IN May 2016, the Deegong ran with just a handful of PDP-Laban stalwarts; the current Senate President, the House Speaker and one or two nondescript candidates for Congress. But three weeks prior to the President-elect’s assumption to power, the LP and some members of mother political parties jumped ship to the PDP- Laban’s “super-majority”. Perhaps there was nothing wrong with this from the standpoint of Filipino politicians and their brand of traditional politics. But it is stretching credulity to a shameful level when one particular politician paraphrased President Quezon and proclaimed: “My loyalty to my party ends when my loyalty to my country begins…” Sheer hypocrisy!
He would have salvaged a shred of self-respect if he just simply declared that “I want to be with the winning brand for self-interest”. This “political butterfly” phenomenon has been the norm in modern Philippine politics. In this context, changing political parties is akin to chameleons changing their skin color perfunctorily, and politicians possessed with the temerity to stay affiliated to a political party out of ideology and values are rare. They are an endangered species.
In 1986, when Cory won, the Marcos KBL was decimated, and though Cory did not believe in a political party – which was tragic – they gravitated to her. In 1992, Fidel Ramos whose Lakas-Tao party reportedly “could all get into one taxi” built a “rainbow coalition” of NUCD-CMD-Lakas and remained in power up to GMA’s administration. That party was dominant until PNoy took power in 2010 and decimated the NUCD-CMD-Lakas, giving rise to the new Liberal Party. Today, we have a “not so new kid in the block”— PDP Laban—with more than 100 LP members swearing allegiance to the principles and ideology of this “left-of-center” party.
Last May 10, Ansaruddin Adiong of Lanao del Sur’s 1st district, Winston Castelo of Quezon City’s 2nd district, Geraldine Roman of Bataan 1st district, Nancy Catamco of North Cotabato’s 2nd district and Alfred Vargas of Quezon City’s 5th district took their oath before Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, the PDP-Laban secretary general.
Along with them were Rodolfo Albano III of Isabela 1st district, Abdulmunir Arbison of Sulu 2nd district, Scott Davies Lanete of Masbate 3rd district, Xavier Jesus Romualdo of Camiguin and Divina Grace Yu of Zamboanga del Sur 1st district. Last Wednesday, two former LP members Vice Mayor Joy Belmonte of Quezon City and Councilor Gian Sotto took their oaths before the PDP-Laban president, Senate President Koko Pimentel.
With this recent defection, the emasculation of the once mighty Liberal Party and its minor cohorts is complete, reducing the remnants to a pathetic few and leaving their political carcasses strewn all over the place.
I bring these episodes and names up not to disparage these politicians but to emphasize that the political party system in the Philippines as the backbone of a truly democratic governance is severely defective, leaving the elected leaders perhaps with very little choice but to defect for personal survival.
Almost all of the political parties in the Philippines are structured in a manner that hew closely to the centuries-old patronage system. The patrons who provide the funds make almost all of the political party decisions, especially with regard to those slated to run for elective positions; the central/executive committees are usually manned by their allies and subalterns; and there are no real offices and party activities year-round except during election periods
Invariably, political parties do not have a uniquely consistent set of beliefs that distinguishes one from the other; at most they proffer slogans and motherhood statements that pass for political doctrines. Their political agenda are predictably directed towards the preservation of elective members’ prerogatives, ensuring the continued accumulation of pelf and privileges for themselves and their families. Individual programs and family interest, perforce, have precedence over that of a political party’s collective appreciation of society’s needs. And once they are gifted the privilege to govern, public policies are instituted on the fly emanating from the framework of traditional political practices, their comprehension of national issues seen subjectively through the prism of personal and family interests, thus perpetuating the existing flawed political institutions.
We need immediate reforms in our political party system even prior to PRRD’s plans to shift to a federal parliamentary system. This can be achieved through the passing of the proposed Political Party Development and Financing Act (a bill that has been pending in Congress for several years) which will:
1) Penalize “turncoatism” (or the switching of political parties, “balimbing”, “political butterfly”);
2) Enforce transparent mechanisms providing and regulating campaign financing to eliminate graft, corruption, and patronage (corporate & individual contributions); and
3) Institute strict state subsidy that will professionalize political parties by supporting their political education and campaign initiatives.
In more modern developed countries, political parties are the “sine qua non” of a vibrant democracy. They are not vessels for personal electoral survival and perpetuation in power of political families. They exist because the citizenry, the wellspring and final arbiter of political power, have diverse issues and aspirations that need to be articulated and amplified to a wider political domain. Political parties must provide them real choices.