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In May 2010, national elections in the Philippines saw front-runner presidential candidate Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III win a landslide victory which set the stage for an orderly transition of power from the incumbent administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

To many observers, this election also signalled a larger triumph over the “guns, goons, and gold” long associated with voter mobilisation in the Philippines, with Aquino’s poll-tested popularity translated directly into presidential victory through the country’s first fully automated and computerized national ballot count.

To others, the election instead confirmed the staying power of an oligarchy of old political families and patronage-based coalitions of personal allegiance and political convenience.

These claims were based on the fact that the son of a former president and the scion of an established dynasty had resurrected the political machine built up by his late father, Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino, Jr. in the late 1960s and early 1970s and then redeployed by his mother, Corazon Aquino, in the “snap” presidential campaign of 1986. Like his mother a scion of the Cojuangco family, the new president not only inherited shares of vast landholdings and in a range of companies and commercial banks, but counted among his relatives such luminaries of the business establishment as long-time San Miguel Corporation chairman Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco, Jr. and former Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company chairman Antonio “Tonyboy” Cojuangco, Jr. In short, from this perspective, Aquino’s victory confirms the Philippines as an essentially oligarchical democracy.

Against such standard interpretations of the 2010 elections, this paper argues that Aquino’s victory, rather than signalling a clear departure from the old ways of doing politics or the mere reproduction of established patterns of oligarchical politics, points towards a more gradual and limited change in the mobilisation of voters in the Philippines. This change, it is further argued, reflects in part the rise of “public opinion” as a social fact in Philippine politics and society in the period since the resurrection of formal democratic institutions and regular elections. In drawing analytical attention to the emergence of this new social imaginary of an opinionated public, the argument advanced here thus departs from much of the existing literature, which tends to posit an electorate instead largely inscribed within the constraints of clientelism, coercion or machine politics in the Philippines.

Reprinted with permission from The Politics of “Public Opinion” in the Philippines Author: Eva-Lotta E. Hedman Journal: Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs ISSN/EISSN: 18681034 18684882 Year: 2010 Volume: 29 Issue: 4 Pages: 97-118 Publisher: German Institute of Global and Area Studies, (GIGA)