Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Transition Pathways and Democratic Consolidation in Post-Marcos Philippines

Academic journal article Contemporary Southeast Asia

Transition Pathways and Democratic Consolidation in Post-Marcos Philippines

Article excerpt


Sixteen years after the restoration of formal democratic rule in the Philippines with the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986, the country faces a difficult and contentious process of democratic consolidation. The country continues to contend with armed challenges from a communist-led movement and various Muslim movements, with no easy resolution in sight. In a region that was the world's fastest growing economy before the Asian economic crisis, the Philippine economy has also lagged far behind the major ASEAN countries.

Two presidential turnover elections, normally important indicators of democratic consolidation, took place in 1992 and 1998. However, this process took an unexpected twist in 2001 when a massive people's mobilization, climaxed by the military's withdrawal of support, deposed the elected incumbent President, Joseph Estrada, less than halfway to his six-year term. In turn, Estrada's successor, former Vice-President Gloria Arroyo, barely three months in office, had to quell a violent march on the presidential palace by enraged Estrada supporters from the poorest classes.

The broad features of the problems and challenges of democratic consolidation in the Philippines include a volatile ensemble of the following factors: a cycle of contentious politics in a state with weak capacities and political institutions, a slow-growth economy, and a vibrant but contentious civil society. In this article, three interrelated problems are addressed. First, the historical and social foundations of democratic rule in the country, and the political legacies of the transition process from authoritarian to democratic rule that continue to shape the dynamics of the consolidation process will be addressed. Second, the problems of the consolidation process focusing on the roots and dynamics of contentious politics in the country, particularly the role played by armed movements and militant social movements, will be examined. Third, new forces and players at work in the society in the process of state capability building and democratization will be identified.

The Social and Historical Foundations of Democratic Rule in the Philippines

To understand the complex interaction of state and society which underpins the process of modern democratic rule, one needs to situate this in the colonial context when the beginnings of limited partial elections were first introduced. Elections at the municipal level were introduced at the twilight of Spanish rule in the late nineteenth century but this was a highly restrictive process involving only the local elites. The revolutionary Philippine Republic, established in 1898, also had a system of elected municipal and provincial officials but its operation was cut short by the American colonial occupation. Reflecting the "fusion of expediency and ideals" of the time, the American colonial government introduced a system of regular elections starting at the local levels of government in 1901, members of the national legislature in 1907, and a president during the Commonwealth period to facilitate colonial rule by co-opting the native elites. (1)

The American colonial strategy of gradually putting the native elites into power through electoral contests had the following major results. (2) By prioritizing the establishment of the institutions of representative electoral democracy, the colonial government legitimized elite rule, further entrenching the power of local elite families who were able to control the electoral process. This preoccupation with electoral democracy not only increased the power of local bosses and provincial lords but also encouraged patronage-driven corruption since the control of public resources became an essential tool for winning elections. Finally, this same preoccupation with electoral democracy undermined the building of autonomous national political institutions, such as the various agencies of the civilian bureaucracy and the police, resulting in a weak and politicized administrative state apparatus. …

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