A three decade throwback: the 1992 presidential elections

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr had recently finished his first State of the Nation Address last month. Numerous analysts have lauded the president’s speech for showcasing what technocracy really is, most specially when he has enumerated his legislative agenda that should be prioritized by both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Hopefully, Marcos Jr’s six-year term will guide the Philippines beyond these tumultuous times. Nevertheless, it’s a good time to rewind and analyze the presidential elections held exactly thirty years ago, which definitely led to various political, economic, and social repercussions that the country is currently experiencing.

The 1992 Philippine presidential elections was the first general elections held under the 1987 Constitution. Six years after the conclusion of the 1986 EDSA revolution, the Filipino electorate chose one president, one vice president, and 24 senators in national positions. The top twelve senators ended up serving for six years, while the next twelve were only for three years. These elections held the promises of the aforementioned revolution, which turned out to be broken promises due to the Philippines’ systemic and structural flaws, which were further exacerbated by the faulty constitution.

To contextualize the situation of the Philippines during the Corazon Aquino administration years, the whole country was experiencing various socio-political and economic problems. Political stability was nearly absent as the military, most specially from the members of the Reformed Armed Forces Movement (RAM), which mounted a number of coup d’état attempts against the government. Perennial energy shortages also didn’t help as regular blackouts dampened productivity of Philippine companies. In addition, servicing debt was a tedious task because of the great devaluation of the Philippine peso during the 1980’s. Institutionalized graft and corruption in both public and private sectors created more discontented Filipinos as poverty continued to dehumanize families.

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Leading to the presidential elections of 1992, then-President Corazon Aquino decided not to vie for the presidency. Instead, seven candidates who held considerable influence in the Philippine political arena ran for the aforementioned position. These seven candidates can be roughly associated to two groups. Out of those seven candidates, five presidentiables can be classified under the Aquino administration, while the remaining two can be labeled under the opposition. The five administration-aligned candidates were Vice President Salvador Laurel, Senate President Jovito Salonga, Speaker Ramon Mitra, Agrarian Reform Secretary Miriam Santiago, and the eventual winner, National Defense Secretary Fidel Ramos. The remaining two opposition-aligned presidentiables were business magnate Danding Cojuangco and former first lady Imelda Marcos.

Paired with their vice presidential candidates, all of these presidentiables had their own respective provincial bailiwicks. Survey frontrunner Miriam Santiago had Western Visayas, while opposition candidates Danding Cojuangco and Imelda Marcos had Central Luzon and Northern Luzon respectively. In addition, Salvador Laurel had Batangas, Ramon Mitra had Palawan, while Fidel Ramos had Pangasinan. However, various surveys were initially pointing that Miriam Santiago is poised to claim victory, since she had popular support from various sectors of the society. The youth aggressively backed her candidacy, together with the Ilonggo diaspora in Mindanao. Businesses who benefitted from her no non-sense approach as immigration commissioner tacitly supported her. Her feisty character and unquestionable competence, paired with her increasing media exposure in uncovering corruption issues and abuses made her a sellable product in the eyes of most Filipinos.

Even though Sec. Santiago was technically a part of the government, the Aquino administration disliked her calls for reform, most specially during her tenure in the Department of Agrarian Reform (DAR). These conflicts-of-interests on the side of the Aquinos and Cojuangcos led to the said secretary leaving the cabinet. Later on, then-President Corazon Aquino confirmed her support in favor of the candidacy of Department of National Defense (DND) Sec. Fidel Ramos, where political pundits say that Pres. Aquino’s blessing was basically returning the favor towards Sec. Ramos for addressing the numerous coup d’états and military takeover attempts against her government.

Fidel Ramos, boasting a lengthy military and political career, was seen initially lagging in various surveys. A military-man by profession, General Ramos was indispensable in the administrations of presidents Ferdinand Marcos and Corazon Aquino. Nevertheless, his leap towards Malacañang was also faced with difficulties when the “Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino” (LDP) nominated then-Speaker of the House Ramon Mitra as the party’s official standard bearer. This led him to bolt from LDP and made his own political party, Lakas-CMD. Together with his massive political machinery, rich military background and Pres. Aquino’s support, he eventually won the presidency with roughly a fourth of the total votes cast, albeit with various election-related irregularities, which would include allegations that Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi provided financial support in millions of pesos towards his campaign.

If all numbers were taken into consideration, all of these candidates had good chances in winning the race towards Malacañang, including Liberal Party candidate Jovito Salonga and Nacionalista Party candidate Salvador Laurel, as long they were able to consolidate these various groups that they were initially aligned with. However, the complete polarization and disintegration of these groups demonstrate how Philippine politics never allowed the creation of grounds to unite nor set their differences aside. In turn, this created a series of presidencies where candidates only needed to win the most number of votes through plurality, instead of garnering a majority of votes. This trend was broken by President Marcos Jr’s electoral victory last May.

Aside from the reality that the assembled coalition to confront then-President Ferdinand Marcos in 1986 crumbled in 1992, it can be observed that political parties in the Philippines are mere vehicles for politicians in winning elections. Philippine political parties are no longer about ideologies nor platforms, but instead institutionalized the careers of politicians who surfed the ebbs and flows of public sentiment. The 1992 elections showed to us that the two main political parties in the Philippines through the Nacionalista Party and Liberal Party have greatly weakened, but still hold a degree of influence in Philippine politics. Santiago’s People’s Reform Party (PRP) and Mitra’s LDP still occupy seats in the Congress, but Ramos’ Lakas-CMD and Cojuangco’s Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) have continued to exert significant influence. This can be observed with the current Vice President Sara Duterte’s alignment towards Lakas-CMD and NPC occupying five Senate seats. Albeit having no representatives in both the Congress and Senate, Marcos’ Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) has her son as the country’s current chief executive.

Unfortunately, the 1992 presidential elections was a testament to the failure of creating inclusive political institutions by the 1987 constitution. Ideally, competent statesmen and stateswomen like Miriam Santiago and Salvador Laurel should have been presidents in this country. These kinds of individuals definitely know how to run a government. Sadly, their names would be lumped together with the likes of Carlos P. Romulo and Claro M. Recto in Philippine history as the best presidents that the Philippines never had.

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