchestrated the coalition of three opposition parties – the LDP, NPC, and the Partido ng Masang Pilipino – into the formation of the Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino (LAMMP) to support the presidential candidacy of populist actor Joseph Estrada. Later the party would also support the failed candidacy of another populist actor Fernando Poe Jr. Although its membership has dwindled in recent years, the LDP has entered into a coalition with Duterte and has become one of the administration’s reliable allies in Congress.

Lakas-CMD: From EDSA to Marcos, Duterte

 The Lakas-CMD was formed in 1991 to support the successful presidential candidacy of Fidel Ramos. Ramos, a cousin of Ferdinand Marcos and West Point graduate, served a chief of the now defunct Philippine Constabulary and chief implementor of Martial Law. His critical defection, together with then-defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile, led to the ouster of Marcos in 1986. He would later defend the fledgling Cory Aquino administration against several coup attempts orchestrated by Enrile and his followers in the military. Hence, Ramos managed to claim the mantle of EDSA hero and defender of democracy.

In 1991, Ramos contested but lost the presidential nomination of the LDP to Speaker Ramon Mitra Jr. He then consolidated his disparate groups of supporters that included the United People Power Movement, EDSA-LDP, and Partido Lakas Tao into the Lakas ng EDSA (Lakas). Lakas would then merge with the National Union of Christian Democrats-United Muslim Democrats of the Philippines (NUCD-UMDP). The merged party would be known as Lakas NUCD-UMDP (later shortened to Lakas CMD).  Upon winning the presidency in 1992, the Lakas NUCD-UMDP was identical to its forerunners, the KBL and LDP. It was largely organized to advance the incumbent president’s political agenda. By inducing party-switching, all the administration super-majority parties since then have followed the same instant party-building strategy. 

The chief architect of the growth of Lakas NUCD-UMDP into a monolithic party under the Ramos administration was Speaker Jose de Venecia Jr. – a former ranking member of the LDP despite his personal and business association with the Marcoses. He successfully negotiated for a series of formal coalition agreements between Lakas and other minor parties such as NP, LP, PDP-Laban, NPC, and the KBL. The “Rainbow Coalition” did not only facilitate the smooth passage of President Ramos’ legislative agenda, but also allowed the ruling Lakas-NUCD-UMDP to expand and consolidate its membership by raiding the ranks of its political partners.  Party switching was made easier since they were all members of the ruling coalition. From an original number of 38 elected members, it was able to expand itself to 119.

A number of former KBL stalwarts were accommodated within the ruling coalition and awarded key positions in the House of Representatives. These included Ronaldo Zamora of San Juan; Rodolfo Albano of Isabela; Manuel Garcia of Davao; Simeon Datumanong of Maguindanao; and the dictator’s son Bongbong Marcos who was elected in his father’s old constituency in the Second District of Ilocos Norte. Despite its avowed adherence to the ideology of “Christian Democracy,” it was doubtful that the majority of its membership adhered to the party’s basic beliefs and principles. Similar to the failed experiment of the PDP-Laban to blend a semblance of ideology and principles with practical politics, the voice of the handful party ideologues of Lakas was drowned by the cacophony of personal interests, political deals, and compromises.

Just like Mitra in 1992, De Venecia lost his bid for the presidency in 1998 despite his control of a well-oiled national political machinery. But his running mate, Senator Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, won as vice president. Arroyo, the daughter of former president Diosdado Macapagal, would assume the presidency after the ouster of Estrada in 2001. She won her own mandate in the 2004 presidential elections, defeating populist actor Fernando Poe Jr. Her remaining term in office was marked by instability after it was revealed in taped conversations with election officials that she intervened in the counting of her votes.

In order to survive her stay in office, she consolidated political power by disbursing patronage to key political allies and sectors. Arroyo engineered the merger of Lakas with her original party Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi) to form the Lakas Kampi CMD (LKC). Kampi was formed in 1997 by then-senator Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as a breakaway faction of the LDP to launch her presidential candidacy. However, she opted to coalesce with Lakas, support Speaker De Venecia’s presidential candidacy, and run as his vice president. In 2010, Kampi broke away from the merger to form the National Unity Party (NUP), organized by veteran strategist and former Marcos political operator – Ronaldo Puno.

