Politics of the Philippines

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politics and government of
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The Politics of the Philippines take place in an organized framework of a presidential, representative, and democratic republic whereby the president is both the head of state and the head of government within a pluriform multi-party system. This system revolves around three separate and sovereign yet interdependent branches: the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the judicial branch. Executive power is exercised by the government under the leadership of the president. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the two-chamber Congress: the Senate (the upper chamber) and the House of Representatives (the lower chamber). Judicial power is vested in the courts with the Supreme Court of the Philippines as the highest judicial body.

Elections are administered by an independent Commission on Elections every three years starting 1992. Held every second Monday of May, the winners in the elections take office on the following June 30.

Local government is produced by local government units from the provinces, cities, municipalities and barangays. While the most regions do not have political power, and exist merely for administration purposes, autonomous regions have expanded powers more than the other local government units. While local government units enjoy autonomy, much of their budget is derived from allocations from the national government, putting their true autonomy in doubt.


The Batasang Pambansa Complex is the seat of the House of Representatives.
The Senate shares its building with the Government Service Insurance System.

Congress is a bicameral legislature. The upper house, the Senate, is composed of 24 senators elected via the plurality-at-large voting with the country as one at-large "district." The senators elect amongst themselves a Senate President. The lower house is the House of Representatives, currently composed of 292 representatives, with no more than 20% elected via party-list system, with the rest elected from legislative districts. The House of Representatives is headed by the Speaker.

Each bill needs the consent of both houses in order to be submitted to the president for his signature. If the president vetoes the bill, Congress can override the veto with a two-thirds supermajority. If either house voted down on a bill or fails to act on it after an adjournment sine die, the bill is lost and would have to be proposed to the next congress, with the process starting all over again. Congress' decisions are mostly via majority vote, except for voting on constitutional amendments and other matters. Each house has its own inherent power, with the Senate given the power to vote on treaties, while the House of Representatives can only introduce money bills. The constitution provides Congress with impeachment powers, with the House of Representatives having the power to impeach, and the Senate having the power to try the impeached official.

The Liberal Party, Nationalist People's Coalition, the National Unity Party (Philippines), the Nacionalista Party, the Lakas-CMD and the United Nationalist Alliance are the parties with largest membership in Congress. The party of the sitting president controls the House of Representatives, while the Senate has been more independent. From 1907 to 1941, the Nacionalistas operated under a dominant-party system, with factions within that party becoming the primary political discouse. During World War II, the Japanese-sponsored Second Philippine Republic forced all the existing parties to merge into the KALIBAPI that controlled the party as a one-party state. From 1945 to 1972, the Philippines was under a two-party system, with the Nacionalistas and their offshoots Liberals alternating power, until President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law. Political discourse was kept into a minimum, until Marcos then merged the parties into the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL), which dominated elections until 1986 when Marcos was overthrown as a result of the People Power Revolution. The political climate ushered in a multi-party system which persists into this day.


The Malacañang Palace, as viewed from the Pasig River, is the official residence of the President.

Executive power is vested to the President; in practice however, the president delegates his power to a cabinet. The president, who is both the head of state and head of government, is directly elected to a single six-year term via first past the post. In case of death, resignation or incapacitation, the Vice President acts as the president until the expiration of the term. The Vice President is elected separately from the president, and may be of differing political parties. While the vice president has no constitutional powers aside from acting as president when the latter is unable to do so, the president may give the former a cabinet office. The cabinet is mostly composed of the heads of the executive departments, which provide services to the people, and other cabinet-level officials.

The president is also the commander in chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, thereby ensuring civilian supremacy over the military. The president is also given several military powers, although once exercised, Congress is able to prolong or end it. The president also proposes a national budget, in which Congress may adopt in full, with amendments, or a complete revision altogether. The president wields considerable political power and may be able to influence other branches via the so-called Padrino System.


The judiciary is composed of the Supreme Court and other lower courts. The Supreme Court is the court of last resort, and decides on constitutionality of laws via judicial review. The president selects justices and judges from nominees given by the Judicial and Bar Council. The Court of Appeals is the second highest appellate court, the Court of Tax Appeals rules on tax matters, and the Sandiganbayan (People's Advocate) is a special court for alleged government irregularities. The Regional Trial Courts (RTC) are the main trial courts. The Regional Trial Courts are based on judicial regions, which almost correspond to the administrative regions. Each RTC has at least one branch in each province and handles most of the criminal and civil cases; several branches of an RTC may be designated as family courts and environmental courts. Metropolitan Trial Courts try lesser offenses.

