Can a third force win?

By Perry Diaz

Ramon Magsaysay

Ramon Magsaysay

Back in the 1950s when the Philippines’ political structure was patterned after the United States’ “two-party system,” to be in politics one had to be a member of one of the two dominant parties: the Nacionalista Party and the Liberal Party. And when one became unhappy or disgruntled with his party, he’d bolt his party and move to the other party.

That’s what happened when the popular Defense Secretary Ramon Magsaysay of the ruling Liberal Party (LP) under then President Elpidio Quirino did a somersault into the opposition Nacionalista Party (NP) and got the party’s nomination to run against his former boss in the next election. Winning by a landslide, Magsaysay took over the presidency on December 30, 1953.

But the untimely death of Magsaysay in a plane crush on March 17, 1957 left a power vacuum. Magsaysay’s shoes were hard to fill and his successor, Vice President Carlos P. Garcia, simply lacked his vision and passion. With the presidential election less than 10 months away, presidential wannabes scrambled for the opposition LP’s nomination.

Manuel Manahan

Manuel Manahan

Raul Manglapus

Raul Manglapus

It was then that a “Third Force” was born. Manuel Manahan and Raul Manglapus, who were key members of Magsaysay’s administration, founded the Progressive Party of the Philippines (PPP), which was billed as a “reformist” party.

Manahan ran as the PPP’s presidential candidate and Vicente Araneta as his running mate. The party also fielded a complete slate of senatorial candidates, which included Manglapus.

Manahan adopted a campaign similar to that of Magsaysay. Even his slogan – “Manahan is my man” – was patterned after “Magsaysay is my guy.” But the two-party system prevailed. Manahan ranked third in a three-way contest and Garcia was elected. All the PPP candidates lost.

In the 1959 mid-term election, PPP allied with disgruntled members of the NP and LP to form a new “Third Force,” the Grand Alliance (GA). This was the first time that a political multi-party electoral alliance was formed. The GA fielded a six-man senatorial slate consisting of three PPP members, two LP members, and one NP member. None of them won. The experiment was a total failure.

In the 1961 presidential election, the PPP joined forces with the LP for the purpose of preventing the re-election of Garcia. They fielded Vice President Diosdado Macapagal (LP) as the standard bearer and Emanuel Pelaez (PPP) as his running mate. Manahan and Manglapus were included in the LP’s senatorial slate as guest candidates. The three Progressives won.

In the 1965 presidential election, the Progressives separated themselves from the LP. They claimed that they were dissatisfied with the Macapagal administration. It was at this time that the PPP was renamed as the “Party for Philippine Progress.” It fielded Manglapus as its standard bearer and Manahan as his running mate. It also fielded a four-man senatorial slate. All of them lost. It was a rout.

In 1969, the PPP quietly disbanded. Thus ended the era of a “Third Force.”

Ferdinand E. Marcos

Ferdinand E. Marcos

For the next 17 years, the late dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos — who was elected President in 1965 and re-elected in 1969 — extended his stay in power by declaring martial law in 1972. In 1986, Marcos was toppled from power in a “people power” revolution led by his Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile and Vice Chief of Staff Fidel V. Ramos. A revolutionary government was formed and Cory Aquino was installed as president.

New era

Cory Aquino and son Benigno III

Cory Aquino and son Benigno III

In 1987, a new Constitution was adopted and thus began a new political and electoral era. The two-party system was discarded and replaced with a multi-party system. It created an environment where no single political party could gain power by itself. That’s when “coalitions” became the vehicles to winning elections. It’s a different ballgame.

Today, the dominant majority party is the Liberal Party and the dominant minority party is the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). There are four other major parties: Nacionalista Party (NP), National People’s Coalition (NPC), National Unity Party, and Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas). In addition, there are more than 100 regional, local, and others including the “party-lists” who represented the marginalized sectors in Congress.

During the last presidential election in 2010, the LP coalition included two independent candidates in its 12-person senatorial slate. The rest were Liberals. The LP presidential candidate Benigno Aquino III won but his running mate Manuel “Mar” Roxas II lost to Jejomar “Jojo” Binay of the PDP-Laban. In the Senate, three LP members and one guest candidate (an independent) won.

With the 2016 presidential election just nine months away, the presidential race has only one declared candidate to date, Binay. He was topping the popularity polls until last June when Sen. Grace Poe overtook him. Poe, who has yet to declare her candidacy, is now the front-runner in the polls.

Musical chairs

Grace Poe, Mar Roxas, and Chiz Escudero

Grace Poe, Mar Roxas, and Chiz Escudero

Meanwhile, President Aquino had invited Poe and Sen. Francis “Chiz” Escudero to meetings to discuss the possibility of a Roxas-Poe ticket under the LP banner. But Poe insisted that if she were going to run for president, Escudero would be her running mate. That means that a Poe-Roxas tandem is not going to happen. And besides, what would happen to Escudero who is Poe’s close political ally? With all her pronouncements that she prefers Escudero for her running mate, she’s not going to abandon him now. And Aquino wouldn’t abandon Roxas either as his preferred LP standard bearer. And for that reason, a Poe-Roxas tandem under the LP banner is not going to happen.

