MANILA , MAY 13, 2013
(ABS-CBN) by Karl Malakunas, AFP - The Philippines holds elections on Monday seen as crucial to popular President Benigno Aquino's efforts to transform society, but with deadly violence, corruption, and nepotism posing familiar threats.

More than 18,000 positions will be contested in the mid-term elections -- from the town level up to the nation's Congress -- and Aquino is banking on landslide wins for his allies to cement his reform agenda.

"The president needs to be able to have a strong coalition in both houses of Congress to be able to push through critical measures," Budget Secretary and ruling Liberal Party powerbroker Florencio Abad told AFP.

Since taking office in 2010 following a landslide election win, Aquino has maintained record high popularity ratings while overseeing strong economic growth and efforts to tackle corruption that have won international acclaim.

In the Philippines, presidents can only serve one term of six years, and Aquino has said he is determined to leave a permanent legacy that will ensure the Philippines is no longer the "sick man of Asia".

One key plank is ending a decades-long Muslim rebellion in the south of the country that has claimed an estimated 150,000 lives and stifled economic growth.

Aquino is close to signing a peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the main rebel group, but he will then need Congress to endorse the pact.

All the seats in the lower house and half in the Senate are being contested in the mid-term elections.

The Philippines has a plethora of parties, and politicians frequently shift allegiances, so controlling parliament is extremely difficult.

But Aquino secured support for key reform initiatives in his first three years in office, and he is confident that big victories in both chambers on Monday will ensure an even more productive second half of his term.

Abad said other initiatives that Aquino was eyeing over the next three years included expanding the tax base to pay for a better social safety net, and reform of the mining sector so that big firms pay higher taxes.

However, deep-rooted problems that have plagued the Philippines for decades are expected to again impact Monday's election, and continue to haunt the political landscape long after Aquino has left office.

The Philippines is infamous for a brutal brand of democracy where politicians -- particularly at the local and provincial levels -- are willing to bribe, intimidate or kill to ensure they win.

More than 50 people have already been killed in election-related violence, including candidates and their aides. Philippine military and police will be on high alert on Monday in a bid to stamp out any last-minute attacks.

Efforts by the election commission to curb violence and vote-buying turned into farce in the final days of campaigning, when the Supreme Court blocked the commission from enforcing controversial bans on selling alcohol and carrying large amounts of money.

Activists have warned that political dynasties which dominate politics in the Philippines, including the Aquino clan, are set to strengthen their chokehold on the country.

The Philippines is ruled by remarkably few families -- with roughly 70 percent of the members of current Congress belonging to a dynasty -- and polls are showing the elite are set to become even more dominant.

A host of colorful names are contesting the elections, including boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao, who is seeking a second term as a member of the lower house.

Pacquiao, a former street kid but now one of the country's richest men, is looking to create his own dynasty.

His wife, Jinkee, is running to become vice governor of a southern province despite having no political experience, while one of his brothers is also running for Congress.

Imelda Marcos, wife of dead dictator Ferdinand, is almost certain to win a second term in the lower house at the age of 83 representing a northern province where her family enjoys dynastic rule.

Her daughter is running unopposed for provincial governor. © 1994-2013 Agence France-Presse


Aquino’s final request: 12-0 for his chosen bets By Michael Lim Ubac, Norman Bordadora Philippine Daily Inquirer 2:55 am | Sunday, May 12th, 2013

“Go out and vote tomorrow (Monday),” Malacañang urged Filipinos on Saturday, acknowledging that the midterm elections are a referendum on President Benigno Aquino III’s administration.

“This is the time to let your government know how you feel about [its officials],” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said in a radio interview.

“And as the President says, if you are happy with what you’ve seen in the past three years, [or] if you want us to continue, then you vote for Team PNoy,” Valte said.

“But again, whatever it is, please go out and vote, and be mindful of the things that can and can’t be done on Election Day,” she added.

Nine of the President’s 12 handpicked candidates are leading the race for the Senate, according to the latest preelection poll by the Social Weather Stations.

The leaders

The nine are reelectionist Senators Loren Legarda, Alan Peter Cayetano, Francis “Chiz” Escudero, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Antonio Trillanes IV, Las Piñas Rep. Cynthia Villar, Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara and junior politicians Grace Poe and Paolo Benigno “Bam” Aquino IV.

One more Team PNoy candidate, former Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr., may take the 12th Senate seat at stake in the election should voters decide to dump reelectionist Sen. Gregorio Honasan, the 12th placer in the poll, and drop Cagayan Rep. Juan Ponce Enrile Jr. and former Bukidnon Rep. Juan Miguel Zubiri of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).

