Philippine Elections 2022: The End of the Good Governance Discourse.

AuthorClaudio, Lisandro E.

Ferdinand Marcos Sr. looted the Philippines' national treasury. In 2003, the Philippine Supreme Court ruled that at least 25 billion pesos (US$500 million) of his personal wealth was ill-gotten. It was a sum disproportionate to Marcos' and his wife's incomes as public officials. (1) A common estimate for the total amount stolen by the Marcos family is US$10 billion. (2)

However, many of Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s supporters have ceased to care about good governance. Anecdotes and initial ethnographic research reveal a cynical attitude--that distinguishing between dirty and clean politicians is a futile endeavour since all of them are corrupt--has taken hold among Marcos Jr's voters. (3) They were under no illusion that he was a candidate of good governance, with only eight per cent of them saying that they chose him because he had a clean record. (4) However, as one Marcos Jr. supporter told an Australian news outlet, corruption is no longer a concern for them because, unlike the 1980s, "there are safeguards now". (5)

A major reason for Marcos Jr.'s victory is therefore the fact that the discourse of good governance advanced by the opposition has failed to appeal to voters outside its traditional reformist base. This essay explains why this discourse failed in 2022. It also discusses the inadequacies of the good governance discourse as a campaign strategy and as a lens for analysing Philippine political developments.

We should, however, first dispense with the idea that the disregard for the Marcos family's perfidy is simply a result of historical amnesia and/or organized disinformation. This, of course, played a role in the 2022 elections, but focusing only on disinformation distracts us from recognizing changes in electoral attitudes.

Although Marcos Jr.'s supporters were aware of the family's corruption, they continued to support him. However, this was not always the case. In 2010, then Senator Benigno Aquino III ran on a platform of "kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap" ("If no one is corrupt, then no one is poor"). Aquino's message resonated well with the voters because he was running at the end of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's presidency, a highly unpopular regime plagued by multiple corruption scandals. Of those who supported Aquino, 46 per cent thought he was not corrupt and 15 per cent thought he cared for the poor. As for the electorate in general, the major reasons for selecting a candidate were the belief that a candidate was not corrupt (26 per cent) and the belief that a candidate cared for the poor (26 per cent).

Even Rodrigo Duterte, in his 2016 presidential campaign, foregrounded corruption as an issue, which he saw as a form of "criminality" alongside the spread of illegal drugs. He rightly observed that the drug problem was tied to the large corrupt networks among the police and politicians. The top two reasons motivating voters to choose Duterte were the perception of him not being corrupt (20 per cent) and the belief that he had done/was doing/would do something for the country (20 per cent).

Ferdinand Marcos Jr. also claimed to be against corruption, but the issue was ultimately unimportant. His intentionally vague campaign focused on a future of national redemption and prosperity achieved through "unity". Marcos Jr.'s voters picked him because they believed he was capable of doing something (20 per cent), knew much about the running of a government (16 per cent), could grow the...

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