What political party?

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

SEN. Antonio Trillanes 4th, the pain in the rear of the Duterte administration, is a member of the Nacionalista Party (NP). He is in the Senate minority, with Liberal Party (LP) Senators Franklin Drilon, Kiko Pangilinan, Bam Aquino and Leila de Lima, and Akbayan party-list Sen. Risa Hontiveros.

Yet, on the other side of the aisle allied with the majority is NP Sen. Cynthia Villar. Before becoming the foreign affairs secretary, former Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano was also a member of the majority coalition. Senators Cayetano and Trillanes, while belonging to the same political party, openly clashed on many occasions.

While four of the LP senators are with the minority, two of their partymates are with the majority, Senators Joel Villanueva and Ralph Recto, with the latter even elected as the Senate Pro Tempore.

The House of Representatives is no better. It also has LP members belonging to both the majority and the minority blocs. And to make it even crazier, there are in fact two minority blocs.


Welcome to the Philippines, perhaps the only country which has made a mockery of the party system as rational people know it.

Anyone who seriously believes in the rationality of democracy would be aghast at this confusing arrangement.

In mature democracies, political parties do not splinter and split across aisles in legislative bodies. In fact, even those who just pretend that they are democracies would have some sense of sanity not to allow for political parties to lose their meaning and reason for existence, something that we have long denied ourselves.

Political parties are indispensable in democratic politics. They are considered as the aggregators of the diverse political interests that inhabit the political landscape. This is precisely the reason why an important and indispensable element of a party is a coherent political ideology that firmly locates it in the political spectrum, from the left to the center to the right. The party ideology defines the platform which a party offers to the electorate as the basis by which the latter decides whom to vote for during elections. It is during this period of elections that democracy acquires the character of a marketplace where parties with their platforms compete for the people’s vote.

Thus, a political party needs to be stable and ideologically grounded, with members who strongly adhere to its programs and platforms.

Unfortunately, both elements are not present in the Philippine political system.

There is no party discipline, as there are no well-defined party ideologies. The NP members could not claim that they are more nationalist than the LP members, or the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) or the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC) members. In fact, it is an anomaly that a mere alliance or a coalition is actually considered to be a party. It also begs the question whether the LP members are indeed ideologically liberal. For example, some LP members in the House of Representatives voted for the reinstatement of the death penalty.

It is also an anomaly that Risa Hontiveros, a member of a registered party-list Akbayan is a senator when our Constitution has only allowed for party-list representation in the House of Representatives.

It is the absence of an ideology that makes it easy for political parties to splinter, and where majorities and minorities in the Senate and in the House of Representatives are not defined according to platforms of governance, but according to political expediency.

And in the Senate, being a member of the minority does not even deny members the opportunity to chair committees. In a chamber where there are more committees than senators, it now becomes a matter of expediency to let minority senators chair committees, thereby diminishing whatever logic is derived from being in the minority. In a world where the party systems is rational and sane, being in a minority gives members the responsibility to fiscalize, but not to define the legislative agenda. But in the Philippines, where the legislative agenda do not emanate from party ideologies and are not borne by party loyalty, minorities and majorities lose meaning in terms of their traditional political functions. Instead, they are turned into vehicles for dispensing political patronage.

This is precisely why elections in the Philippines are no longer about competing programs of government, but are simply personality contests. This is also why politicians turn into butterflies and turncoats after every election, where party affiliation is no longer a matter of belief in programs, but of political survival and opportunism.

It is this anomalous political landscape, these weak political parties devoid of loyalty, discipline and ideology, that we now offer as the ground upon which some of us would like to establish a parliamentary system of government. Any political science student would tell you that a parliamentary system is otherwise known as a party government. It requires strong and ideologically grounded political parties that exact loyalty and discipline from their members.

A weak party system bereft of ideological anchor can lead to unstable majorities, where members can easily vote against their own parties on motions of no confidence.

On the other hand, a party system founded on political opportunism, and not on political platforms, may end up with a parliament with very little opposition as all elected members will simply abandon the party that carried them during the elections and migrate to the party likely to form the government.

Both will have outcomes that will be damaging to the democratic process, with the former resulting to a state of political uncertainty, and the latter leading to a rubber-stamp parliament.

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