• TIME TO COME TO THE AID OF THE POLITICAL PARTIES

    Fragmented into self-interested factions, they are unable to lead nation forward

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    The experts prescribe for our dysfunctional politics our need to create cohesive electoral parties focused on policy instead of “pork.” But to do so is to go against the global trend. Political parties everywhere are fragmenting under the impact of the revolution in information and communication technology.

    Elections are less and less debates about political beliefs and public policies, and more and more naked struggles for power and its perks. And the most successful politicians are those best able to reach out to voters with personal narratives closest to everyday people’s felt needs and life expectations.

    In our country, political fragmentation has gone so far that our party system has become a negative model for the new democracies. German analysts—surveying Asian and Latin American party systems—say the Philippines has arguably the most “weakly rooted” and most “poorly institutionalized” parties. (Thailand they rank second.)

    Factions rule
    Not parties based on common principles but factions based on common interests have long been the active elements in our party system.

    The Spaniards and the Americans in turn staffed their colonial governments with the tiny elite they found dominating the archipelago’s warring chiefdoms. Historically, the municipal factions these “big men” led, rather than national parties formed by professional politicians, have been the immediate objects of political loyalty. Until now more voters turn out for off-year, rather than for national, elections.

    As early as 1642, the Spaniards began holding nominating conventions for municipal offices—the capitan municipal, his deputy and the various supervisors of taxes, fields, livestock, schools and public order. (From local nominees, Manila made the final choice.) Over these offices, elites fought as avidly as they contested precedence in the municipality’s every other social activity.

    What were the Spanish-time factions competing about? Much the same perks of political infuence that today’s factions fight over: control of appointments, exemption from state impositions such as forced labor; preferences for their businesses; access to local graft.

    Under American rule, the town elites adapted easily to electoral democracy as a relatively peaceful way of resolving their rivalries—though local elections until now feature episodes of bloodshed.

    Fickle loyalty
    Factional loyalties easily overpower the attractions of good government, platforms and issues. A 2010 study by the National Statistical Coordinating Board concluded that Filipino voters do not choose their local leaders on the basis of good government, platform or issues: “Good governance is not sufficient for a governor to win; neither is bad performance sufficient for a governor to lose.”

    The anthropologist Lee Junker (1999) notes that “[p]olitical allegiance is volatile, since it is given only to the leader immediately above an individual with whom he has personal ties of reciprocity….”

    But for as long as the ties of patronage and deference are strongly rooted locally, they can evoke prodigies of loyalty. One politician famously won two congressional terms—while serving a jail sentence for raping a nine-year-old child.

    Political dynasties
    Predictably, the turn toward populism has generated political dynasties. The enormously popular clan headed by the action-movie hero, Joseph “Erap” Estrada—patriarch, wife, son, daughter, mistress and illegitimate son—has been in power in San Juan City, Metro Manila, since 1968. Estrada has also been senator and President; currently he is mayor of Manila.

    By keeping political offices in the family, the dynasty frustrates set term limits—and proves Robert Louis Stevenson (1883) right in asserting that “Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no experience is thought necessary.”

    As another election year impends, “instant parties” grouped around charismatic politicians and political bosses continue to multiply. Fully 15 “parties” are represented in the 229-member Lower House elected in 2010, apart from 56 “party-list” lawmakers chosen by designated “under-represented sectoral groups.”

    Authoritarian transition
    In the post-colonial period, the two-party system was starting to take hold, encouraged by an electoral subsidy for the mainstream parties.

    The “Nacionalistas” and “Liberals” were beginning to divide ideologically on the issues of wartime collaboration, economic nationalism and Philippine-American relations. Meanwhile the municipal factions were evolving into conventional party chapters on the western model.

    But in the tumultuous 1970s factional rivalries played out nationally overwhelmed electoral politics and set off an authoritarian transition (1972-86). And, in its haste to restore democratic processes, the 1987 Constitution abetted our factional tendency where it should have encouraged the consolidation of political power.

    New political direction
    Written in the post-martial-law era, the 1987 Charter sets a new political direction. It enshrined the concept of a “free and open party system,” in an effort to induce the CPP-NPA rebelsto give up their “people’s war” strategy and enter electoral politics.

    Roused by the global student rebellions of the 1970s, the rebels had gained ground under martial rule. But they lost public favor when they opposed the peaceful “people power” uprising that brought down the strongman regime in February 1986.

    Half-heartedly, the dissidents did put up candidates in the May 1987 general elections. But their ephemeral “Nation’s Party” won few district representatives and elected none of its senatorial nominees—confirming to the die-hard cadres their founding belief that “the electoral arena is not an alternative to the armed struggle.”

    No partyless democracy
    Since Independence, our civic energies have been focused on the question of corruption. But corruption is merely a symptom of the incoherence of our public life.

    Our political processes we still conduct as in the old face-to-face society. But “party-less democracy” cannot work in political communities of modern scale.

    Representative democracy cannot work without strong parties to represent the varieties of electoral opinion on national questions.

    In my view, we have no civic duty as urgent as our need to build a sturdy party system. (That strong parties—mindful of their corporate reputations—restrain political corruption is a side benefit.)

    But if representative government is to work, the political groupings that translate into practice the idea of majority rule should stop being factions and start becoming parties.