The Ombudsman investigates and prosecutes government officials on crimes while in dispensing powers given by the government. The Office of the Solicitor General represents the government in legal cases.


Elections are administered by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC). The elected officials are the president, vice president, members of Congress, regional governors and assemblymen, provincial governors, vice governors and board members, city and municipal mayors, vice mayors and councilors, and barangay (village) chairmen and councilors. Elections are for fixed terms. All elected officials have three-year terms, except for the president, vice president and senators, which are six years. All terms begin and end on June 30 of the election year.

Elections above the barangay level are held every three years since 1992 on the second Monday of May, all positions are disputed except for president and vice president; presidential and vice presidential elections are held every six years since 1992. Single-winner elections are done via the plurality voting system: the candidate with the highest number of votes is elected. Multiple-winner elections, except for representatives elected the party-list system, are done via plurality-at-large voting. Each voter has x votes, with the x candidates with the highest number of votes being elected. For representatives elected the party-list system, a party that won at least 2% of the national vote wins one seat, with additional seats, but not exceeding three seats, depends on the number of votes it received. If the number of sectoral representatives does not reach 20% of the membership of the House of Representatives, parties with less than 2% of the vote are given a seat each until the 20% membership is filled.

Local government

The Philippines is divided into provinces, which are grouped into several regions.

The constitution mandates that local governments must have local autonomy. The smallest local government unit, the barangay or village, is descended from the balangay of the Maragtas legend, where the first Austronesian people reached the Philippines via the boat. The prehistoric barangays were headed by datus. Currently, barangays are grouped into municipalities or cities, while municipalities and cities may be further grouped into provinces. Each barangay, municipality or city, and province is headed by a barangay chairman, mayor, or governor, respectively, with its legislatures being the Sangguniang Barangay (village council), Sangguniang Bayan (municipal council) or Sangguniang Panlungsod (city council), and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan (provincial board).

Regions are the highest administrative divisions but do not have powers possessed under them; however, autonomous regions are given wider powers than other local government units. While the constitution allows autonomous regions in the Cordilleras and in Muslim Mindanao, only the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) exists, with the proposed autonomous region in Cordillera being defeated after two plebiscites. The ARMM has a regional governor and a regional assembly.

While local government units have autonomy, most of their budget is derived from the Internal Revenue Allotment, a disbursement from the national government which is ultimately derived from taxes. This makes most local government units ultimately dependent on the national government, unless they have other sources of income, such as property taxes.


Pre-Spanish era

Before the arrival of Ferdinand Magellan, the Philippines was split into numerous barangays, which were not unlike the Greek city-states. These barangays warred, made peace, traded and had relations with each other. In Mindanao, Islamic sultanates such as the Sultanate of Sulu and Maguindanao, prospered. Ferdinand Magellan's death in 1521 can be partly attributed to a dispute between Lapu-Lapu and Rajah Humabon for control of Cebu. The Kingdom of Maynila was trading with China and other nearby empires when Miguel Lopez de Legazpi conquered the kingdom in 1565 and assimilated it with the other kingdoms he had conquered nearby to unite the Philippines under Spanish rule.

Spanish era

The Illustrados in Madrid.

Upon the subjugation of the local population in Manila and Cebu, the Spaniards refused the locals any political participation. The old ruling class in the pre-Spanish era were given essentially powerless government posts. Several revolts erupted against Spain but were all defeated. In 1808, when Joseph Bonaparte became king of Spain, the liberal constitution of Cadiz was adopted, giving the Philippines representation to the Spanish Cortes. However, once the Spanish overthrew the Bonapartes, the Philippine, and indeed colonial, representation in the Spanish Cortes was rescinded.

The restoration of Philippine representation to the Cortes was one of the grievances of the Illustrados, the learned indigenous class during the late 1800s. The Illustrados mounted a campaign that would include indigenous voices in running the government. However, the Katipunan advocated complete Philippine independence, thereby starting the Philippine Revolution in 1896. After the execution of Jose Rizal in December 30, 1896, the leader of the Illustrados who disapproved of the revolution, the rebellion intensified. Cavite, Bulacan and Morong were the main areas of conflict; the Katipunan in Cavite had won several battles against the Spaniards, but was split into the Magdiwang and Magdalo factions. A conference was held in 1897 to unite the two factions, but instead caused further division that led to the execution of Andres Bonifacio, who was then the leader of the Katipunan; Bonifacio's death passed the control of the Katipunan to Emilio Aguinaldo.

