The 2016 general election of the Republic of the Philippines resulted in the most widely followed electoral period in Philippine political history. Officially starting on February 9, 2016, a hodgepodge of candidates, political parties, coalitions, and electoral alliances campaigned for multiple levels of executive and legislative government positions across the officially unitary—but in practice semi-unitary—polity of the Philippines on Monday, May 9, 2016. Without question, the most watched electoral races were those for the offices of the president and vice-president.
The 9th February 2016 marks the official start of 90-day campaign period for the Philippine presidential elections. Boisterous and even bordeline slanderous remarks are par for the course as with prior presidential races. Beyond the day-to-day flurry of campaigning lies potential turning points for the different internal conflicts raging across the Philippines.
Political cadres versus fighters: Communists at the crossroads?
The Philippines has played host to one of the longest-running insurgencies in the world—led by the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (NPA). Figures from the Philippine militaryestimate that the NPA is down to 3900 armed fighters in 2016 far below its peak strength of around 26000 during the late President Corazon Aquino’s administration.
It has been decades since the armed conflict in Mindanao erupted. Almost 50 years later, the Government of the Philippines (GOP) was able to enter into peace agreements with two secessionist groups: in 1996, with the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and, in 2014, with its breakaway group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). However, recent developments could be undone by a change in leadership, which makes the May 2016 general elections a critical juncture in the peace process.
The peace process so far
The 1996 final peace agreement between the GOP and the MNLF enabled the expansion of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), an autonomous political entity created in 1989 in accordance with a constitutional amendment. Former combatant and MNLF founder Nur Misuari was elected as the ARMM’s third governor. Amidst all this, the armed conflict continued, as breakaway groups, such as the MILF, did not recognize Misuari’s leadership and found anything short of independence unacceptable. In addition, for many years after its establishment, the ARMM remained one of the poorest regions in the country, fueling allegations of corruption against MNLF leadership. The armed conflict also disrupted long-term development, and the lack of progress served as one of the impetuses for the MILF’s campaign.