    Because reforms are not always institutionalized— established as norms in the political culture—people worry that the next government might reverse the economic and social reforms of these last five years.

    And in this fear they’re justified: How often have we heard insiders complain that policy is made by the last person who had a President’s ear?

    A sense of the nation
    Middle-class Filipinos take pride in the civil liberties they enjoy; but to a great extent Philippine democracy still is permitted only by the broadly equal dispersion of power—which makes it imprudent for any leader or group to try to overpower the others.

    And modernization will not be easy, because the interest groups that resist reform are powerful, organized, and focused—while reform’s potential beneficiaries are weak, scattered and distracted.

    Our next President must find ways of harnessing Filipino idealism—particularly that of our young people. He must point us toward a national purpose. He must set out a series of national goals that will engage our civic spirit.

    Right now, we have no individual, no institution responsible for wider public interests beyond those of the individual and the family. We as a people need to develop a national ‘vision’—a shared preconception of the national future—and a set of national goals that everyone accepts.

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    8 Comments

    1. Munizki Swavurzki on

      this is a very good article we really need these days and more importantly before election comes. what is the matter with our copied democracy? everything seems to be fine at the beginning. But when our countrymen started to lead the nation, it crumbled down. What happened there? errors or shortfalls in the constitution initiated by amateur politicians! we have to revise it many times and now, it needed revisions!

      Our present constitution is an unfair constitution. It does not protect the equality of its citizens! it gives more rights to the wealthy and the strong to lead our people. It does not empower the people to chose the leader they want. It opened the door to wealthy politicians acquiring votes through their money. One honest vote is not protected from corrupted votes! Is it not the duty of the constitution to make sure that only honest votes are counted? This is the reason why people are selling their precious votes. We know for a fact that more than half of the votes counted in every election is corrupted by moneyed politicians. but not one single corrupter is put to jail. Not a single corrupted voter is put to jail!!! It’s so unfair to us that would not sell our votes against those who are selling their votes!!!!!!!!!!

    2. Only Bong Bong Marcos is the answer of above inquiry.. You see his ilocos norte, There is no problem in their regions…dahil maayos ang pamamalakad ng gobyerno nila duon.. at may pagmamahal sa mamayan nila ang mga namumuno,. Iyan ang wala sa ibang karatig lugar ng Pilipinas.. Nationalism and unity to prosper our nation..

    3. A very interesting piece. Perhaps the more honorable members of society can group together without self interest to correct our ailing political system and morally bankrupt
      politicians. What is happening to us the result of popularity contest not a contest of good ideas for good governance. Our electoral system is conducive to corruption. Imagine senators, vice president and president elected at large/nationwide who need tremendous amount of money to campaign. We have tolerated this system for so long and caused hopeless leaders. We are partly to blame, the people, the media, vested interest in business. We together created the environment which brought us to our hapless situation. Radical changes are needed but who can lead us. Some church leaders are politicized they who should provide moral compass to their followers. Unfortunately the most affected are the poor and exploited sector of our society, they who comprised the majority but share only very small part of development and resources cornered by those close to powers that be. This has got to stop. God help us.

    4. Leodegardo Pruna on

      Our political system has become fractious because it is lacking of leadership. Its leader now is not able to lead for lack of decisiveness which may be a consequence of a psychological disturbance which is being manipulated by those around him who are taking advantage of his imbalance condition. Its propaganda “kung walang kurap, walang mahirap” is nonsensical and is actually, “kung walang kurap, bulag or nagbubulagbulagan”. Mayroon niyan at matindi pa sa ngayon pero kung kaalyado, libre sa hustisya hindi pinapanagot. There is a limit to everything. God bless the Philippines.

    5. Munizki Swavurzki on

      this is a very good article we really need these days and more importantly before election comes. what is the matter with our copied democracy? everything seems to be fine at the beginning. But when our countrymen started to lead the nation, it crumbled down. What happened there? errors or shortfalls in the constitution initiated by amateur politicians! we have to revised it many times and now, it needed to revisions!

      Our present constitution is an unfair constitution. It does not protect the equality of its citizens! it gives more rights to the wealthy and the strong to lead our people. It does not empower the people to chose the leader they want. It opened the door for wealthy politicians acquire votes through their money. One honest vote is not protected from corrupted votes! It is not the duty of this constitution to make sure that only honest votes are counted. This is the reason why people are selling their precious votes. We know for a fact that more than half of the votes counted in every election is corrupted by moneyed politicians. but not one single corrupter is put to jail. not a single corrupted citizen is put to jail!!! and its so unfair to us who do sell our votes and counted equally to those who sell their votes!!!!!!!!!!

    6. In Philippine politics, a national vision is needed on what a president intends to achieve and do away (ex. corruption) but behind that should be a persona with a good name recall, established alliances across the country and the charisma to lead the nation in moving forward. The Filipino people have had enough of seeing their presidents being charged with corruption, its just too much greed but the law always gets back at them.

    7. Amnata Pundit on

      What we need is a hero, a colossus who brings with him the the right vision. There is no such thing as a vision that is waiting for the hero, as they always come together like two sides of the same coin, and real heros are what we lack nowadays. If God is listening, please give us a Filipino Napoleon ! Given our present direction, without the hero we are doomed.