This bizarre phenomenon began when popular candidates running as “independent” found themselves in the enviable position of being “adopted” as guest candidates of one or more political parties. This practice has now become widespread. Today, even full-fledged party members don’t seem to have any qualms about accepting, or negotiating, a guest slot in another party’s slate while retaining their place in their own party’s lineup.
Sen. Tito Sotto is an official candidate in Grace Poe’s senatorial slate, and also a guest candidate in Jejomar Binay’s party. Sotto is supporting Poe for president. But his choice for vice president is his good friend Sen. Greg Honasan rather than Chiz Escudero. Likewise, Sen. Ralph Recto, a member of the Liberal Party, is an official candidate in Mar Roxas’ Daang Matuwid Team, as well as a guest candidate in Poe’s Galing at Puso Team. Though he did not show up at the formal presentation of Poe’s senatorial slate, he sent his son to represent him.
Other examples of shared candidates are: former senator Panfilo Lacson, who filed as an independent but is included in the slate of both the administration party and Binay’s United Nationalist Alliance. He would have set a record for membership in three separate slates if his name had not been taken out at the last minute from Poe’s senatorial lineup. Former senators Richard Gordon and Juan Miguel Zubiri are members of both Binay’s and Poe’s respective senatorial slates. Susan Ople, daughter of the late former senator Blas Ople and a known champion of overseas workers, also straddles the Binay and Poe teams. These overlapping lists could grow longer when presidential aspirant Miriam Santiago makes known her senatorial slate.
Binay does not seem to mind sharing candidates. Poe not only does not mind, she also seems to see nonaffiliation to a party as a virtue. “We have no conditions,” she told reporters after announcing her senatorial candidates. “We believe we chose them because they could do something in the Senate regardless of which party they join. Of course, we would prefer that they endorse us.”
This trend contradicts all the norms of modern political competition, which prescribe the sharp differentiation of candidates and platforms. Why does this happen? What are its consequences to politics?
First of all, we are not dealing here with parties but with loose alliances driven by convenience. In this game, a candidate’s competence or stand on issues does not have as much value as the constituency and preelection survey ratings he or she brings into the alliance. Second, given the high cost of running for public office, parties do not find it easy to complete their slates and are only too happy to accommodate outsiders who have funds of their own and have a good chance of winning. Lastly, this practice thrives when voters themselves demand little from candidates by way of consistency and clear stand on issues.
In searching for answers, it is tempting to point to the deeply personalistic nature of our political culture as the culprit. But, this is not unique to us. Political parties in the West were initially held together by the personal charisma of strong leaders. Charismatic leadership paved the way for the formation of stable and disciplined party organizations that differentiated the party from the leader.
We seem to be moving in the opposite direction. We had a strong party system at the time of our country’s independence from the United States. It was not perfect, but it served the purposes of political competition. In 1972, martial law totally dismantled the party system and ushered in one-man rule. When Marcos was overthrown in 1986, the pre-martial-law parties had a hard time recovering from their 14-year stupor. New coalitions and nonparty formations occupied the political space that revolved around the popular Cory Aquino. But Cory herself showed no interest in creating a party of her own that would endure beyond her presidency.
The 1992 presidential election, the first under the 1987 Constitution, mirrored this political incoherence. Eleven candidates contested the presidency, including former Senate president Jovito Salonga of the Liberal Party and former vice president Salvador Laurel of the Nacionalista Party. Retired general and Edsa 1 hero Fidel V. Ramos won that election by the slimmest of margins. Salonga and Laurel trailed at sixth and seventh places, respectively.
It has been like that ever since. Administrations come and go, unable to renew their power to ensure the continuity of their programs. Ramos’ anointed candidate, Jose de Venecia, lost miserably to movie actor and senator Joseph “Erap” Estrada, who ran under his own party. Barely three years into his term, however, Estrada was ousted. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo took over the remaining term, and, in 2004, won a fresh six-year mandate in an election marred by massive fraud. Arroyo ended her long and dysfunctional presidency with the lowest approval and trust ratings in the nation’s history—a record that doomed the chances of her party’s presidential candidate in the 2010 election.
In contrast, P-Noy has remained a popular president throughout much of his term. The Liberal Party grew under his presidency, and Mar Roxas’ chances of winning in 2016 are better precisely because of the administration’s positive record. Yet it is baffling that the LP acts like a weak party. While it cannot tell the opposition not to “share” candidates, it has every reason to demand that its own candidates do not give the public any cause to doubt whom they are supporting for president and vice president.
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