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Shaping Of Political Structures And Institutions Of Philippines: Can It Be Redesigned Beyond 2022 Elections For Better Governance? – Analysis

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Introduction

Chronicling the historical quest of the country to better governance has been marked by powerful continuities and discontinuities witnessed by both periods of development and regression. Seventy-four (74) years after the Philippines gained its independence from US colonial rule and 35 years since the people regained their power from Marcos authoritarian rule, the country has politically hobbled and has yet to achieve an ordered sense of national development and effective democratic rule. Given the limitation of space, the paper argues that governance remains compromised until structural, institutional, political, and electoral reforms leading to a more empowered government structure, mass-based institutional electoral system, and collaborative governance are institutionalized. Consequently, Philippine society would steer towards political decay and insulate the nation-state from the people it serves.

Governance

Conceptually, “governance” is the process of decision-making and the manner by which decisions are implemented/acted (or not implemented/unacted). It is a political process where power is derived, exercised, controlled, and allocated within and beyond the institutions of government. Further, an analysis of governance focuses on the formal and informal actors and institutions involved in decision/policy- making and implementing the decisions/policies as well as on formal and informal structures created or established by power-wielding conventions designed to arrive at and implement decisions. 

As the “government” rules the state or local political community, “governance” pursues the defined goals in accordance with the proper functioning of state’s or community’s socio-economic and political institutions. Drawing from the convergence of paradigms, governance bring together interweaving institutional and political economy factors that shape the economic and social development of the country. Moreover, governance can be used inseveral contexts such as corporate governance, international governance, national governance and local governance.

Good governance is presumed to protect political, civil, and cultural rights and ensure a competent and non-corrupt and accountable public administration. The government’s ability to govern is gauged not simply on its capacity to pursue and realize development goals but more importantly on its capability to create the necessary social, political, economic, and cultural conditions where continuous processes of interaction between social actors, groups, and forces on the one hand, and public or semi-public organizations, formal institutions of government and authorities on the other hand, is allowed and guaranteed in co-managing and co-steering national development objectives, i.e. collaborative governance. 

Collaborative or interactive governance does not only broaden institutional pluralism but also strengthen the centrifugal forces of social pluralism. It maintains a constant balancing process between the governing needs or problem situations as well as grasp of opportunities on one hand and governing capacities or mechanisms for problem-solving or strategy formulation on the other hand. In as much as no single actor, whether private or public, has the monopoly of knowledge and information required to solve complex, dynamic, and diversified problems nor a single actor exists who has sufficient overview to apply effective solutions to problems, it becomes imperative that state’s and society’s responsibilities be fused at the central level and at the same time diffused at the local level. 

Owing to this effort the domain primarily of the state and civil society is made permeable. And the borderline between the state and non-state responsibilities becomes the object of interaction. Strengthening the participation and voice of people, through enhanced civic engagement with the state, can improve accountability and trust in institutions while ensuring responsive decision-making across governing political, economic, and social institutions. In a nutshell, empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality is critical to realizing good governance, strengthening regime’s legitimacy, and sustaining development. The issue of “good governance” has particular relevance today. What is more, democratization and good governance are constitutive of political development and that underpinned a sustainable economic and social development.

Institutions and structures in governance

An umbilical cord ties governance and socio-political institutions. As governance is the process or the power of governing, institution refers to the established organisation designed to provide society’s socio-economic and politico-cultural needs such as education, public service, culture or the care of the destitute, poor etc. and other services a government is obliged to deliver as mandated. 

Distinguishing institutions, organizations, and structures is an important endeavour to determine how these notions are employed towards apprehending better governance. The UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office [FCDO] differentiates “institutions” from “organizations.” It states that institutions denote as the ‘rules of the game’ while organisations exemplify how players structure themselves to play (DFID, 2003, p. ii). Organisations are thus shaped by institutions, and in turn shape institutional change. North (1990, pp. 3, 5) declares that organisations are the material expressions of institutions circumscribed by “groups of individuals bound by a common purpose.” 

