Mong Palatino

blogging about the philippine left and southeast asian politics since 2004


@mongster is a manila-based activist, former philippine legislator, and blogger/analyst of asia-pacific affairs.

Albay province governor and presidential adviser Joey Salceda is happy to note that candidates in the 2010 elections are younger compared to those in previous elections.

The average age of presidential aspirants in 2004 was 60.25. The candidates were Fernando Poe Jr., 65; Panfilo Lacson, 57; Raul S. Roco, 63; and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, 56. The average age of presidential candidates this year is 55. Younger candidates include Noynoy Aquino, 49; Gilberto Teodoro, 45; and JC de Los Reyes, 40.

The majority of voters are also young with 40 percent of the electorate belonging to the 18-35 age bracket. Also, there are more than 3 million first time voters. Candidates and voters alike are getting younger. Indeed, this is a good year for young people.

But the rise of young politicians does not mean the automatic exclusion of senior citizen politicians in Philippine politics. The old guards continue to wield a strong influence on political parties and they still get elected in public office.

In the House of Representatives, there are 55 members who are at least 65 years old. There are 17 others who didn’t disclose their age but most probably belong to the senior citizen age group. At 84, Congressman Pablo Garcia from Cebu province is the oldest member of the Lower House. He is the patriarch of the Garcia clan which dominates Cebu politics. Still strong and mentally sharp, Garcia is a sure-win candidate in this year’s elections. He’ll be 87 on 2013; the year when his term ends. The second oldest member of Congress, Antonio Diaz from Zambales province, is also a candidate this year.

The most prominent active octogenarian politician in the country is Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile. Despite being 86 years old, Enrile is aspiring for a new term as senator. Most likely he’ll win as indicated by latest nationwide survey results. He’ll be 92 years old when his new term ends.

Enrile is a veteran politician who has remained politically relevant for the past 40 years. The only other public personalities who achieved this feat are former President Fidel Ramos, former First Lady Imelda Marcos, former Senate President Jovito Salonga and communist leader Jose Maria Sison. Enrile, unlike his contemporaries, is still very active in politics. As Senate President, he is officially the third most powerful man in the country today. His popular campaign slogan, ‘I want you to be happy,’ is perhaps a creative tactic to make the voters ignore his age.

Age was an issue raised against former Senate President Jovito Salonga in 1992 when he ran as president of the country. His rivals cited his age (72 at the time) and frail health as reasons why he should not become president. Today, Salonga is still alive (though semi-retired from politics) while many of his rivals are either dead or retired from politics.

The future of Philippine politics definitely belongs to the youth. But the political career of Salonga and Enrile is a timely reminder for everyone not to ignore yet the country’s senior citizen leaders and octogenarian politicians. They are political survivors whose wisdom, experience and even weaknesses can help guide the young leaders of the country.

Soldiers as politicians

Scholars often write about the militarization of the bureaucracy, referring to the high number of retired military officers in the president’s Cabinet, but they often overlook the winning record of the military in elections.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines has a total active force of 113,500, with 131,000 personnel in reserve and 158,500 paramilitary troops. This means the military has a solid vote of at least half a million. This figure does not include the family members of soldiers and retired officers of the military. If we add the number of the police force, the combined votes of the military and police could reach more than a million.

With this number, plus the fact that soldiers can use its armed strength to influence the decision of voters, it makes sense for military officers to run for public office. They can tap the nationwide organization of the military to boost their campaigns and they can rely on the guaranteed votes that the institution can deliver for them.

Who are the prominent soldier-politicians of the Philippines?

General Fidel Ramos, the chief-of-staff of the armed forces during the Marcos regime and defense secretary during the Aquino government, became president in 1992. Four of the country’s 23 incumbent senators are graduates of the Philippine Military Academy. They are Senators Gringo Honasan, Rodolfo Biazon, Panfilo Lacson, and Antonio Trillanes.

Biazon won in 1992, 1998 and 2004. Honasan won in 1995, 2001 and 2007. Lacson became a senator in 2001 and was re-elected in 2007. Trillanes became the youngest senator of the Republic three years ago. Biazon was Aquino’s military chief-of-staff before he ran in 1992. He is now a candidate for mayor in the city of Muntinlupa located south of Manila. Lacson was the country’s police chief during the Estrada government. Honasan and Trillanes are former rebel soldiers who attempted to overthrow the governments of Aquino and Arroyo.

The surprising electoral victories of Honasan and Trillanes may have inspired other rebel soldiers to run for senator as well. Two detained soldiers are senatorial candidates in the 2010 elections; they are Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim and ex-Marine Col. Ariel Querubin. Lim is running under the Liberal Party while Querubin is a candidate of the Nacionalista Party. Two other soldiers who want to be senators are former marine officer Mon-Mon Mitra and controversial General Jovito Palparan. If they all win this year, there will be seven former soldiers in the senate.

Soldiers are also running for lower elective positions. The Magdalo Party, a group founded by young rebel soldiers, is fielding at least four congressional candidates. Arroyo’s former Cabinet members who are running for congress today are also former soldiers. They are Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Presidential Management Staff chief Hermogenes Esperon Jr. and Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes. Civil society groups are also accusing the military of funding and directly supporting various party list groups which could further widen the clout of the military inside congress.

In a different context, Mao Zedong once asserted that ‘Political power grows out of the barrel of a gun.’ In the Philippines, this apt quotation can refer to the rising power of the military to assure the victory of their former comrades in the electoral arena.

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2 Responses to “Octogenarians and soldiers”

  1. Hi, Mong! Just a correction: Rodolfo Biazon is running for congressman, not mayor, of Muntinlupa.

    Alexander Martin Remollino

  2. Dear Mong,

    Key points: competence, a fruitful track record, consistency, solid analysis of problems and issues based on facts, offer of probable, best solutions and willpower are the key ingredients to transformational, political leadership. Age as a factor should be considered side by side these key points, when voters assess whom to vote this coming May 10, 2010 elections.

    NOY Amante
    Hanyang University, Erica Campus Ansan City South Korea

    NONOY Amante

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