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The New Filipino Congress

May 14, 1987

Candidates of the far left and the far right have joined to claim fraud at the polls in this week's congressional elections in the Philippines, but the evidence indicates that these allegations are the excuses of losers. Independent observers agree that voting in fact was conducted fairly, with the latest results pointing to a powerful rejection of political extremism and sweeping success for candidates endorsed by President Corazon Aquino. It will now be up to the new Congress to show whether this triumph of democratic good sense will also be taken as a mandate for imperative economic change.

The constitution approved by Filipinos earlier this year gives Congress considerable powers while limiting the president to a single six-year term. This makes the still hugely popular Aquino something of a lame duck, even as it gives the Congress--particularly the 24-member Senate--scope and incentive for the pursuit of individual political ambitions. The candidates endorsed by Aquino are by no means candidates who will be supportive of Aquino. Her slate was a coalition of convenience, embracing a good part of the political spectrum save its most flagrant extremes. The expectation is that the coalition will almost immediately start to fragment as its members jockey for power and advantage.

In a way this is healthy. A Congress composed of Aquino loyalists ever ready to do the bidding of Malacanang Palace would smack too much of the rubber-stamp legislature of the Marcos years. Moreover the Aquino administration, as even some of its greatest supporters admit, has hardly proven itself a model of reformist vigor. Its members, like so many of those in the new Congress, come from that small elite that controls the vast bulk of the Philippines wealth.

Tens of millions of Filipinos remain underemployed, malnourished, without hope. The new Congress will have powers to help alleviate this mass destitution. Whether it rises above the interests of class to do so is another matter.

Meanwhile, the electorate's rejection of extremism seems certain to leave extremists largely unaffected. Former Defense Minister Juan Ponce Enrile, who continues to have support in the armed forces, remains a danger on the right, in or out of office.

The Communist-led New Peoples Army can be counted on to continue exploiting the grievances of the impoverished and downtrodden. Democracy has again given Filipinos government by the people. But unless that government now shows that it is also for the people, the mechanics of democracy in the end will count for little.

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