The death of Bonifacio also caused several of the revolutionaries to be demoralized; Aguinaldo and his men retreated northward until reaching Biak-na-Bato in San Miguel, Bulacan. The Spaniards and the revolutionaries signed the Pact of Biak-na-Bato, that provided for Aguinaldo's surrender and exile to Hong Kong, and amnesty and payment of indemnities by the Spaniards to the revolutionaries. However, both sides eventually violated the agreement, and this gave an opportunity for the United States admiral George Dewey to lead his squadron to Manila Bay, defeating the Spanish navy. Aguinaldo returned from exile, most of the Philippine revolutionaries rallying to his cause, and negotiated with the Americans, while the Americans in 1898 defeated the Spaniards in what was called a mock battle in Manila, and took control of the city. Aguinaldo then proclaimed the independence of the Philippines on June 12, 1898 at his home in Cavite. A Congress was convened in January 1899 in Barasoain Church and inaugurated the first Philippine Republic.

The Philippine–American War erupted in February in a skirmish in Manila; the Filipinos lost the battle, and Aguinaldo again began a northward retreat. Aguinaldo was captured on April 1, 1901 at Palanan, Isabela, while the Americans had already started setting up civil governments in areas that had already been pacified.

American era

William Howard Taft addressing the Philippine Assembly.

The Americans gave Filipinos limited self-government at the local level by 1901, and the Americans passed the Philippine Organic Act in 1902 to introduce a national government; by 1907, an election to the Philippine Assembly was held. Led by Sergio Osmeña, the assembly was held predominantly by the Nacionalista Party, which advocated independence; they were opposed by the Progresista Party, which advocated statehood within the United States. The Americans controlled the Philippine Commission, the upper house of the Philippine Legislature. The Nacionalista-dominated Philippine Assembly, and later the Philippine Senate, which was created by the Jones Law and replaced the Philippine Commission, was often at odds with the Governor-General. However, the Nacionalistas were split into camps loyal to Osmeña and Senate President Manuel L. Quezon. Several independence missions were sent to Washington, D.C.; the OsRox Mission resulted in the Hare–Hawes–Cutting Act. However, the Senate rejected this; a new law, the Tydings–McDuffie Act which was marginally different, was approved and paved the way for the Commonwealth of the Philippines.

Quezon and Osmeña reconciled, and both were easily elected as president and vice president respectively, in 1935. The Nacionalistas controlled the now unicameral National Assembly for the entirety of the Commonwealth, with the understanding that the Americans would grant independence in the near future. Quezon pressed for constitutional amendments that would allow him to obtain a second term, and the restoration of a bicameral legislature. Quezon did obtain both amendments, with the newly restored Senate now being elected at-large instead of per districts, as what was done during the pre-Commonwealth era. Quezon, Osmeña and the Nacionalista Party as a whole both won the elections in 1941 in much larger margins.

The Japanese invasion of 1941 at the onset of World War II delayed this granting of independence, forced the Commonwealth government to go into exile, and subjected the country to a puppet government. The KALIBAPI became the sole legal political party, and Jose P. Laurel was declared president of the Second Philippine Republic. This nationalist government espoused anti-American sentiment. However, the Americans reconquered the country in 1944, and Osmeña, who had succeeded Quezon upon the latter's death, restored the Commonwealth government. The first meeting of a bicameral Commonwealth Congress occurred.

The Nacionalistas were split anew in the 1946 presidential election, with Manuel Roxas setting up what would later be the Liberal Party. Roxas defeated Osmeña, and became the last president of the Commonwealth; the Americans agreed to grant independence on July 4, 1946.

Independent era

President Manuel Roxas' inauguration as the first president of an independent Philippines.

Roxas succumbed to a heart attack in 1948, allowing Vice President Elpidio Quirino to rule the country for the next six years. Quirino's Liberal government was widely seen as corrupt, and was easily beaten by his former Defense secretary Ramon Magsaysay in the 1953 election. Magsaysay, who oversaw the surrender of the long-running Hukbalahap rebellion would not complete his term, dying in a plane crash in Cebu; Vice President Carlos P. Garcia succeeded him, won the 1957 election, and implemented a "Filipino First" policy and an austerity program. Garcia was defeated by his Vice President, Diosdado Macapagal of the Liberal Party, in 1961. Macapagal initiated a return to a system of free enterprise not seen since the Quirino administration. However, Macapagal's policies faced a stiff opposition in Congress, where the Nacionalistas hold the majority. Macapagal was defeated in 1965 by Senator Ferdinand Marcos.

