Elections and Political Parties in the Philippines

How do we select and on what bases do we choose our leaders? Perhaps these are among the most crucial questions a student of politics may ask. Truly, elections are at the core of the political process. In the previous posts, you have already learned the framework of the government. This time, you will learn how to become part of governance. Your interaction with the state is as crucial as the framework of government itself because without support from the citizens, any undertaking will hardly materialize.

One of the many ways by which you can participate in governmental affairs is through elections. The leaders you elect are reflective of the type of policies you wish to be crafted and implemented. You can definitely control your government by selecting the right people who will occupy seats in public office. Ultimately, you also have the power to punish erring politicians by not choosing them. To put simply, politicians are servants of the people who elect them. But how exactly are politicians chosen and what do election results actually mean in a democracy like the Philippines? These questions and more are addressed in this module.

What Are Elections?

Elections are a device for filling a governmental office through choices made by the electorate, a designated body of qualified people. While elections are by themselves not a sufficient condition for the existence of political representation, they are a necessary condition because the representative process is intrinsically linked to elections and voting (Heywood 2013). Elections have a variety of roles and functions. The following, however, are the central ones (Heywood 2013).

  • Recruiting political leaders

    1. Through elections, politicians—people who possess talents and skills relevant to electioneering—are chosen. These skills may not be necessarily related to what politicians are required in accomplishing their functions. Nonetheless, individuals who possess such “skills” are enlisted at the roster of leaders through elections.

    2. In the Philippines, as in any other democracy that holds elections, government officials are recruited by means of elections. Apart from those who serve in the government under the civil service, politicians are chosen to work in and for the government by means of elections.

  • Making governments

    1. In countries where the executive is elected, elections directly make the government (i.e., the administration, a group of leaders vested with power and authority for the time being). In parliamentary governments, elections are an avenue in the formation of these governments.

    2. In the Philippines, elections do not only create the government (in this context, the group of individuals responsible and accountable in policy-making), but the opposition as well.

  • Providing representation

    1. In fair and competitive systems, elections become the means through which people’s demands are channeled to the government.

    2. Elected officials are considered the link between the government and the people. In the Philippines, for example, the members of the House of Representatives are elected to represent their constituents in the halls of the government. Such is true for those elected by the district proportional system or by the party-list system.

  • Influencing policy

    1. Elections may hinder the government from pursuing unpopular policies. At times when a single issue dominates the electoral campaign, elections may directly influence policy.

    2. Elections are considered as a venue by which people can choose officials based on policy choices. However, the Philippine political system is considered as personality- based more than program- or policy-oriented.

  • Educating voters

    1. Elections provide the electorate with abundant information during the campaign period and voting process. The information may be about the candidates, parties, policies, and the like. Elections can possibly influence or encourage citizens’ participation, or the “civic culture” as termed by Gabriel Almond and Sidney Verba (1963).

    2. The utilization of a wide array of campaign strategies, including the use of social media, has propelled elections to new heights. In the country, the campaign season becomes the people’s source of information regarding the candidate (even their personal and familial matters) and the timely issues that are to be addressed.

  • Building legitimacy

    1. Elections provide justification for a system of rule and thus help in fostering legitimacy. Elections also mobilize active consent by encouraging citizens to participate in politics through elections.

    2. In the Philippines, as in elsewhere, officials who are given seats in the government are considered holders of legitimate power as the people elected them.

  • Strengthening elites

    1. While elections can encourage people to participate in politics and link people to the government, elections can also be a vehicle through which the political elites can manipulate and control the masses.

    2. This function is very much evident in the Philippines. Since the re-establishment of democratic institutions after 1986 (and even the periods before that), the economically and politically powerful elites occupied the halls of government, displacing the ordinary people from participating as candidates in elections. Such circumstances can be attributed to the fact that elections are a costly undertaking. Given this, public offices seem to have been reserved to those who have economic power.