One of Arroyo’s protégé within Lakas was Martin Romualdez, nephew of former First Lady Imelda Marcos, who rose in party ranks to become its president. Under Romualdez’s leadership, the party that was inspired by the spirit of the 1986 EDSA people power revolution supported the vice-presidential candidacy of Bongbong Marcos in 2016. Lakas-CMD has become a close ally of the Duterte administration and a principal endorser of the alliance between Bongbong Marcos and Sara Duterte in the 2022 election.

The son also rises

Bongbong Marcos – the only son and namesake of the late dictator – failed in his bid to run for the vice presidency in 2016, despite silently preparing for the presidency since he was elected senator in 2010. He accompanied his father and family members in exile abroad after they were ousted in the first people power uprising in 1986. He returned from exile in 1991 and, together with his sister, Imee Marcos Manotoc, began rebuilding their family’s political influence. In running for the vice presidency, Marcos has refused to acknowledge the human rights abuses and plunder committed under his father’s dictatorial regime. He even endorsed the historical revisionist view (propagated on social media and popular among young millennials) that the Marcos years were the most progressive in the country’s history. 

Marcos lost both the election and his protest to Maria Leonora “Leni” Robredo of the then ruling Liberal Party (LP). In the run-up to the 2022 presidential elections, he has entered into negotiations with Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, the equally feisty daughter of the populist president who was initially the frontrunner in presidential surveys. When she opted not to file her candidacy for president, Marcos took the opportunity to declare his candidacy. After much hemming and hawing and upon the urging of former president and Lakas-CMD stalwart Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, Sara Duterte opted to run as the vice-presidential candidate of Marcos.

A potential Marcos-Duterte victory in 2022 would place the Philippines in a full political cycle with authoritarian resurrection.

Democratic vaccination

The inability to adequately address the legacies of authoritarianism three decades since the ouster of the Marcos dictatorship has impacted the overall consolidation of the country’s democratic gains and continues to weaken its electoral and party system. The rise of an authoritarian populist like Rodrigo Duterte was a symptom, not the cause, of this democratic erosion. The possible return of a Marcos to the presidential palace would be symptomatic of this infection. If Philippine democracy has gradually been infected by authoritarian contamination, the appropriate response would be democratic vaccination.

For decades, reform advocates have pushed for new rules to address the country’s weak political institutions. The intransigent hold of political dynasties to power, the constant party-switching, and deep dependence on patronage politics to get things done have severely weakened the health of the country’s electoral democracy. The law enabling the constitutional ban on political dynasties has not been passed by Congress three decades since its inception. Similarly, the “Political Party Development Act” (PPDA) has been languishing in Congress since 2003. 

The proposed PPDA seeks to promote the institutionalization of political parties in the Philippines by addressing four essential reform issues, namely: campaign finance reform; state subsidy to political parties; a ban on party switching; and strengthening citizen-parties linkages.

Establishing a well-defined and differentiated political party structure will advance democratic accountability, facilitate government formation, and help construct legislative majorities. To this purpose, the proposed PPDA aims to foster the development of meaningful political identities, policy platforms, and agendas; internal democratic institutions; a dependable core of followers and leaders; and the capacity to raise funding for party activities. Parties and candidates who take innovative tactics to secure grassroots support should be commended and rewarded.

The passage of these measures will hopefully help build immunity and restore the health of democratic politics in the country. – Rappler.com

This three-part series is an abridged version of the chapter “The Legacy of the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan: Authoritarian Contamination in Philippine Party Politics” written for an edited volume marking the 50th anniversary of the declaration of martial law to be published by the Ateneo de Manila University Press in 2022. The full version of the chapter will also be released as a working paper by the La Salle Institute of Governance.

Julio C. Teehankee is professor of political science and international studies at De La Salle University. He appears regularly as a political analyst for local and international media outlets and his YouTube channel – “Talk Politics with Julio Teehankee.”