18 Oct The Death of National Politics
By: Dr. Lloyd C. Bautista
In the past three national elections (2007, 2010, and 2013), pundits have observed the steady decline in the strength and influence of national political parties. More noteworthy of which was the 2010 presidential elections where the ruling dominant political party, Lakas-NUCD-CMD, dissipated into several groups when their standard-bearer, former Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, lost miserably in the polls, their party chairman emeritus, Citizen Fidel V. Ramos, retired, and party head, former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, was charged for plunder and put into house arrest.
Before Martial Law, two political parties, the Nacionalista Party and Liberal Party, dominated the national scene and amassed a well-entrenched grassroots machinery from the rural communities to the urban centers to guarantee the chances of victory of their endorsed candidates. Members who aspire to run for any position had to be vetted and qualified through a local or national convention. Money and other perks flowed through the pockets of local leaders, who can deliver the votes in their areas. The system had actually reinforced the dynastic rule of powerful political dynasties, making it prohibitive and impossible for any upstart to run against the powers-that-be.
However, the 1987 Constitution allowed for a multi-party system in a presidential form of government. Libertarians thought it was beneficial to the country but it actually eroded the power and influence of political parties over their members. It is even a misnomer to even refer to the current national political parties as honest-to-goodness political parties found in developed countries, where they have internal rules, governing philosophies, party stand on pressing issues, succession planning, and card-bearing as well as paying members. What the Philippines have is a motley of factions and interest groups motivated by competitive advantage to arrogate power once they win office. Coalitions are formed in both the local governments and Congress not out of political principles but on personal gain and convenience. Undoubtedly, the melting pot of political collusion was aggravated with the mushrooming of pseudo party-lists, with sectors represented by shadowy figures. The instability of political parties paved the way for popular media and survey firms to influence voters.
But the alarming rise in local political parties might also be the nail in the coffin that sealed the death of national political parties. The local political factions based on ethnicity and region have emasculated the role of national political parties as instruments to aggregate and unify diverse interests in Philippine society. In La Union, there is the Bileg Ti La Union headed by Joaquin Ortega, while in Ilocos Sur, there is Bileg Ti Ilocano lorded by Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson. The Partido Magdalo of Cavite Governor Victor Remulla and Partido Magdiwang of Sen. JV Ejercito seemed to be the spin-off that marked the stiff rivalry between Aguinaldo and Bonifacio. In Cebu, Tomas Osmeňa has organized the Bando Osmena to obviously represent his own personal agenda as opposed to Governor Gwendolyn Garcia’s 1-Cebu. It seemed amusing but World Boxing Champion Manny Pacquiao has named his local political party, which needs no guessing, the People’s Champ Movement.
The politics of personality, not of philosophy and principle, will continue to hamper the nation’s development, sustainable growth and long-term goal to be in the league of newly industrialized countries (NICs). As our institutions, such as national parties, are weakened by parochialism and dynastic rule, hope and aspirations among our people will dissipate and eventually turn cynical. In this 2016 presidential elections, our people’s spiraling discontent and hopelessness runs deep as gleaned by the meteoric rise of outliers like Sen. Grace Poe and Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte in the survey polls. And this is where my thesis becomes more controversial. We need a Liberal Party victory to reverse the collapse of national political parties and bring back our politicians to a heel. If Roxas-Robredo tandem wins, this might be a landmark precedent since no other sitting president, except President Noynoy Aquino, since the post-EDSA years was able to continue his platform of governance platform through a named successor. It might be asking too much for Roxas-Robredo to win despite their low survey ratings. But somehow, it can undo the dominance of political parochialism, personalities and dynastic rule. Finally, Roxas-Robredo victory proves one important fact – national political parties are still relevant in shaping this country’s future.
ABOUT THE WRITER: Dr. Lloyd C. Bautista is currently the Vice President of Academic Services of STI. He completed his Doctoral Degree in Public Administration from the University of the Philippines.