JR Lopez Gonzales 9:06 AM 0
Political party is the heart of Philippine politics. This is so because it seizes the political system, political power, and to grab hold of the aspects of policymaking. In democracies such as the Philippines, political parties provide citizens with choices about the personnel and policies of their governments .
|Sure reminds me of the Beastie Boys.|
These parties have various ideologies and advocacies in our political arena. What we have is a multi-party system in which not one party has the chance of gaining political power alone where these parties must work with each other to form coalition governments.
For preliminaries, there are two types of parties in the Philippines: the “major parties” (who correspond typically to traditional political parties), and “minor parties” or “party-list organizations” (who rely on the party-list system to win congressional seats).
In looking into the very core of Philippine political parties, it can be noted that the most important characteristic of Philippine political parties is that these are composed of the elite. It’s a reflection of the political parties in other parts of the globe world where they may “lead or in sociological terms, those who hold economic and political power” . A look at the list of those names that composed these political parties would let you know what I mean.
These innate differentiations in the Filipino upper class then effectuate a transformation of membership and leadership which in turn leads to the absence of ideological differences between the parties. No single upper class group has attained a level of economic power sufficient for it to dominate other fractions and impose its interests and its program on the state. This is in contrast with the Latin American paradigms where divisions among upper class groups have been expressed in differentiation between political parties.
|The Arroyo Nepotism?|
Political parties in the Philippines, for lack of a better word, are also characterized as ‘weak’. In the past administrative years, President Fidel Ramos’ rise to power provides a “perfect example of the weakness of political parties relative to government and political clans” . Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) had been the ruling party since the 1987 elections when it won an overwhelming majority of contested seats in both national and local elections. Because the late President Cory Aquino refused to support LDP's candidate, and instead supported Ramos, LDP's candidate (Mitra) lost badly. LDP won the majority in both the House and the Senate, but a few months after the House convened, LDP lost most of its members to Ramos’ party.
Upon the other hand, intensely personalized character of parties derives partly from the fact that individual candidates are elected in a "first-past-the-post" system. During elections, it is not the political parties that are the real mobilizing organizations but the candidate's electoral machinery and the tightly-bound network of relatives, friends, political associates, and allies. Because at the base of the electoral system, the municipality, the power and status of families are at stake, all means are availed of including cheating and violence to achieve victory.
The other major institutional factor shaping our political parties is our presidential form of government. Because of the centrality of patronage for Philippine political parties, the most important powers of the president are his appointing powers and his control over the disbursement of government funds in a highly centralized form of government. The initiation of government policies, however, does not only lie in the hands of the executive. The particularities of the legislative process in the Philippines determine the character of the executive-legislative dynamics together with the role of political parties. These are some of the reasons why political parties have difficulty maintaining their membership.
Soon after a presidential election, members of the opposition join the incumbent’s bandwagon. A starfruit will always look the same no matter on what the angle you’re looking from.
Worth mentioning also is the similar structures of all major parties, despite the various names and "advocacies". The basic party unit is at the municipal level; units then go up the ladder to the provincial party committee, then the national convention or directorate. These bodies are made up of prominent leaders of the party, former and incumbent elected officials. Within these bodies there are central or executive committees which are made up of a smaller number of top party leaders. Except for the ruling party, none have permanent party headquarters or paid staff except during elections. In between elections, party headquarters are usually at the party leader's home or office.
Last year, I actually had the opportunity to talk to the president of a new political party, the Centrist Democratic Party (CDP) in the Philippines based here in Mindanao. I learned that there is a need “to let the voters know about the party’s platform and not on the demeanor of the person who leads it”. I conceded with Prof. Jun Dumaug that there is a need to “institutionalize an alternative to patronage-oriented political parties". Personal lives concern the mass voters instead of the party platforms in terms of taxes, regulations, open markets, and the like.
There has been a paradigm shift regarding the synchronized elections, too. These elections make local candidates dependent on national candidates and their parties in contrast to the past where local officials, already in place in local elections held earlier, are “needed” by national candidates in subsequent national elections. Although local candidates still have to have their own campaign resources, the rapidly increasing cost of election campaigns have made national party organizations stronger because they have more access to larger pools of campaign bequests. Author Joel Rocamora speaks of the event after the 1992 elections as an example of this shift .
Accordingly, President Ramos ‘anointed’ former Lower House Speaker Jose De Venecia as Lakas-NUCD presidential candidate. To soften the undemocratic image generated by such ‘anointment’, Lakas organized two “consultations” of party members. In the midst of the second consultation, however, the party leadership decided to undercut the process and leave the selection of the party's national candidates solely to the hands of President Ramos.
Apparently, the ruling party has a distinct advantage in campaign fund raising. It can tap government resources - financial, human, and institutional. In addition to government funds, the ruling party is also better placed to secure contributions from business sources because of the party's control over government contracts, licenses, and other perks.
To wrap up, these political parties are but alive during elections. They are not ideological, but rather, most are merely instruments of the same upper classes. These political factions rely on the image-building of those representing it.
|Official campaign poster of the Nacionalista Party in 1935.|
Despite these factions’ unpopularity, these remain as instruments for social mobility. If only reforms are made on our system for the parties to effectively aggregate interests and translate them into sound policies.
By limiting opportunities for cheating through the PCOS machines, or electoral reforms such as continuous registration, tamper-proof voters’ IDs, and what-nots; I believe that these can significantly change electoral behavior.
On a personal note, I believe that new breed of political parties should flourish in our legislative body. A decent example is Akbayan (Citizens’ Action Party), which a progressive party is built on the organizational base of the progressive movement, the social movement groups, and NGOs. Since political parties as such are capable of identifying interests in society, aggregating them and translating them into policy can best develop in the context of a more participatory democracy.
The important challenge to political parties may come from ongoing efforts to amend the constitution and a possible shift in the form of government. If it happens, it will force political parties to drastically alter themselves. Unifying the executive and legislative branches through a ruling party will force political parties to take on a stronger role, and develop greater capability in policy-making. Accompanied by an electoral system based on proportional representation, I submit that changes in electoral behavior will bring about even progress on our political factions.
Writer’s Note: This essay is an analysis of Philippine political parties; it also looks at the forces that shape it. I initially wrote this in 2009 as an academic requirement for Political Science 142 under Prof. Rene Jose Padro at the Mindanao State University – Iligan Institute of Technology and was revised last night.
 Jackson, Robert J. and Doreen Jackson. A Comparative Introduction to Political Science. New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Inc. 1997. p. 77.
 Joel Rocamora, Philippine Political Parties Continuity and Change. Quezon City: Institute for Popular Democracy, Quezon City. 1998. p. 42.
 Joel Rocamora, Philippine Political Parties Continuity and Change, p. 43.
 Ibid., p. 64.