YESTERDAY, almost 50 million Filipinos voted for a new set of national and local leaders. The dust has yet to settle after an exercise marred by the usual theatrics of elections. Some quick counts and exit polls would appear hours after this editorial was written (1 p.m.) on Election Day.
The winners will be triumphal and the losers, bitter. Accusations of cheating and vote buying will fly thick and fast. And then, there will be the usual noises about the people's lack of political education — and the need for political reforms.
But advocating for political reforms is like asking for the moon.
Dr. Rizal Buendia, a political analyst and a fellow at the Stratbase Albert del Rosario Institute, last week presented a paper online, titled "Lessons and prospects in Philippine political governance."
He said "decades of personalistic governance are responsible for the corrosion of political institutions, and unless radical structural, political and electoral reforms are pursued, we will steer toward decay with the nation-state isolated from the people it is supposed to serve." Dr. Buendia's study covered seven presidents in the last 50 years. He analyzed them in terms of transparency and accountability, electoral politics, political party system, political participation and populist politics.
The following are his conclusions: first, that the measures and policies in the last half-century to promote transparency and accountability have failed. They did not make a dent in the corruption that allegedly bedevils every government. Second, he deplored the style of governance based on personality rather than education, training and skill in leadership.
Third, the political party system has been weakened by dynasties and clans that rule and roost over the political parties. There are no principles or ideologies that anchor the political parties. The politicians shift to another party as quickly as they change their clothes, the moment they sniff a change in the political winds.
Fourth, Dr. Buendia noted that patronage politics and elitism have taken over politics. Those who want to run but have scarce resources — or stomachs not made of iron — are discouraged from doing so.
All of these then lead to the fifth conclusion: that populist politics has threatened and restricted democratic rule.
His RX is the "enlargement of social and political structures and institutions that encourage the amplification of democratic rule." In plain English, he means the widening of political spaces, the encouragement of young blood in politics, and a party system built on principles and not personalities.
Dr. Buendia also said the country needs policies that will help a transparent and accountable government fight corruption. There should also be a mass-based electoral system to neutralize the power of the elite and the powerful. Conversely, a multiparty system, based on platforms, programs, principles and ideologies to fortify representative democracy, should be encouraged. And lastly, a holistic governance should be institutionalized to prevent society's fragmentation.
You can see this in what has happened to the party-list system. It was born of noble intentions to bring into the legislature those from the marginalized: the women, laborers, farmers, fisherfolk, youth, differently abled and senior citizens.
But look what happened. You see the rich party-lists with their silly names being advertised on television. Before, hardly any party-list could place a TV advertisement. The going rate now must be P600,000 for a 30-second spot. How could a small party afford these rates?
Dr. Buendia also noted that our political party system has no ideological or philosophical differences between political parties. Thus, it is easy for a politician to change colors like a monkey swinging from vine to vine in the forest.
This has led to a spiral of problems: corruption, elitism, problems of peace and order, poverty, injustice and concentration of power in the central government. A United Nations Development Program study found that the 10 poorest provinces have been ruled by political dynasties for a long time. Inbreeding is bad not just in biology, but also in politics.
Joseph Campbell wrote a book, called The Hero with a Thousand Faces, which dealt with the archetypal hero in mythology. Some of our politicians are many times removed from this hero although they wear a thousand masks before their voters.