Marcos' infrastructure projects was the feature policy of his term, he was the first president to be reelected, in 1969, although the election was tainted by violence and allegations that Marcos used the treasury to fund his campaign. However, significant protests, such as the First Quarter Storm, the communist and Moro insurgencies, and civil unrest, heightened. This made Marcos in 1972 to declare martial law and suspend the constitution. A new constitution calling for a semi-presidential government was approved in 1973, but Marcos still ruled by decree until 1978, when the Interim Batasang Pambansa was elected. However, opposition groups, whose leaders mostly had already left in exile, boycotted the election, and Marcos still allowed martial law to continue. Marcos did end martial law in 1981, but opposition groups still boycotted the 1981 presidential election, which Marcos easily won.

Opposition leader Benigno Aquino, Jr. was slain upon his return to the country in 1983. By this time, the government was marred by alleged rampant corruption and allegations of human rights violations. The opposition participated in the 1984 parliamentary election and won several seats, but not enough to topple Marcos' KBL. To counter growing opposition, Marcos called a snap election in 1986, the opposition nominated Benigno's widow Corazon as their candidate. Marcos was declared the winner, but the opposition refused to accept the result, alleging that the election was rigged. The People Power Revolution drove Marcos from power, and Aquino became president. Aquino ruled by decree in 1987 when a new constitution restoring the presidential system was approved. In the ensuing legislative election, the administration parties won most of the seats in Congress.

Corazon Aquino was inaugurated president on February 25, 1986; it was one of two presidential inaugurations that day.

Aquino's government was mired by coup attempts, high inflation and unemployment, and natural calamities, but introduced land reform and market liberalization. Aquino's administration also saw the pullout of the U.S. bases in Subic Bay and Clark. As the 1992 election grew closer, Aquino declined to run even though she could do so, and instead supported Ramon Mitra; she later backtracked and threw her support to Fidel V. Ramos, who later won albeit under controversial circumstances. Ramos had to face an ongoing energy crisis which had started during the Aquino administration which was resolved when Ramos issued contracts favorable to power producers. The Ramos administration hosted the 1996 APEC summit, reinstated the death penalty, signed a peace agreement with the Moro National Liberation Front, and bore the brunt of the 1997 Asian financial crisis. He wanted to amend the constitution, but Aquino and other sectors opposed the measure and backed off. Ramos' vice president Joseph Estrada defeated the former's partymate Jose de Venecia and several others in the 1998 election in a comfortable margin; meanwhile de Venecia's running mate Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was elected vice president.

Estrada expanded the land reform program and the death penalty, and refused to sign contracts with sovereign guarantees on public projects. Estrada also wanted to amend the constitution but was again rebuffed by Aquino, the Catholic Church and the left. The administration launched an "all-out war" against the Moro Islamic Liberation Front that saw the government retaking Camp Abubakar, the main rebel encampment. However, the administration was embroiled in charges of cronyism and corruption; the Juetengate scandal led to his impeachment by the House of Representatives. In the impeachment trial, Estrada's allies in the Senate successfully prevented evidence to be presented; this triggered massive protests. Days later, in what would be called the 2001 EDSA Revolution, the Armed Forces of the Philippines withdrew their support to Estrada and transferred their allegiance to Vice President Arroyo; the Supreme Court later ruled the presidency as vacant, and Estrada left Malacañang Palace.

Arroyo was sworn in as president on January 20, 2001. Four months later, Estrada's supporters lay siege to the presidential palace but were later expelled; Arroyo's People Power Coalition won a majority of seats in the 2001 elections and therefore consolidated power. In 2003, Arroyo put down a coup attempt in the central business district. Arroyo faced Fernando Poe, Jr., a friend of Estrada, along with three others in 2004, and won on a slim plurality; months after Poe died on December, it was exposed, via wiretapped conversations, that Arroyo rigged the election. On a national address, Arroyo said that she was "sorry on a lapse of judgment." The opposition did not let up, and she had to put down two more coup attempts. The opposition united in the 2007 Senate elections and won easily, but Arroyo's allies still held the House of Representatives. At the end of her presidency, Arroyo became the most unpopular president on record, with increases on taxes, attempts to amend the constitution, and the alleged illegitimacy of her administration as the reasons.

On the 2010 election, Arroyo's party nominated Gilberto Teodoro for president; however, some quarters suggested that Arroyo was secretly supporting Manny Villar, who was the frontrunner. However, former president Aquino died, and her son, Benigno Aquino III, overtook Villar in the polls. Estrada overtook Villar in the polls, but still lost to Aquino. Aquino embarked on anti-corruption drive, saw the economy grew and maintain high popularity. However, with natural calamities, and scams on the use of pork barrel and other discretionary funds coming into light, the Aquino administration had to contend with rising opposition.

See also


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