Institutions are generally formal, i.e., written – laws, regulations, legal agreements, contracts and constitutions enforced by third parties, and informal, i.e., usually unwritten – norms, procedures, conventions and traditions that are often embedded in culture (Leftwich & Sen, 2010, p. 16). They can complement, compete with, or overlap with formal institutions (Jutting et al., 2007, p. 36; Leftwich & Sen, 2010, p. 17). Hodgson (2006, p. 2) imparts that “institutions are the kind of structures that matter most in the social realm, they make up the stuff of social life.” They are the systems of “established and prevalent social rules that structure social interactions.” 

Institutions, moreover, are structures that are patterned on the basis of social needs. They include the family, education, religion, the economy, politics, and health care necessities and demands. Wells (1970, p. 3) avers that “social institutions form an element in a more general concept known as social structure” which generally refers to the social arrangements that organize a group or society. Giddens (1984, p. 25) contends that societies and practices are structured by institutions (“rules”) and power differentials over people and things (“resources”). They are the underlying cause of social patterns, “organized as properties of social systems” that exists only as structural properties. Structure, for Giddens, is both medium and outcome as it is created through a process. 

Clearly, a brief survey of literature shows that social structures and institutions have a symbiotic relationship. Countries rarely succeed in their socio-economic and political development efforts with the absence of state institutions that can establish, advance, and enforce rules, collect revenues and finance development projects, and provide public goods and services in an effective and efficient way. 

In recent years, the role of institutions for development has drawn considerable thought from development researchers, policy makers, and practitioners due to the collective awareness in advancing better governance and mitigating social and political conflicts. It is now widely accepted that institutions play a critical role in poverty reduction and growth. Political institutions have performed a significant role to safeguard the welfare and rights of citizens of the country and to ensure the unity and integrity of the nation. Strong institutions and good governance further result in the overall development of the country. It is against this backdrop that Philippine governance is examined by appraising the role of its public institutions – policies, legal frameworks, informal norms and codes of conduct – in sluggish quest to better governance. 

Appraising socio-political structures and institutions in Philippine governance: today’s implications

The country’s colonial past – more than three centuries under Spain (333 years), almost five decades (46 years) under the Americans, and three (3) years under the Japanese – left an indelible impact into the country’s structures and institutions in politics and governance. Although direct American colonial rule in the Philippines is much shorter, the US can be credited for the development of the country’s democratic institutions.  The Americans prompted political participation as the key process in training Filipinos for self-government. 

In spite of the trappings of civil and political institutions introduced by the colonizers, Filipino values, norms, and characteristics of familialism, personalism, and parochialism persisted and failed to develop among the people the concept of social well-being or national welfare (Abueva 1971, pp. 1-24). Even if democratic institutions taught civil and political rights, the ideals of nationalism, patriotism, and social justice were either repressed or insubstantially inculcated in peoples’ consciousness and temperaments, especially among the country’s leaders. 

Landes (1991, p. 71) aptly describes those institutions overlaid by developed countries to underdeveloped/developing ones suffer from institutional inadequacies and incapacities to perform their roles in the latter due to mismatch in the politico-economic and cultural systems and structures between the countries concerned. He says: 

It is a fact of history that most developing countries are also new countries. They have young, untried institutions and administrative structures that fall far short of the task implicit in their ambitions for power and wealth. In many instances, they still have no firm identity, no sense of national purpose, no common interest. On the contrary, they suffer the pains and after-effects of colonial arrangements imposed without regard to reason or circumstances.Government is unstable or, even ifenduring, essentially brittle. The regime may call itself democratic, but the people are subjects rather than citizens. (italics supplied).

Another key political institution introduced by the Americans was the electoral system which saw the conduct of the first local election in 1899.  The Americans brought in the right of popular suffrage at the municipal, provincial, and later at national levels of government. The imposition of the system of voting in a predominantly feudal and agrarian society effectively extends the patron-client relationship, where the landlord is considered the patron and the tenant as the client, into an electoral relationship where a politician who has authority and wealth is deemed as the patron and one who benefits from their support or influence is the client (see Landé, 1966 for details). The former dispenses favours and the latter reciprocates it by providing services and bestowing loyalty. This relationship exemplifies a “debt of gratitude” type of reciprocity. Likewise, this interaction simulates a kinship dimension with paternalistic landlord acting as the father and the tenants as his children. 

