Politics in the Philippines has traditionally been dominated by clans and political bosses and patronage and is characterized by law makers that make decisions based on fiscal incentives rather that beliefs and voters that make choices based on personality rather than reasoned policies. Under the traditional itang na loob system of patronage, or obligation earned through favors, voters expect money or jobs in return for their political support. In many cases politician’s performance was based on dole-outs not on programs or policies. Philippine concepts about debt repayment and kinship responsibilities plays a major role in how political networks are set up and run (See FILIPINO CHARACTER AND PERSONALITY: HIYA, AMOR PROPIO Under People).
Personalities are more important than parties in Philippine politics. Movie stars and other celebrities have enjoyed considerable success. In addition1, several prominent families play a disproportionate role in politics. The support of the military and the Catholic church are key to political survival and success in the Philippines. Promises are generally not kept. Arroyo, for example, pledged to bring cheap power to the poor as a campaign pledge and then doubled power rates after she was elected. She also promised not to run for a second time but changed her mind because she said God made her decide to run.
The Philippines is known for its rough-and-tumble political scene. Politicians are rountinely killed and sometimes they even do the do the killing themselves. Every now and then it seems the entire country is on the verge of collapse because of a coup attempt, People Power protest or impeachment effort. On the day-to-day level, politicians are unable to achieve many of their goals and carry out programs they proposed due to political opposition, mainly from the ruling elite. Arroyo and her cabinet said that political fighting and sniping exhausted and frustrated them deeply.
Carlos H. Conde wrote in the New York Times, “In the Philippines, politics is a blood sport. Here, politicians often behave like gladiators: To survive they have to entertain the spectators. The turmoil from the [Arroyo] scandal has once again brought Filipinos and their unique brand of rambunctious democracy to international attention, providing a sideshow to the more pressing problems. Filipinos are no longer surprised by election fraud. Thanks to the damage Ferdinand Marcos, the dictator, did to the democratic institutions that American-style democracy helped establish after World War II, and the prevalence of an almost feudal political structure, particularly in the provinces, Filipinos have come to accept election cheating as normal. [Source: Carlos H. Conde, New York Times, July 2, 2005]