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Election 2013: The revenge of the excluded

Thirty-seven million Filipinos go to the polls today in a midterm election which President Aquino considers a referendum on his three years in office.

More than 50 percent of the registered voters are under 44 years of age. According to the voters’ profile based on a Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey, of the 45.5 million registered voters, those 18 to 24 years of age numbered 4.91  million (10.8 percent); 25 to 34 years old, 11.92 million (26.2 percent); 35 to 45 years old, 9.37 million (20.6 percent).

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Whether this new generation of young voters will respond to the President’s call to give his administration’s Team PNoy senatorial lineup a 12-0 sweep of the Senate is far from certain.

In an election eve radio message to the nation, the President, through a Palace spokesperson, appeared almost pleading.

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“This is the time to let your government know how you feel about [its officials],” the Palace spokesperson cutely said. “And as the President says, if you are happy with what you’ve seen in the past three years, [or] if you want us to continue, then you vote for Team PNoy.”

There was no confident ring in the statement.

Over the past three months of the campaign, the Aquino administration encountered a number of issues that fueled unrest in several sectors—the trade unions, Roman Catholic Church and religious organizations, such as Iglesia Ni Cristo and El Shaddai, which have declared support for some of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) candidates for the Senate.

Only last week, a widespread power shortage broke out in Metro Manila and many parts of Luzon, disrupting metro rail systems and office services.

The prospects of a 12-0 sweep are nil. They go against historical precedents. In no election for the Senate since independence has there been even a complete washout of a ticket, opposition or administration, under the premartial law, two-party system.

Fallout

The SWS survey last week showed nine of the President’s handpicked candidates were leading the race, but the  fallout from the events that marred the administration then had not been fully felt, giving rise to possible erosion of the administration’s gains in the surveys.

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At the Labor Day celebration on May 1, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) raised the “jobless growth” issue in a meeting with the President. TUCP officials pointed out there had been a pronounced improvement in the economy, but this growth did not generate opportunities for employment.

In 2012, the Philippines posted a 6.6-percent gross domestic product (GDP) growth. Citing the National Statistics Office, the union officials said there were 2.89 million unemployed Filipinos and 7.93 million underemployed Filipinos in January 2013. The “all-time high” underemployment rate in six years was recorded in July 2012 at 8.55 million, the union said.

In February 2013, government economists and statisticians claimed the full-year GDP growth had surpassed their 5-percent to 6-percent growth target for the past year, but the result was not good enough to have any significant social impact on alleviating poverty and reducing the wide wealth chasm between the rich and the poor.

Growth in the past two years has not translated into creating enough jobs for the poor that will allow them to break out of the poverty trap.

The President in a recent speech to global parliamentarians credited the “gains and reforms” made by his administration in promoting transparency and accountability for the economic expansion.

But nongovernment economists have emphasized that transparency and good governance alone are not sufficient to drive up economic growth.

However, the President acknowledged the wide gap between the “powerful and powerless” had become too huge, adding that too many people were being left behind.

Inclusive growth

Budget Secretary Florencio Abad said in February that the economy might have grown by “leaps and bounds” last year, but employment “did not grow in a similar degree.”

“We have to sustain trust,” Abad said. “The public trust can erode once again if we fail to address the key challenge in ensuring that economic inclusive growth is fully inclusive.” He said the administration was determined to address the employment problem in keeping its promise to end poverty, as well as proving its slogan “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap (there are no poor if there are no corrupt).”

As the administration senatorial team candidates covered the country in their campaign, they were assailed by questions from the poor—“where are the jobs?”—which they could not escape and which they could not answer. The ground swell from the poor—the sector excluded from the benefits of growth—hurt the PNoy ticket in their sorties.

It gave the opposition camp encouragement to hammer on the “where are the jobs” issue, a chance to shave off the administration’s advantage in the surveys and pull an upset in the elections today. The target of the opposition was to cut down the administration’s edge to 6-6.

The labor sector has already been alienated after the President knocked down the Labor Day demands for wage increase benefits and an end to contractual short-term employment. More galling to labor was that its demands were frozen for further study.

As voters go to the polling stations on Monday, they will be assailed by the salience of three of the most contentious issues in this campaign.

These include the intensely debated issue of dynastic families’ domination of politics and the bitter debate over the reproductive health law that has put the administration at loggerheads with the Roman Catholic Church.

These issues provide the elements of an upset on top of the issue of growth without jobs and poverty. The administration ticket sits on the lid of an explosive debacle.

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