Electoral Systems

Elections can take many different forms. One may ask what posts or offices are filled through elections? Who is entitled to vote? How are votes cast? Are elections competitive or noncompetitive? How are elections conducted? These questions lead to a variety of electoral systems, which point to varying constitutional and political implications.

An electoral system is a set of rules that governs the conduct of elections (Heywood 2013). From questions pertaining to how elections should be conducted to how a candidate wins, elections are guided by an electoral system. To put it simply, electoral systems are the ways by which votes are translated into seats in the legislature or in any other areas such as the presidency.

In general, electoral systems can be categorized into two types depending on how they convert votes into seats. In a majoritarian electoral system, larger political parties win a higher proportion of seats than the proportion of votes they gain in the election. In a proportional system, there is a guarantee of an equal, or at least more equal, relationship between the seats won by a party and the votes gained in the election. Thus, electoral systems range from the most majoritarian to the purest type of proportional system. Different electoral systems may be found in different countries, in different regions, and at different levels of government (King, 2000). 

Majoritarian electoral systems usually offer the voters a clear choice of potential administration, invest winning parties with a policy mandate, and help promote a strong and stable government. On the other hand, proportional electoral systems usually give the government a broader electoral base, promote consensus and cooperation among a number of parties, and establish a healthy balance between the executive and the legislature (Heywood 2013). Regardless of their differences, electoral systems are designed to carry out three main functions (Reilly 2003):

  1. translate the votes cast into seats won in a legislature;
  2. act as conduit through which the people can hold their elected representatives accountable: and
  3. give incentives for those competing for power to couch their appeals to the electorate in distinct ways.
Electoral Systems (Heywood 2013)
Electoral Systems (Heywood 2013)

Functions of Political Parties

While you have learned that the central functions of political parties include filling of political offices and exercising governmental power, a number of other functions can also be identified (Heywood 2013). These are:

  1. Representation

    • Political parties are vehicles through which the interests of the people are carried out in the government. Representation refers to the ability of the parties to respond to and articulate the views of members and the voters.

    • Political parties are expected to represent the causes of the people they claim to be supportive of. In the Philippines, since most parties are catch-all parties, they represent as many as causes possible to get much support across the social strata. Catch-all parties dispense specific ideologies and programs because they intend to get as many supporters from different sectors of the society as possible.

  2. Elite formation and recruitment

    • Political parties provide a training ground for politicians. It is through these groups that politicians become equipped with skills, knowledge, and experience needed in carrying out their functions. Parties then provide leaders for the state.

    • In the Philippines, as in elsewhere, these political parties train their members to become future presidents, if not to occupy high positions in the government.

  3. Goal formulation

    • Political parties are seen as means through which societies set collective goals. They formulate governmental programs in the process of seeking governmental power. Political parties, thus, become a source of policy initiation and provide the electorate a choice of realistic and achievable goals.

    • Whatever policies are carried out in the Philippines are a product of these parties. It is thus important for a democracy, like in the country, to have a healthy opposition that provides policy alternatives to those carried out by the dominant party.

  4. Interest articulation and aggregation

    • Political parties help articulate various interests in a society by developing collective goals. These interests are then aggregated into a coherent whole, balancing competing interests against each other.

The Development of Elections and Political Parties in the Philippines



Spanish Period

Limited form of suffrage was observed. Only the principales were allowed to vote and were eligible to run as gobernadorcillo.

American Period

Americans initially conducted municipal elections in pacified areas under military rule.

May 1898

First election was held in Baliwag, Bulacan under American supervision, followed by four municipalities in Cavite through General Order

No. 40.

December 1900

The Federalist Party (FP) was established by upper-class Filipinos led by Trinidad Pardo de Tavera. Its platform was anchored on the entry of the Philippines to the United States.


Civilian government was established. Under Act No. 60, the Philippine Commission listed property and educational qualifications for voters.

November 1901

The Anti-Sedition Law was passed. It punished those that advocated independence.


Philippine Bill of 1902 was passed, which created the Philippine Assembly.