While the pairing of the presidential and vice presidential candidates is still in a fluid state, a Poe-Escudero tandem has been gaining traction lately. Lately, the duo has been going around various places in the country in what seems like “testing the water” forays.

The problem with a Poe-Escudero tandem is that both Grace and Chiz are independents and thus far have not shown any indication that they would affiliate with a major party. Of the five dominant parties, the LP and Binay’s UNA are out. That leaves them with the NP, NPC or Lakas to choose from.

Interestingly, it was reported recently that former senator Manny Villar, the NP’s presidential candidate in 2010, and Danding Cojuangco, the founder of NPC, have indicated that they would support Poe as their respective party’s presidential candidate. However, they left Escudero out because their party would prefer to field its own candidate for vice president.

Battle Royale

Battle Royale: Mar Roxas, Jejomar Binay, and Grace Poe

Battle Royale: Mar Roxas, Jejomar Binay, and Grace Poe

And that would leave Poe and Escudero with one option; that is, form a “Third Force.” If they’re going to do it, they have to go on the fast track and form a party or coalition soon. Yes, it’s déjà vu all over again. It seems like they could borrow a page from Manahan’s game book… and improve it to win.

With Binay way ahead in the game – he’s been in “campaign mode” since the day he was installed vice president in 2010 – and Roxas as the LP’s candidate, Grace and Chiz would be politically and financially handicapped. And if they don’t have a well-organized campaign and a huge campaign war chest, they wouldn’t stand a chance of winning. Many predict that in a three-way “Battle Royale,” Roxas would take votes away from Poe and Binay would win.

But politics is the art of the possible. Grace’s popularity could turn the tables on Binay and Roxas. Like the popular Magsaysay who beat the odds in 1953, Grace could do the same in 2016; which begs the question: Can a third force win in Philippine presidential elections?


11 Responses. Have your say.

  1. Constantino Gamolo says:

    Hi Perry,
    Thank you for a history of the presidential political system starting with Pres. Magsaysay. I was a very young kid when I heard the name Ramon Magsaysay. This coming 2016 presidential elections, who knows, even if it is a wishful thinking that a third force can win. It will be a miracle.

  2. perry says:

    Perry –

    I am not sure that President Garcia lacked vision as you opined. Who crafted the “First Filipino” policy?

    Bob Gabuna
    (Sent by email)

  3. perry says:

    Hi Bob,

    The Filipino First policy of Garcia did not do anything to improve the economic situation of the Philippines. The policy favored Filipino businesses vs. foreign investors, which I believe slowed the economic development of the country. Today, there is a strong move to change the constitution to remove or change the provision that limits foreign ownership of Philippine corporations to only 40%. I think his Filipino First policy was driven by a false and misguided sense of nationalism, which until now is retarding the economic growth of the country.


  4. Bitoy says:

    But Perry, Poe is not a Magsaysay. What has she achieved exceptionally? She lacks experience.
    Integrity is not the only requirement of being a President.

    • perry says:

      Hi Bitoy,

      Magsaysay didn’t have experience either other than fighting the Huks. It’s integrity that counts most.


  5. Rene Bersamin says:

    Hi Perry,
    Not sure if any type of “nationalism” is bad at all, misguided or not. Garcia, weak as he may have been, started right. What is “retarding the economic growth of the country” is the corrupt politicians who fill up their pockets first before anything else, if there is even ‘anything else’ from them! We have such a corrupt system/structure that even with the ‘check-and-balance’ in place, it has been a very slow process. The past and current generation of Filipinos just do not have the luxury of time.

  6. L.C. Lagda says:

    Hi Perry,

    Do you really think that Magsaysay would “have beat the odds” without the backing of America and the work of a CIA/USAF officer named Edward Lansdale?

    • perry says:

      Hi L.C. Lagda,

      Col. Edward’s Landsdale’s role was as adviser in the fight against the Huks and communism. He was not involved in Philippine elections. I think when the Huk insurgency was over, Landsdale went to South Vietnam to help fight the Viet Cong.


  7. Zeny Ferry says:

    Your article is very informative. You gave a comprehensive view of Philippine politics. I just hope that the right person becomes the next president as it is a question of whether or not corruption can be uprooted, This depends upon a strong leadership that will seriously take the interest of the people and not their own self-aggrandizement If Binay wins, from what I have read, that will spell the doom of the Philippines because corruption will increase instead of diminish. What a great misfortune if this happens..

  8. Rex Q. Garcia ME/ CPE / PE says:

    Zeny you’re right that it will be a disaster and misfortune in in Pinas if the stupid Pinoys voters vote for the corrupt Binay. This question is for Perry. Why the government did not name any street, bldg, bridge or airport in honor for Ramon Magsaysay. He is the only Ex-President with no street name after him.

    • perry says:

      Hi Rex,

      There is a Magsaysay Blvd in Santa Mesa, Quezon City. Olongapo City has a Magsaysay Blvd. too, I’m sure there are many more cities that honor him with a street.


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