Webinar on “Polarised and Mobilised? Examining 2022 Electoral Campaigns in the Philippines”

In this webinar, Dr. Jean Encinas-Franco, Dr. Cleo Calimbahin, and Dr. Carmel Abao discussed the nature of presidential campaigns for the May 2022 Philippine elections and mapped out the causes and consequences of electoral strategies on the Philippine political landscape. The discussion centered on the state-of-play of electoral campaigns and touched on issues such as gender in politics, populism, social mobilization, and the future of democratic politics in the country.


Wednesday, 20 April 2022– The presidential campaigns for the May 2022 Philippine elections are heating up. Amid what many observers characterize as a polarised political environment, the campaigns have been marked by intense grassroots political participation, as well the persistence and strength of coalitional politics by traditional elites. The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute hosted Dr. Jean Encinas-Franco, Dr. Cleo Calimbahin, and Dr. Carmel Abao for the webinar, “Polarised and Mobilised? Examining 2022 Electoral Campaigns in the Philippines”. The all-female panel is comprised of political scientists with extensive prior policy work on electoral reform and governance in the Philippine government and nongovernmental organizations. Dr. Encinas-Franco is an Associate Professor at the Department of Political Science at the University of the Philippines Diliman; Dr. Cleo Calimbahin as an Associate Professor at the De La Salle University; and Dr. Carmel Abao is an Assistant Professor at the Ateneo de Manila University and founding national Secretary-General of the Citizens’ Action Party (Akbayan).

Dr. Cleo Calimbahin, Dr Aries Arugay, Dr Jean Encinas-Franco, and Dr Cleo Calimbahin.
Clockwise from top left: Dr Carmel Abao, Dr Aries Arugay (moderator), Dr Jean Encinas-Franco, and Dr Cleo Calimbahin. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)
Jean Encinas-Franco
Dr Jean Encinas-Franco. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr. Jean Encinas-Franco provided an overview of the state of play of the national electoral campaigns in the Philippines, which she noted is indicative of the tension between continuity and change in a politically polarised country. Campaigns remain organised around charismatic personalities and candidates eclipse political parties, while dynastic politics has become more pronounced given the background of the presidential and vice-presidential frontrunners as children of previous presidents. Dr. Encinas-Franco noted that despite the country’s good international standing in women empowerment indices, there has been a trend towards the growing use of sexist disinformation operations and campaign discourses that malign female candidates. It was raised that values surveys indicate high political favourability for a powerful chief executive, increasing the salience of perceived decisiveness and strength of character. She added that future electoral assessment tools should be gender responsive and account for violence against women. Finally, because of the political polarisation, there has been a marked participatory quality to the current electoral campaigns, notably the well-attend political rallies and intensive house-to-house campaigns. Dr. Encinas-Franco contended that there has been a higher “willingness to pay” among voters to push for their political persuasions and policy choices.

Cleo Calimbahin
Dr Cleo Calimbahin. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr. Calimbahin elaborated further on the continuing “anarchy of parties” in the Philippines. The current election shows intra-party competition even within the ruling party (PDP-Laban) as well as the formation, revival, and party switching around presidential candidates that indicate the absence of genuine mass-based parties. Dr. Calimbahin’s presentation stressed the salience of electoral reform at various levels ranging from statutory changes to regulatory options, particularly the need for a stronger electoral commission which currently lacks autonomy and capacity to conduct orderly elections. Key problems in the ongoing electoral campaigns include reported incidents of vote-buying, legal disputes in the filing of candidacy, the increased use of candidate substitution by parties that incidentally confuses voters, and controversies regarding clientelism in appointments to the electoral commission. It was argued that there is a need for institutional improvements to ensure clean, orderly, and credible elections – an issue that takes on greater public scrutiny amid intense political polarisation and division.

Carmel Abao
Dr Carmel Abao. (Credit: ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute)

Dr. Carmel Abao’s presentation looked at the pathways of Philippine politics after the elections, as well as the possibilities and challenges that lay ahead. Given the political dispensations and coalitions built around candidates, the election is shaping up to be a contest between the acceptance of authoritarian populism, the rejection of authoritarianism and the restoration of democratic space, and the more radical rejectionist agenda of both authoritarianism and elite dominance. Dr. Abao stressed that liberals in the country face an inherent tension between a moderate position focused on restoring liberal-democratic institutions versus other more radical demands to end elite dominance in the economy using the presidency. Dr. Abao noted the growing demand for “democracy from below” given the traction of non-traditional perspectives on economic redistribution, welfare, transformative change rather than just good governance.

Around 100 attendees from the academe, government ministries, and the private sector tuned in to the event. During the Q&A session, the panel fielded several queries about the impact of polarisation of electoral surveys in the Philippines and the need for data literacy; forecasts on any civil unrest and contentious politics under the incoming administration; whether democratic backsliding will be reversible; and changes in the electoral landscape going forward that will impact the behaviour and policy platforms of parties and candidates.