This relationship persists, survives, and continues to be practiced at the 21st century’s elections with some few insignificant changes. Fundamentally, politicians act both as good and bad patron at the same time, depending on the circumstances.  While on the one hand a candidate distributes goods, services (infrastructure, health and medical, and welfare), and cash (especially on the eve of election day), on the other hand, he or she may turn violent – threatening and terrorizing both electorates and the Commission on Elections’ (COMELEC) deputized registrars and inspectors (usually public-school teachers) and harassing their opponents and supporters. Historically, election-related harassment and violence can range from intimidating and threatening persons with bodily harm, to kidnapping and murder. It also includes arson and bombings of strategic locations. Hired goons, private armies, the police and military, as well as armed rebel groups, also figure prominently (Patino and Velasco 2004).

Beyond issues and platforms of government, a politician traditionally campaigns with promises of providing government jobs, financial assistance, educational support and other personal aids. In turn, the voter supports the politician who has the ability to produce tangible and material benefits (positive transaction) or capability to inflict harm or punishment to those perceived to be their “enemies” and “exploiters.” As stated earlier, this psychological make-up of Filipino electorates is rooted on a culture of patron-clientelism that is largely a reflection of skewed socio-economic mal-development where a few privileged classes use institutions and structures of government to lord over the many underprivileged and marginalized sectors of society. 

Although several endeavours to reform and modernize Philippine electoral system have been done, hence laudable, it has to be accomplished in conjunction with the alteration of the current social, economic, and political iniquities. Unless this is resolved, modernization will simply serve the limited interest of the élite and powerful over the greater interest of the people and nation. Tangcangco’s (1997) classic study of the country’s modernization program reveals that electoral reforms will not eliminate fraud where unequal power between government and society exists. Thus, she concludes that the modernization of Philippine electoral system conforms with the “purposes of politicians, election officials, and interest groups to retain defective procedures and loopholes in election laws … rather than of nagging concern for fairness and commitment to democracy by the incumbents.” (Tangcangco 1997, p. 127).

The continuing attempt to unshackle the poor and marginalized sector from elite-controlled and perverted electoral system, i.e., riddled with corruption, fraud, and irregularities, has not bear fruit. Since the use of electronic voting system or e-voting in the 2010 and 2016 presidential elections and the 2013 and 2019 mid-term elections, the usual cheating and other election-related irregularities like vote-buying, intimidation and harassment of both voters and candidates, and the presence of armed goons in precincts have not been prevented. 

It is indeed unfortunate that the character of elections in the Philippines, even after Corazon Aquino was catapulted to power as a result of the 1986 “People Power Revolution,” has not been principally altered. Democracy and elections linger to be weak institutions. Elections under the 1987 Constitution resembled not much different from the pre-martial law period. Philippine party system hitherto is largely a one-party/multi-faction system. 

In spite the proliferation of political parties at the advent of the 5th Republic (post-martial law period), they are neither different from each other in terms of party platforms and programs of government nor in ideologies, philosophies, standpoints, and viewpoints (Buendia 2021). Croissant and Lorenz (2018) characterize Philippine political system as highly ‘defective elite democracy’ more than 30 years since ‘democratic rule’ was restored in the country.

Electoral candidates’ commonalities lie in their class bases, elite origins, and interests they represent. Hicken (2018) attributes the oligarchic control of political parties and paucity of politically active citizenry or mass organizations to the “under-institutionalized” Philippine political party system. He contends that an under-institutionalized political party hinders democratic consolidation and good governance as it undermines the ability of voters to hold politicians accountable and produces ambivalence among voters on the merits of a democratic society.

