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Philippines Holds Elections Crucial for Aquino Reforms

  • Simone Orendain

Residents look for their names on polling lists outside a voting center before casting their votes in the midterm elections in Taguig, Metro Manila, May 13, 2013.

Residents look for their names on polling lists outside a voting center before casting their votes in the midterm elections in Taguig, Metro Manila, May 13, 2013.

The Philippines held midterm legislative elections Monday that are seen as a test of President Benigno Aquino’s influence in both houses of Congress. Aquino will need the support of the legislature to continue his so-called "straight path" agenda of fighting corruption and poverty, and fostering peace in the restive south.

Half of the Senate's 24 seats and the more than 230 House of Representatives seats are being contested.

President Aquino campaigned hard for the Liberal Party’s political candidates.

Aquino is looking to bolster support for legislation that would create an autonomous political structure in the south, where a Muslim insurgency had been waged for nearly 40 years.

Terms of the preliminary peace deal signed by the rebels and the government in October need to pass Congress. Both sides want a fully functioning autonomous region by 2016, the year Aquino - who has unprecedented trust from rebel leadership - steps down.

The administration also needs support for fiscal policies the country has put into place that are meant to alleviate poverty. In December, President Aquino signed into law a reproductive health bill that had been rejected for 12 years by lawmakers backed by the Catholic Church.

The law provides for state-funded contraceptives for the poor, sex education for middle and high school students, and mandatory medical care for women who have had abortions. Abortions are illegal in the Philippines.

At a polling place in a Makati City high school in Metro Manila, 54-year-old Regina de la Rosa says she voted for Senate candidates who resisted the Catholic church’s plea to oppose what they called a population-control measure.

"We’re God-fearing people, but can we feed people by that belief? I hate seeing people - kids on the street, you know?" she said.

De la Rosa is in the minority in her voting precinct, which overwhelmingly supports the country’s vice president, Jejomar Binay. Binay’s UNA party includes a slate of candidates who opposed the legislation.

Most UNA Senate candidates are endorsed by a coalition of conservative religious groups, made up mostly of Catholics. The so-called "White Vote" movement says it wants what it calls "pro-family" leaders. With the passage of the reproductive health legislation, the movement is concerned about a proposed divorce bill and talk of same-sex marriage. The coalition says it could bring in about six million votes.

For the past three years, Binay has consistently scored high in public trust surveys. He went to the high school to vote with his daughter, a Senate candidate, and a son running for reelection as mayor of Makati, which has the highest revenue-generating neighborhood in the country.

Binay is expecting his candidates to make a good showing.

The Commission on Elections says results are expected within the next several days. This is the second time the country has used electronic voting, which the commission says had far fewer glitches than last time.