What’s wrong with Philippine politics? How might it be fixed?


EVERYTHING’S wrong with Philippine politics – period!

This tongue and cheek reply to the first query above encapsulates the frustrations of many a writer on where to begin to dissect the multitude of problems reducing them into palatable morsels. The easier way to go about this is perhaps to focus on the current state of affairs which has obstinately captured the interests and occupied the minds of our people since about a year ago, or even beyond: the election of a Philippine president.

What comes to my mind, as one voter from among the millions who will troop to the polls May 9 is a simpler question.

Who selected these 5 politicians in the first place to compete for my vote for the highest elective office in the land? Who made the decision that only 5 good people should be considered by the millions of Filipinos as worthy of their votes?

Were people consulted on the process of selection? Was there a vetting process similar to one now undergoing in politically mature countries – like the preliminaries and caucuses of the United States? These are selection process sanctioned by their political parties; where only the best of the lot are selected and will be presented to the public as candidates worthy of contending for the highest honors the citizens can give them? In our case in the Philippines, I don’t remember being asked about the criteria I want for these people to possess, prior to their being paraded before the scrutiny of the millions.

We boast to the world that ours is the first and oldest democracy in Asia. And by definition, the DEMOS, we the people, perhaps through our political parties should first set the criteria for the aspirants to possess before they are allowed to enter the political arena and engage in partisan combat winning our hearts and minds; through the force of their character; the courage of their conviction; moral standing and familiarity with the longings and aspirations of their constituencies; and the articulateness of their submissions to the body politic.

Unfortunately we don’t have this kind of democratic vetting process or preliminaries unlike the mature countries in Europe and the United States. Instead we have a practice that belies our boast as a democracy.

Let me attempt to elucidate how these 5 persons could have emerged as candidates worthy of our consideration.

The first is Self-Selection. One may have figured out that one knows what the job minimally entails as there is little difference running local cities and running a country; so a mere declaration will suffice – “I want to be President of the Republic of the Philippines.” Or perhaps a neophyte who came out on top through sympathy-driven votes saw the opportunity to leverage popularity, sincerity and attraction to run as an independent — shunning political parties.

The second is the notion that: my turn to the Presidency was agreed upon previously by the “barkada.” This highest elective political post has been a family bequest and entitlement because one’s forefather has been there before me, but I had to give way to another colleague because his mother just died and she was popular. This time around, since I made the sacrifice of giving way to the eventual winner, then “I deserve to run for President of the Republic of the Philippines.”

The third is a Political Patron selecting one from within or outside of a political party: I have the money, the organization and I anoint you as my candidate for President of the Republic of the Philippines.

There are permutations in the SELECTION of who will run for any elective position, from the presidency of our country down to the town mayor to the various sangunian. But the underlying narrative is that any of these selection processes is the definition and the tools of Traditional Political Patronage.

And this is what basically is wrong with Philippine Politics.

Traditional patronage politics has been the practice in the country for decades. This has been ingrained into our political culture permeating the very sinews of a good part of our political life. Our political system itself is a perversion and this travesty has been imbedded in our Philippine Constitution.

This brings us to address the second part of the question above: How it might be fixed.

When I was asked by colleagues in the CDPI to write this article for a possible column in the Manila Times, the first editorial marching order was to examine what ails Philippine politics. One colleague told me it might be hard to explain this within a frame of 900 words. Another one simply said “It can be explained in two sentences.”

Having served under four presidents in various government capacities from 1986, I dare say, I have experienced what ails politics in our country for decades now. Having been a participant in the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship 30 years ago, we tried our best to restore democracy– but we never concocted the perfect ingredients to begin with. We came up with a constitution for the republic, the best we could think of – the 1987 Cory Constitution.

The realities of the times then demanded a constitution that is an antithesis to the Marcos constitution and regime. We understood after a time however that the mere letter of the law can’t change the predominant structures and political culture in the Philippines. We have reached the point where we realized the Cory Constitution is no longer responsive to the aspirations of our people.

The political-economic system, protected by the Cory constitution has remained so stagnant and the subsequent laws emanating from this deficiency could no longer keep pace with the changing face of society and progress. It now only serves the few who both control the levers of political and economic powers. And these were all represented in the two law-making bodies that make up our Congress; the Senate and House of Representatives.

To illustrate: Despite rising economic numbers our growth has not been inclusive. Poverty incidence has been increasing. Despite growing investment we still pale in that category compared to our Southeast Asian neighbors. Despite efforts to fight corruption it remains omnipresent. We trumpet our achievements, hardly realizing only a few benefit from them.

What really ails and pains our country is the lack of political will to reform our country deeply. Those reforms require a change in our 1987 Cory constitution. But so far, every post- Cory administration has failed at reformation and restructuring as if charter change were a sacrilege.

Looking beyond the limits of our own world, it is hard to find a country that has not amended or changed its constitution in 30 years. In a nutshell, we are unable to tackle the most severe problems within our existing system.

We constantly yearn for betterment and change but lack the courage to take the necessary steps. No president has and no president will be able to change our reality without changing our system. Only when we understand this can we get started on finding a cure for what’s ailing our political system.

President Benigno Aquino 3rd made it very clear that he never wanted to change “a comma in his mother’s constitution.” With all due respect, a comma will not even be enough.

First and foremost, our system does not provide a sufficient degree of checks and balances. Coming from a colonial past we were raised to believe that a presidential form of government is a natural choice.