Local clans and dynasties including warlords and regional kingpins endure and play an important part in Philippine electoral politics (Teehankee 2018, Sidel 2016, Tadem & Tadem 2016). They are considered as building blocks of politics. Given the size of Filipino families and matrix of interrelationships that bind them, they ensure not only the political continuity and dominance of a particular clan in local politics but also play a major role in supporting the ascendancy, continuity, along with downfall of local political leaders as well as Philippine presidents. 

History has taught us that weak party system, patronage politics, and elitism, undermined the legitimacy not only of elected officials of government but also emasculated the processes and institutions of elections and democracy. Indeed, addressing these concerns are challenging yet the opportunity to resolve them lies in the sheer and unceasing determination of people to place their collective future into their hands.

Conclusion

The quest for better governance through effective institutions and appropriate structures in the Philippines is a continuing task in nation-building. A brief examination of the issues that inhibit the development and enhancement of public institutions expectedly to lead to good governance is traced to the country’s colonial history, carried over after national independence, and extends up to the 21st century.

As noted in the paper, post-colonial governments ruled through the processes and institutions bequeathed by the former colonizer which were utilized not to expand the democratic space and enlarge the participation of people but served the economic and political interests of the more powerful sector of society. The same system of government and institutions were restored after the fall of Marcos’s authoritarian regime of 14 years. Unfortunately, despite 35 years of ‘democratic’ rule, the institutions and systems of governance were unable to shore up the nation from poverty, economic independence, and powerlessness.

The institution of election was employed to safeguard political and economic power that further entrenched patron-client relationship. The nation, rather than be unified through the institutions and instrumentalities of the state, has been torn apart. The state has alienated itself from the people as corruption, centralization of power, and elitism have been unabated from the 4th to 5th Republic covering nearly three decades-and-a half under five (5) (excluding the current one) Presidents (Buendia 2021).

Powerful clans and political dynasties continue to hold power. Thus, the tools of democracy have become devices of violence—both naked and concealed—that drove the marginalized sectors of society to seek refuge to communist and separatist movements. The economic and political crisis that resulted from government’s neglect, abuse of power, and callousness on the nation’s welfare was aggravated under the so-called “democratic” regime.

The institution of Philippine election is beset with procedural problems taken advantaged by the old and emerging political élites to secure, protect, and perpetuate their interests. Moreover, the intense and frequently personal nature and character of Filipino politics has largely contributed to the growing corrosion of political institutions. The agrarian-feudal political culture of client-patron relationship, which views governance as an individual affair, has yet to be transcended. The blurred dividing line between official function and personal duty needs to be accentuated.

The relationship between democracy, empowerment, and popular participation on the one hand and corruption and centralism on the other hand is inversely proportional—as the former increases the latter decreases and vice-versa. Concomitantly, enlarging the capacity of civil society enhances accountability of public officials, cultivates transparency on the provision of relevant and reliable information affecting public welfare, and strengthens predictability on the application of laws, regulations, and policies.

As exhibited by the country’s political history, the use of extra-constitutional, extra-legal, and extra-institutional means in asserting Filipinos’ legitimate right to rule and claim a government that embodies their aspirations and national goals as a people is not a strange political act. The demands for better governance that began in the country’s popular ‘People Power’ uprising, 35 years ago (more than the total period of 21 years that Marcos reigned in the country commencing in 1965), have yet to be fulfilled and its realization is contingent on the re-structuring of Philippine political institutions that would ensure that democratic space is meaningfully enlarged through a more inclusive and participative governance, better representative electoral system, and deeper national consciousness.

Given the country’s historical and current circumstances, it is highly unlikely that the 2022 Philippine elections would create the suitable political, economic, and cultural environment in reshaping the country’s structures and institutions for better governance, whomsoever will be the next President.

*About the author: Rizal G. Buendia, PhD (Political Science) Independent political analyst and consultant in Southeast Asian Politics and International Development based England and Wales, United Kingdom. He is the former Chair and Associate Professor of the Political Science Department, De La Salle University-Manila and Teaching Fellow in Politics at the Department of Politics and International Studies and Department of Development Studies, School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), University of London.

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