12 March 1907

The Nacionalista Party (NP) was formed as a merger of several nationalist movements that pushed for Philippine independence. It came under the leadership of notable personalities like Manuel Quezon and Sergio Osmeña.

30 June 1907

The first legislative election was held under the first General Election Law of the Philippines (Act No. 1532). Through a direct vote of qualified voters, elective provincial and municipal posts were filled aside from those of the unicameral Philippine Assembly.


The Jones Law of 1916 transformed the unicameral Philippine Legislature into bicameral, comprised of the House of Representatives and the Senate.


By December, the Japanese Military Administration announced the voluntary dissolution of all political parties. These were replaced by the Association for Service to the New Philippines or the Kapisanan sa Paglilingkod sa Bagong Pilipinas (KALIBAPI) with Benigno S. Aquino as its first director general.


The American forces were able to reestablish their presence in the Philippines. The Commonwealth was reestablished under Osmeña. Pre-World War II parties were restored.

Postwar/ Independence Period

From 1946 to 1971, 16 national and local elections were conducted. Postwar war politics was defined by an indistinct two-party system, with NP and Liberal Party (LP) competing. Both took terms to lead the presidency and both chambers of Congress.


The Liberal Wing among the Nacionalistas became the Liberal Party. The 1946 elections saw Manuel Roxas from the LP win as president of the country against Sergio Osmeña.


A constitutional amendment extended the House of Representatives’ term to four years and the senate to six years.


A convention of the Elpidio Quirino wing of the Liberal Party was held. Quirino won as president in the 1949 elections.


Ramon Magsaysay of the NP won against Quirino of the LP in the 1953 elections. Magsaysay died in 1957 and was succeeded by Vice President Carlos Garcia.


Carlos Garcia of the NP won as president and Diosdado Macapagal of the LP won as vice president.


Diosdado Macapagal won as president in the 1961 elections.


The then-LP president Ferdinand Marcos defected from the party and joined the NP. Marcos emerged victorious as president in the 1965 elections against incumbent President Macapagal.


The elections in 1969 were a two-party contest between LP and NP. Marcos won a second term against Sergio Osmeña Jr.

January 1984

The COMPACT was created, which led the boycott of the opposition against the regime’s initiatives for legitimation through the ballot. The COMPACT was comprised of Kilusan sa Kapangyarihan at Karapatan ng Bayan (KAAKBAY), the LP, the Pilipino Democratic Party (PDP), and the Nationalist Alliance (NA). But there were members of the opposition who prepared for the elections in 1984, including the Kongreso ng Mamamayang Pilipino (KOMPIL) and to some extent UNIDO. Both COMPACT and KOMPIL set out conditions for Marcos to allow the opposition to participate in the elections, including the implementation of specific electoral procedural reforms.

14 May 1984

Elections for members of the National Assembly took place. The position of those who participated in the electoral contest was bolstered with the revival of the National Movement for Free and Fair Elections (NAMFREL), which became the accredited election watchdog in the May 1984 and February 1986 Elections.

7 February 1986

Corazon Aquino, Benigno Aquino’s widow, ran as President against Marcos. The elections were marred by widespread fraud and violence, but NAMFREL’s quick count operation made it difficult for Marcos to manipulate election results. He, however, doubled his efforts to alter election results, which led to calls for massive civil disobedience.

25 February 1986

The EDSA People Power broke out and it succeeded in ousting Marcos. This marked the return to constitutionalism and democracy as the 1987 Philippine Constitution was later ratified.

Current Structure of the Electoral System

The structure of the current electoral system is provided in the 1987 Constitution and the Omnibus Election Code. The COMELEC is given the task to enforce election laws and exercise exclusive jurisdiction over the qualifications of candidates, accreditation of political parties, and canvassing of votes.

The 1987 Constitution provides that the three branches of the government are separate and equal. The president and the vice president are elected separately by a direct vote of the people. Under the simple plurality method, the candidates with the highest number of votes will be proclaimed winners (first-past-the-post system). Both officials are to serve for a term of six years. The maximum terms, the qualifications, and functions were already discussed in module 6.

