Aquino endorses wide alliance to contest poll in bid to push agenda
Popular president endorses an unlikely alliance of characters for mid-term Senate election in a bid to push through ambitious social agenda
When the dust settles from today's violent and raucous midterm elections, President Benigno Aquino is expected to emerge politically stronger, thanks to unlikely alliances he's forged.
Pollsters predict Aquino's Liberal Party (LP) and its allies will win seven to nine of 12 senate seats up for grabs. The rest are expected to go to candidates endorsed by Vice-President Jejomar Binay. They include Binay's daughter and a son of disgraced former president Joseph Estrada.
Control of the 24-member senate is crucial to Aquino's reform agenda.
His party already dominates the 250-member House of Representatives. A senate sweep today could give the administration 14 to 16 senators. Aquino is expected to use this to consolidate the last three years of his term and push laws to tackle poverty and corruption.
"Aquino says his role is to make sure the benefits of democracy are enjoyed by every Filipino and there are several areas he gives personal attention to," said Ramon Casiple, of the Institute for Political and Electoral reform. These included "the fight against corruption, Muslim Mindanao, the communist insurgency and so on."
To get to this position of legislative strength, the LP has formed an election coalition with five other parties and is fielding 12 candidates, two of whom are independents.
One is incumbent senator Loren Legarda, who just three years ago had unkind things to say about Aquino.
During the 2010 presidential campaign, when Aquino's mental capacity was questioned, Legarda demanded that all presidential and vice-presidential candidates undergo psychiatric examinations. She also accused Aquino of committing "character assassination" and "mocking democracy".
Another candidate Aquino has endorsed is Cynthia Villar, wife of his chief rival in 2010. She is a member of the Nacionalista Party, which includes Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jnr, son of the dictator who jailed and allegedly murdered Aquino's father. Marcos junior is not running in this election.
Other beneficiaries of Aquino's endorsement this election are Senator Alan Peter Cayetano, who is widely believed to have spread rumours about Aquino's mental health in 2010, and Senator Antonio Trillanes, who embarrassed the administration last year at the height of maritime tensions with China.
He undercut the government by dealing directly and secretly with Beijing, publicly belittling the Philippine foreign secretary's own efforts.
On the local level, Aquino is supporting the re-election bid of Manila mayor Alfredo Lim, who had a hand in the tragic botched rescue attempt of a busload of Hong Kong hostages in 2010.
Asked if he found the political alliances strange, Casiple laughed and said "they're intended to get Aquino the majority in the Senate". He said the horsetrading was worth it because "he has a legislative agenda".
For their part, Aquino's erstwhile rivals are willing to enter into a coalition with him because of his popularity. According to Casiple, "nobody wants to go against him; he may maintain his popularity until 2016".
Vice-President Binay, who is laying the groundwork for his own presidential campaign in 2016, is seen as Aquino's main rival. Binay formed his own party and made an alliance with the remnants of the party of former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is facing plunder charges.
The shifting alliances highlight the fact the Philippines has no true political party system. More than 100 parties are registered, cobbled together for the sole purpose of getting candidates elected.
As it is, even the candidates supposed to be allies of Aquino have spent time undercutting each other.
Legarda is dogged by reports she did not disclose a New York property as required by law. She denied this and claimed another incumbent candidate, Senator Alan Peter Cayetenao, also backed by Aquino, was behind this smear.
Philippine Daily Inquirer columnist Juan Mercado likened the coalition candidates to "scorpions in a bottle".