THE PHILIPPINES IN 2004: A Gathering Storm
Muego, Benjamin N., Southeast Asian Affairs
For some 85 million Filipinos much of 2004 was spent either gearing up for the country's third presidential election in the post-martial law period or dealing with the election's aftermath amidst charges and counter-charges of "massive election fraud and irregularities", "widespread and systematic cheating", "blatant votebuying", etc., and a "rigged" and highly controversial congressional vote count for president and vice-president,1 reminiscent of the dagdagfbawas ("vote-padding/ vote-shaving") scandal in the 1992 general elections narrowly won by General Fidel V. Ramos over Miriam Defensor-Santiago, who subsequently filed a formal protest with the presidential electoral tribunal, but to no avail.2 Ironically, two dagdagf bawas victims of the 1992 general elections, Aquilino "Nene" Q. Pimentel, Jr., (LDP), and former Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief-of-staff Rodolfo G. Biazon (Lakas-KMP), both current members of the Philippine Senate, were among the principal players - although this time on opposite sides - in the highly controversial vote canvass.3 In spite of a determined and valiant effort waged by a handful of opposition lawmakers in both legislative chambers (in the House of Representatives, the effort was spearheaded by rising opposition star Francis "Chiz" G. Escudero [NPC-Sorsogon] while Pimentel led the opposition to the "underhanded tactics" of the numerically dominant pro-administration lawmakers under the leadership of Francis "Kiko" N. Pangilinan, majority floor leader (Pangilinan replaced Loren Legarda-Leviste who left the Senate to join the slate of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) as its vice-presidential candidate) and Senate president Franklin M. Drilon (LP). On 23 June 2004, Drilon and Jose De Venecia (Lakas), Speaker of the House of Representatives officially proclaimed Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her running-mate, Noli L. De Castro as the "duly elected president and vice-president", of the Republic of the Philippines.
In spite of a formal election protest filed by Macapagal-Arroyo's principal rival, the late Fernando Poe, Jr., (or just plain "FPJ" to his legion of admirers and supporters) with the Presidential Electoral Tribunal and persistent rumours of an imminent EDSA-type uprising4 by millions of loyal Poe supporters including a number of high-profile retired flag-level officers and active-duty military personnel, Macapagal-Arroyo was inaugurated as the country's fourth post-martial law era chief executive on 30 June 2004. Interestingly enough, Macapagal-Arroyo chose to take her oath of office in Cebu City, in the central Visayas, instead of in Manila, the nation's political and cultural capital. She was only the second post-martial law chief executive to do so.5 Of course it was widely believed that Macapagal-Arroyo chose to have her swearing-in and inauguration in the Philippines' "Queen City", as a gesture of gratitude to Cebuano voters who gave her an incredible 90 per cent of the city's and province's votes, more than enough to catapult her past Poe who had held his own in strife-torn Mindanao (in spite of alleged widespread poll irregularities) and won handsomely in all of the main island of Luzon, except in Macapagal-Arroyo's home province of Pampanga and Las Pinas in Metro Manila, the bailiwick and political stronghold of congressional spouses Senator Manuel B. Villar, Jr. and Representative Cynthia Aguilar-Villar, both staunch Macapagal-Arroyo supporters.
As with the presidential elections of 1992 and 1998, respectively, when Ramos won the presidency with a measly 21 per cent of the total number of votes cast;6 and conversely, in the 1998 general elections, when Estrada totally overwhelmed his principal opponent, Lakas standard bearer Jose de Venecia by over five million votes, pre-election skirmishing between and among the so-called "presidentiables"7 and jockeying for front-runner status began - albeit on the sly and behind the scenes because of a constitutional provision which limits the duration of the election campaign to two months. …