The Transitory Provisions of the 1987 Constitution says that “of the senators elected in the election of 1992, the first 12 obtaining the highest number of votes shall serve for six years (full) and the remaining 12 for three years.” In 1995, elected senators were then given six-year term. Thus, 12 senators are elected every three years. This scheme of concurrent six-year terms was formulated so that the Senate would not be vacated and continue with their law- and policy-making functions. Remember that under a bicameral system, the bills submitted by the House of Representatives are still to be considered by the Senate. It is thus important that there are senators who could deal with the bill; otherwise, no laws will be created.

Of the 250 members of the House of Representatives, 200 are elected through district proportional representation, while 50 are elected from party-lists on a proportional basis. Party- lists are closed list (meaning, the people vote for the political party as a whole) and election of the representative is based on the candidates’ placement in the party slate (Velasco 2006). Under the Party-List Act (RA 7941), seats are allocated at one seat per 2% of the votes obtained. Only a maximum of three seats are allowed per party. Unallocated seats shall be distributed among the other parties that have not yet obtained the maximum of three seats (provided that they have reached 2% of votes).

At present, there are almost 300 representatives in the Philippines. While the 1987 Constitution only provides for 250 members of the House of Representatives, Article VI, Section 5 states that “each legislative district shall comprise, as far as practicable, contiguous, compact and adjacent territory. Each city with a population of at least 250 000, or each province, shall have at least one representative.” Within three years following the return of every census, the Congress shall make a reapportion of legislative districts based on the standards provided in Article VI, Section 5. Population growth is thus a factor in such increase in the number of representatives. Apart from population growth, another reason for the increase of seats is due to several contestations on the Party-List Act. In 2009, while the Supreme Court upheld the three-seat cap, it ruled that the 2% election threshold was unconstitutional and stipulated that for every five legislative districts created, one seat for sectoral representatives should also be created. This increased the sectoral seats in the 14th Congress from 22 to 55.

The current constitution encourages a free and open party system. This led to the rise of several political parties in the post-1986 period and the setting up of a multiparty system. The introduction of the party-list system furthered this.

Meanwhile, the 1991 Local Government Code governs elections for local government officials. The punong barangay, vice mayor, mayor, vice governor, and governor are elected in their respective localities through a plurality vote (first-past-the-post system). The members of the local assemblies (e.g., city and municipal councils and the provincial board) are elected by district and through a plurality vote. Members of the barangay or village assembly are elected at large in their areas. The local government officials are to serve a maximum of three consecutive three-year terms (Teehankee 2002).

Major Political Parties during the Post-EDSA Period

Velasco (2006) noted that three main parties emerged in the country during the post- 1986 period and these are the Lakas, the Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino (LAMMP), and the Liberal Party.

The Lakas-NUCD-UMDP (Lakas) became the largest party after Fidel Ramos was elected into presidency in 1992. Former members of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) established this political party in 1992 and became Ramos’s vehicle for the presidential election. The Lakas was a product of the merger between the newly formed The Lakas ng EDSA and the older National Union of Christian Democrats-Union of Muslim Democrats of the Philippines (NUCD-UMDP) founded in 1984 (Teehankee 2002). In 1994, Lakas formed a coalition with the LDP for the 1995 congressional elections, known as the Lakas-Laban coalition. In 2004, it changed its name to Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) and became part of the Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan (K-4 coalition), which supported the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In 2008, it merged with Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (Kampi), the political party of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, to form the Lakas-Kampi-CMD, which became the ruling party in the 2010 elections. The political base of Lakas is in large provinces (like Pangasinan and Cebu), which are considered to be strongholds of its top leaders. It also had strong linkages with the big businesses because of its pro-business policies under Ramos and Arroyo.

The Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino (LAMMP), on the other hand, was a coalition of two major and one minor opposition parties. These were the LDP, the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), and the Partido ng Masang Pilipino (PMP). The LAMMP was organized in October 1997 to consolidate the opposition against Lakas. The LAMMP was led by then Senator Edgardo Angara (former head of the LDP) and its secretary-general was former Senator Orlando Mercado (former PMP president). It became the ruling coalition following the victory of its presidential bet, Joseph Ejercito Estrada, in the May 1998 elections. The LDP was the largest opposition party before its merger with NPC and PMP to form the LAMMP. It was set up in 1988 by anti-Marcos politicians led by former senate president Neptali Gonzales, then speaker of the House of Representatives Ramon Mitra, and former congressman Jose Cojuangco. It was the ruling party during the Corazon Aquino Administration. On the other hand, the NPC was the second biggest opposition party before it merged with LDP and PMP. It was established to support the presidential campaign of Eduardo Cojuangco Jr. in 1992, who lost. After the election, the NPC formed a coalition in the House with the ruling Lakas-NUCD-UMDP to support Speaker de Venecia. However, the party’s strength was reduced following the victory of the Lakas-led coalition in 1995 midterm elections. In 1998, the NPC was dissolved as a party and its members forged an alliance with the LAMMP, which became the ruling party.

The Liberal Party is the only pre-1972 political party in the country that remains in existence today. Manuel Roxas founded the political party on 19 January 1946, from what was once the Liberal wing of the Nacionalista Party. The party controlled the Senate and had influence in the House during Corazon Aquino’s presidency. However, like the LDP, itsuffered during the 1992 presidential and congressional elections. In 2009, the Liberal Party mounted a campaign for Senator Benigno S. Aquino III, who won the presidency in the May 2010 national elections. For the 2013 midterm elections, it formed a coalition of Liberal party-led groups and other parties, which became known as the Team PNoy.

Issues, Prospects and Challenges

Elections and political parties in the Philippines are observed to be problematic. Teehankee (2000) noted that the conduct of elections in the Philippines has failed to fully achieve two central functions of electoral systems—representation and integration.

As to representation, major institutions in the national and local political landscape are still dominated by the economic and political elites, including political dynasties and clans. Thus, the interests of the marginalized sectors are hardly recognized or addressed in the legislature. As to integration, it was contended that Philippine elections still lack real political alternatives or competitive candidates, despite being open to anyone qualified to run. Concerning the electoral process, it is still riddled with opportunities for electoral fraud and wholesale cheating. Nonetheless, there is now a high hope of preventing such instances following the automation of elections in the country.

Meanwhile, Velasco (2006) observed that political parties in the country are similar, such that they subscribe to the liberal principles of free enterprise, limited government, and protection of civil rights and liberties. He noted that while these similarities resolved conflicts between the executive and legislative and hastened policy making, supporting similarstandpoints has serious drawbacks, too. First, only mainstream policies are accommodated at the expense of alternative positions and interests; second, party loyalty and ideology bear little weight; and third, similar standpoints increase the likelihood of party transfers, or political turn coatism, hence the rebirth of “political butterflies.” These drawbacks now point to an important question: “Have political parties in the Philippines evolved into ‘real’ political parties or are they a mere grouping of politicians who are loosely organized around temporary interests?”

Similarly, the same observations were noticed by Teehankee (2002) when he pointed out that the weakness of party system results in the emergence of dominant ad hoc coalitions. Political parties in the country tend not to play a leading role in policy making, given that they are “parties of notables,” whose support is drawn from political elites. Thus, the social base becomes limited by ethnic groupings and bailiwicks of party leaders. Teehankee further observed that the weak organization of parties resulted from the constraints set by the electoral system, its being young, and having a personalistic leadership. The mass media also poses a challenge in the party’s ability to articulate and aggregate interest. Finally, he posited that the legal-institutional context within which parties operate must be improved to strengthen parties and party politics.

Teehankee (2002) suggests that a more incremental approach to electoral reforms and legislative development may speak volumes in solving the aforementioned problems, and definitely define the future of Philippine electoral and party politics—if not democracy at large.