Deconstructing the premature system of Philippine political parties

The filing of Certificate of Candidacy (COC) for aspirants vying for a position in the 2016 National and Local Elections (NLE) had just recently concluded. According to various media outlet reports, the 2016 polls seemed complex compared to elections in the past, citing the alleged disorganized fielding of candidates and the lack of an apparent system among political parties.


Patronage and personality-based politics

According to DLSU Political Science Assistant Professor Javad Heydarian, political parties are central to modern and mature democracies. He elaborates that political parties “serve as transmission belts for diverse interests in the society.” He adds that political parties also provide a clear vision and stand for specific policy positions, in addition to providing financing and logistical support to the candidates they field for the elections.

Long before the country’s transition to a multi-party system, two major political parties dominated the Philippine government: the Nacionalista Party and Liberal Party. The former is the oldest political party in the Philippines and Asia, having been found in 1907, and the latter served as a breakaway from the Nacionalista Party. However, in a 1967 journal entitled “The Philippine Political Party System” by Carl H. Lande, these political parties were described to be identical.

Since the 1980s, the political parties in the country have grown in number. However, for DLSU Lecturer Louie Montemar, also from the Political Science Department, the functions of political parties in the country still seem very limited. In contrast, in other political systems, parties play various roles and serve various purposes.

“Philippine political parties are not very ideologically defined. They are basically organizations that revolve around personalities or particular sectoral groupings,” Montemar explains. The more established political parties are trying to define themselves through certain platforms but have not progressed so far, he adds.

Heydarian suggests that the personality-based political parties in the Philippines mainly rely on powerful patrons to fund their campaigns. “We are left with candidates who bank on their family name and/or resources of patrons or sometimes that of the government, while appealing to emotions and prejudices of the electorate,” Heydarian laments. He mentions that, consequently, these political parties lack in concrete policy proposals or platforms on how to realistically deal with national challenges.

According to a 2009 study published by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation, political parties in the country can be described as “temporary political alliances” and mere “fan clubs” mainly because of the politicians’ “inability to go beyond their political ambitions and vested interests.” The study suggests that there should be a review of the institutional-legal system in which the political parties operate.


The need for modernized political parties

“The fact that we hardly even have a single modern and mass-based mainstream political party says a lot about how immature and personalistic our democracy is,” Heydarian argues. Moreover, he reiterates, “So far, all major candidates have only provided motherhood statements but little in concrete policy proposals on how to realistically deal with our national challenges.”

“The current elections show how Filipino political elites have actually bastardized the notion of political parties,” stresses Montemar, who believes that political parties have been largely personality-based, in addition to being controlled and highly established by the oligarchy or economic elites.

In the recent filing of COCs, for instance, the Nacionalista Party fielded three vice presidential candidates, namely Antonio Trillanes IV, Alan Peter Cayetano, and Bongbong Marcos. “When you have one party with three vice presidential candidates, it says a lot about how unserious these so-called political parties are,” comments Heydarian.

The whole electoral system needs to be reformed especially in terms of how the political parties are functioning. Montemar explains that for such reforms to happen, the way political parties function in the system must be modernized by strengthening even smaller parties. Additionally, he argues that there needs to be a more accessible electoral system even for those who do not possess the money or funds to support their candidacies. “There has to be access to other players who would wish to offer themselves to national leadership,” he says.

“If we continue to have a political electoral system where the choice for candidates is open only to those we have money, then we cannot expect real changes or real agenda to be generated,” Montemar elaborates.

In spite of the traditional political elites dominating the system, Montemar remains hopeful that, given time, Philippine political parties will evolve and become more agenda-driven.


The Filipinos’ votes

A 2003 study conducted by the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform suggests that for Filipinos to vote a particular candidate, they typically view how many benefits or changes the candidate can provide, what their stand is, how popular they are, and how much their candidacies are endorsed by various groups. “Solutions to pervasive poverty remain the one single most important platform/program that most voters ask from candidates,” also concluded the study.

For Lasallians like Angelika Inocencio (I, AEF-BSA), “looking for someone who has a [good] educational and political background, and whether he or she has a clean criminal record” remains a top priority in voting for the upcoming national polls. On the other hand, Jessica Pineda (I, AEF-BSA) and Corazon Gomez (I, ECM-BSA) express that they usually look for the effectiveness of a candidate and how feasible their platforms are.

On the current state of the NLE, the presidential candidates who stand out include Mar Roxas, Grace Poe, Jejomar Binay, and Miriam Santiago.

There is no significant difference between the 2016 NLE platforms of the presidential candidates. Montemar suggests that one of the most important aspects to look at are the political parties’ views on basic economic sectors, especially agriculture. Another is the issue of unemployment, which he suggests the government should give priority to.

Not all of the candidates will be included in the final ballot of the 2016 NLE, since their COCs will still have to undergo an evaluation process led by the Comelec. As of press time, the Comelec law department has already started looking into majority of the hopefuls who may be declared as nuisance candidates.

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