But up to Team PNoy’s grand rally at Amoranto Stadium in Quezon City on Friday, President Aquino continued to push for the election of all 12 candidates on his senatorial ticket. The other two are former Sen. Jamby Madrigal and former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros, both of whom finished the campaign outside the ranks of possible winners in the polls but within striking distance of the last Senate seat at stake.

‘You’re still my boss’

“Despite the success we’ve had, the fight isn’t over yet,” Mr. Aquino told the crowd at Amoranto Stadium.

The President urged the crowd to vote for all of his 12 candidates, saying: “This is my last request. It’s up to you. You’re still my boss.”

Mr. Aquino once described Monday’s midterm elections as a “referendum” on his administration’s insistence on good government.

“[The elections] will be a referendum on how we have governed for the last three years,” he told a news forum last year.

“We want to send a message that you cannot just mouth ‘change’ as a slogan,” he said. “We want to say that [we have brought] change in this country, and that the pace of the transformation of our society can be accelerated if we’ll get a team of fellow travelers who [have] the same vision as [ours].”

He got his team of “fellow travelers”—he meant “supporters” of his good government program—and he worked hard to bring the group to the finish line.

But Vice President Jejomar Binay, one of UNA’s leaders, warned voters at the alliance’s own grand rally in Manila’s Tondo district on Friday that President Aquino’s insistence on a clean sweep of the senatorial election for his team could be a “smoke screen” for cheating on Election Day.

“They always talk about 12-0. This is mind conditioning, so let’s be wary,” Binay said.

He pointed out that some of the President’s allies are the very people who cheated the late movie actor Fernando Poe Jr. in the 2004 presidential election.

Malacañang swatted aside Binay’s “fear” of cheating at the polls.

“All parties will tell you, ‘Vote straight.’ We also hear that in the local campaign,” Valte said, adding that it’s not normal for any party to push for only 10 of its 12 candidates.

Equal treatment

Sen. Franklin Drilon, Team PNoy campaign manager, said the Liberal Party-led organization had done all it could to get all the 12 candidates elected.

“The people would be the judge [on Monday],” Drilon said.

Although only nine of the Team PNoy candidates appeared to be winning the senatorial race, Drilon said the President’s Liberal Party (LP) supported all 12 even though some of them belonged to other parties.

“We treated everyone equally even if they belonged to other parties because of the leadership of President Aquino. We gave everybody fair support,” Drilon said at the team’s grand rally on Friday.

“Nobody can say that we preferred one over the other. President Aquino treated them all equally,” he said.

The team expects to stay together after the elections, with a good number of the members already entertaining the idea of returning Drilon to the Senate presidency and at least two talking about a common candidate in 2016.

Interior Secretary Mar Roxas, LP president on leave, said the Team PNoy members would stay with the President in his emphasis on good government.

Pimentel, president of PDP-Laban, one of the parties in the LP-led Team PNoy, said the coalition would hold on the basic principle of honest, good, effective government even though its members might diverge on matters that involved “individual conscience,” like reproductive health law.

Reformist successes

The Team PNoy coalition is composed of the LP, Sen. Manuel Villar’s Nacionalista Party, Nationalist People’s Coalition, Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, PDP-Laban and the party-list Akbayan.

It is possible that the different parties will prop up candidates for president in 2016, but Pimentel said they might come together and support a common candidate in pursuit of continuity for Mr. Aquino’s good government program, as there were fears that a free-for-all might lead to the victory of someone who would “take a U-turn to the old ways.”

Hontiveros said the coalition would “help ensure a reform successor to President Aquino.”

Senatorial candidate Aquino, a cousin of the President, said the coalition candidates had committed to Mr. Aquino to continue the alliance beyond the elections.

Escudero, who joined the team’s campaign for the first time, said the teams’ candidates should remain true to the good government policies of the President.

Cayetano, Senate minority leader in the 15th Congress, said he was looking forward to working with the coalition in the 16th Congress “so that we can help the President bring down prices, create more and better jobs, and raise the incomes of Filipino families.”

Legarda said she would make sure that the more than 3 million families on the Aquino administration’s conditional cash transfer program would have at least one college graduate through a scholarship program.

She said she would also also work for passage of an administration-backed universal healthcare bill that would benefit the 25 million poorest Filipinos.

The team cheered Drilon, with Cayetano and Pimentel saying their campaign manager should lead the Senate in the 16th Congress and shepherd President Aquino’s legislative proposals.

“The Senate president’s majority bloc set the legislative agenda. Hence [the

President’s] legislative agenda will definitely be facilitated by Senate President Drilon,” Pimentel said.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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