Political parties in the new charter
The health of a political system depends heavily on the quality of political parties. A robust democracy is only possible when political parties can: offer the polity coherent and viable policies and programs; promote constitutional principles such as respect for the rule of law; and earnestly strive to reflect the people’s aspirations. Anything short of these standards will be detrimental to the entire political system.
Sadly, Philippine political parties are more known for concocting catchy slogans than for standing for defined ideological principles. They do not actually function as platforms for sustained political action. In fact, party-switching is standard practice after every presidential election. Indeed, electoral experience after 1986 shows that political parties have contributed poorly to the consolidation of Philippine democracy.
Nevertheless, the improvement of the political party system should be forthcoming given President Duterte’s promise of change. And although a couple of promises have been “adjusted” to be more consistent with current conditions, many of the 16 million who voted for him still expect a complete overhaul of the political system. The task of bringing this promise to fruition now falls on the administration’s Consultative Committee (Con-Com) on constitutional reform.
The Con-Com must thus ensure that its draft charter establishes a credible and coherent political party regulatory framework. Obviously, not all the issues of the existing setup can be addressed here. But a structure more substantial than the present one should be self-evident.
Article IX-C, Section 6 of the 1987 Constitution provides: “A free and open party system shall be allowed to evolve according to the free choice of the people, subject to the provisions of this Article.”
Clearly, the current constitutional prescription on political parties is thin. And the phrase “shall be allowed to evolve according to the free choice of the people” offers nothing by way of regulating political parties.
In contrast, Chapter I, Article 8 of South Korea’s constitution provides that:
“The establishment of political parties shall be free, and the plural party system shall be guaranteed.
“Political parties shall be democratic in their objectives, organization, and activities, and shall have the necessary organizational arrangements for the people to participate in the formation of the political will.
“Political parties shall enjoy the protection of the State and may be provided with operational funds by the State under the conditions as prescribed by the Act.
“If the purposes or activities of a political party are contrary to the fundamental democratic order, the Government may bring an action against it in the Constitutional Court for its dissolution, and the political party shall be dissolved in accordance with the decision of the Constitutional Court.”
The Con-Com can do better than the South Korean approach and impose a stricter regulatory mechanism covering the “objectives, organization, and activities” of political parties. A provision that unequivocally prohibits party-switching would be a welcome game-changer.
It can also include an explicit mandate on political parties to present credible “organizational arrangements for the people to participate in the formation of the political will.” This is only fitting for it has been said that “democracy is not a spectator sport.”
In a fully functioning democracy, political parties operate as mouthpieces for policy ideas. They play a key role in bringing people to engage in political discourse. As many Filipinos now realize, without genuine political parties to guide the way, public discussion on burning issues is severely diminished by social media hacks and irredeemable apologists employed by the powers-that-be.
The Con-Com should remember that in the face of Filipinos’ clamor for change, the absence in its draft charter of the changes suggested here may be seen as a huge letdown by the President himself and by the millions who believed in him.
Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco, a practicing lawyer, is the author of the book “Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective.” He conducts research on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.
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