ANALYSIS: Philippine politicians suffer backlash of population bill vote

Manila (Philippine Daily Inquirer/ANN) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino III appears uncertain of his clout in winning control of an ungovernable Senate in the 2013 midterm elections as he faces a grass-roots backlash from the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy over the passage in Congress of the controversial reproductive health (RH) bill.

After steamrollering the bill for ratification by the Senate-House conference committee last week, Aquino marked time signing it into law to avoid humiliating the bishops for their defeat.

The Palace patronizingly said the consolidated version of the House and Senate bills would "definitely be signed at the end of the year."

But the issue is likely to fester as the bishops lick their wounds. They have vowed to mobilize the Church's nationwide constituency to vote down the administration's senatorial candidates and reelectionist House members in next May's elections.

The prospects of ending the deep divisions appear dim.

Buoyed up by the passage of the bill, Aquino told reporters last week that he was looking forward to campaigning for the administration's senatorial candidates.

He said the election results would be a "referendum" on his first three years, marked by zeal in tormenting and prosecuting his political enemies, and by a shortfall in accomplishments on economic and social programs designed to reduce poverty and create jobs.

More than a referendum

The midterm elections will not only be a referendum; it will be more than that.

It will determine whether the election results would make the administration a lame-duck presidency. It will also test the political influence of the Catholic Church, which is putting its clout on the line on the RH bill.

According to the President, the Liberal Party (LP), supposedly the ruling party, has trimmed down its senatorial ticket to 12 from 40. The ticket is a mixed lot in composition.

The LP has only four members in the Senate-Francis Pangilinan, Teofisto Guingona III, Ralph Recto and Franklin Drilon. The Nacionalista Party (NP) has the most numbers with five-Manuel Villar, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pia Cayetano, Bongbong Marcos and Antonio Trillanes.

Lakas-Kampi has three-Joker Arroyo, Lito Lapid and Bong Revilla; Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC), two-Tito Sotto and Loren Legarda; Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), two-Juan Ponce Enrile and Jinggoy Estrada; People's Reform Party, one-Miriam Defensor-Santiago; Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), one-Edgardo Angara; Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Laban (PDP-Laban), one-Aquilino Pimentel III; and independent, four-Gregorio Honasan, Panfilo Lacson, Chiz Escudero and Sergio Osmeña.

The reelectionist senators are Alan Peter Cayetano, Trillanes, Escudero, Honasan, Legarda and Pimentel.

From this jumble of names and myriad of parties, the vexing question follows: How can one build a party system based on ideology, policy or program of government on this hollow foundation? From this chaos of parties, the LP faces an impossible task of building a ruling party in the Senate.

No majority

The House is less chaotic, but still no single party can claim a plurality, much less a majority.

The status of parties in the House is as follows: Lakas-CMD-Kampi, 107; LP, 39; NPC, 32; NP, 24; PMP, five; PDP-Laban, two; LDP, two; Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, two; six other minor parties with one member each; and seven independents.

This distribution of parties not only staggers the imagination but also illustrates the importance of Aquino's claim that the results of the midterm elections could be a referendum on the first half of his administration.

Those in the LP senatorial slate expect or hope that their chances of being elected would be lifted by the President's popularity, which will be tested in the elections.

The LP ticket includes Senators Legarda, Alan Peter Cayetano, Pimentel, Trillanes, former Senators Ramon Magsaysay Jr. and Jamby Madrigal, former Akbayan Rep. Risa Hontiveros, former Las Piñas Rep. Cynthia Villar and Grace Poe-Llamanzares, daughter of the late actor Fernando Poe Jr.

The list also includes Aurora Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, son of Sen. Eduardo Angara, and Paolo Benigno Aquino V, the President's cousin.

Only six LP candidates placed in the 12 winning places in the Social Weather Stations survey of Nov. 23 to Dec. 3. According to the survey, Legarda topped the survey, followed by Escudero (second), Cayetano (third), Villar (fourth), Pimentel (sixth to seventh) and Trillanes (11th).

Being identified with the administration is not a guarantee for election to the Senate. It cuts both ways.

Joblessness worsened

The backlash from the negative campaign from some of the bishops on the RH bill can hurt the chances of some senators.

Although the President's poll survey ratings have remained high, the administration's record on economic management is certain to come up during the campaign.

The downside is that despite the surprising economic growth in the 2012 third quarter, joblessness worsened in October compared to the same month last year.

According to the National Statistics Office, the unemployment rate stood at 6.8 percent, or about 2.8 million unemployed-higher than the 6.4 percent recorded in October 2011.

Arsenio Balisacan, director general of the National Economic and Development Authority, said that despite the gross national product of 7.1 percent in the third quarter, unemployment was still the government's "greatest challenge."

He said "achievement in rapid economic growth is one thing but inclusive growth is clearly another."

This means that the growth statistics indicate that most of the poor are being left out. The administration didn't say how taking control of the Senate can create more jobs to reduce poverty.

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