Nowadays, if you look at the list of countries in the world that have a presidential form of government, you find a list that starts with Afghanistan and ends with Zimbabwe. Our presidential system suffers from constant gridlocks and lack of accountability. The executive and the legislative branches are constantly at odds with each other. We have to realize that the most stable and successful countries in the world have parliamentary forms of government.

In a parliamentary system the members of parliament elect the leader of government among themselves (usually called Prime Minister). He is accountable to Congress (Parliament) and can, if needed, be replaced though a vote of no-confidence. The president still exists as symbolic head of state, with no real political powers.

Studies from all over the world have shown that this form of government provides a higher degree of stability and governance and is less prone to corruption. For instance, Canada and Germany apply such a model of parliamentary government. Not only can the head of government be held accountable to the parliament but also to the political parties represented in it. Needless to say, our current party system does not deserve the name.

So today’s column has expanded to attempt to reply to the 1st question: What’s Wrong with Philippine Politics.

We pointed out the anomalies and perversions of our process of electing persons to eventually occupy the presidency. The emergence of presidential candidates in our country is inherently undemocratic, a direct product of traditional patronage politics and clearly illustrates what’s wrong with Philippine politics.

We move on to describe the 1987 Cory constitution as the underpinning of the patronage system which need to be dismantled – and a new paradigm that has proven to be successful in other advance countries – parliamentary government.

Therefore, the two reforms in today’s column are focused on (1) charter change for a parliamentary form of government and (2) the much needed law on political parties.

Both are integral parts to the rejoinder – “How its (ails) might be fixed”.

“Why political parties?” one might ask.

Genuine programmatic parties are the institutions that carry and transmit the needs and concerns of society into the realm of decision-makers; parties that provide real membership and ownership by common citizens, rather than serving as simple campaign machines consisting solely of elected officials.

If our country is ready to create an environment to acknowledge and support the role of such genuinely principled parties (and that’s why we need a law on political parties), we might be ripe for a new and better system. That system is the parliamentary one in which the forces and factions of society are truly represented in parliament through real parties. In this system a mature kind of decision-making and fruitful balance between the executive and legislative branches are in reach. But this utopia is located in the sacrilegious world of charter change – a world we have yet to enter.

The author, Lito Monico C. Lorenzana, served under four Philippine presidents in various capacities as a member of the Cabinet and several Commissions. A Harvard educated political technocrat, he was one of the prime movers of the Citizens Movement for Federal Philippines (CMFP); one of the founders of the Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines (CDP), of Ang Partido ng Tunay na Demokrasya, and of the Centrist Democracy Political Institute (CDPI).

Various authors from CDPI will write a column under this heading every Thursday beginning next week.


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  1. Rolly Metin on

    Excellent analysis, Lito… You should write more often… Rolly Metin

  2. The multi-party system espoused by the Cory constitution is the recipe that brought this scourge on us, patronage and directionless politics!! There must be a CHARTER CHANGE for the better, particularly those economic provisions that protect the interest of the business elites and a deterrent to Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs).

  3. The problem is this type of democracy we have does work for this country. We must change it to a parliamentary form were the parliament pick and vote for the prime minister. A Duterte type cannot be voted because the parliament members are educated and follow the aw of the land. In the Philippines, majority are uneducated, poor, no job, cannot read or write, homeless, living in the slums , selling their votes. Our type of democracy is where the majority are suppose to be in the middle class . Philippines has an 80 percent living below the poverty level . Then what can you expect?

  4. The biggest problem with Philippine politics is the stupidity of the Philippine voters.

  5. Amnata Pundit on

    The problem is all in your question, who selected these 5 candidates? The solution lies therefore in a vetting system that is transparent, robust and genuinely democratic, and by democratic I mean the grassrooots must be the main element of this system. You failed to describe a selection system. I hope you can address this oversight in your next article.

  6. Jake Reyes on

    I completely agree with you sir. The problem is systemic and the those in power (both political and business) will do everything to keep the current system as it is.

    Take for instance this scenario. Say we have 60 million voters out of 100 million citizens. Given that there are 5 candidates, a candidate need only get 12.5 million votes to win. This is even not a majority (50% +1). So the other 47.5 million voters and 40 million non-voters (87.5 million) are stuck with a president, vice president, senators they did not vote for the next 6 years. Does this sound right?

  7. Andres Luna on

    Your insightful analyses of politics and the kind of political leaders are well- taken!

    You first came into the national scene when u were appointed as one of the cabinet members oh FVR. Somehow,u slowly disappeared when FVR and his “Gang of Thieves” we’re ferociously devouring the nation’s wealth,
    We know u are from Davao CIty U belong to the DUTERTE Camp necessarily .
    U were an FVR stalwart and it is likely that u solicited FVR’s full support for DUTERTE!

    If and when
    DUDERTEE will not be cheated by the evil PNOY, he will bepresidentof this country for 6 years! Our country desperately needs a system change. Therefore, an amendment to the Constitution is needed to adopt a parliamentary form of govand federalism,ur advocacies, Abolition of Congress and the Senate is a must in order that the same will not be derailed!
    It appears that u are one of his closest advisers.
    The country is in its worst shape.


    NOTE: Be wary of the kind of predatory animals like Benjie Palma Gil. W e understand he is from Davao City,a plunderer and economic saboteur!