The Politics Philippine Presidents Make:
Presidential-style, Patronage-based, or Regime Relational?
Author: Mark R. Thompson
In political systems with a powerful chief executive, such as in the Philippines, an essential element in the analysis of politics is a clear understanding of the impact of presidential politics. Two analytical theories have tried to understand this phenomenon: (1) a voluntarist, actor-centered, presidential-style approach, and (2) a structuralist, patronage-based approach. This article shows that neither approach provides a satisfactory account of the country's presidency. A more useful approach, the author argues, is the relational one developed by U.S. political scientist Stephen Skowronek to analyze the presidency in the United States. Skowronek studies whether presidents attempt to govern in accordance with, or in opposition to, an existing presidential regime – a prevailing set of ideas, interests, and institutional arrangements. This approach allows for the assessment of the choices presidents make within structural constraints while differentiating the performance of presidents from their role as patron-in-chief. In order to apply this theory to the Philippine presidency, however, it must be modified to take into account campaign narratives, strategic groups, and institutional instability. Post- Marcos presidents, the author concludes, can best be evaluated based on how close their association was, or is, with the dominant reformist regime, which employs a narrative of good governance and democratization.