The demise of PH political parties
According to Yale University political scientists Ian Shapiro and Frances Rosenbluth, “Political parties are the core institution of democratic accountability because parties, not the individuals who support or comprise them, can offer competing visions of the public good.” In other words, political parties should be deemed as essential institutions in a functioning democracy. By voting in elections, citizens get to participate in governance through the parties that receive the public trust to run the government. Opposition parties, on the other hand, play an equally important role in holding the government accountable.
As the first republic in Asia, the Philippines is no stranger to political parties. The two oldest major parties in the country are the Nacionalista Party and the Liberal Party, founded in 1907 and 1946, respectively, and each with a robust history behind them. There are other major parties today, but most of them were founded after martial law, with the exception of the PDP-Laban which was established in 1983.
While there is a plethora of so-called political parties in the Philippine political scene, their relevance in the democratic space plays second fiddle to political personalities. Politics and elections hereabouts are driven and influenced by the personalities of political leaders, and not by the platforms of governance or principles and policies the parties are supposed to represent on behalf of the citizenry.
In the Philippine setting, political parties merely serve as machineries to help candidates win elections and take hold of the reins of power. They are merely a means to that end, and do not serve as core institutions of our democracy. Philippine political parties have long been in decline, and the recent circus surrounding the filing and substitution of candidacies for national elective posts in the May 2022 elections hammered home that point.
The current administration party PDP-Laban has been wracked by internal fighting—a messy leadership dispute involving no less than the President, leading to an unprecedented development: It has found itself without a standard bearer in next year’s elections, the first administration party in Philippine history to suffer that fate. Vice President Leni Robredo, meanwhile, decided to run as an independent instead of as the candidate of the Liberal Party. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. ditched his father’s discredited creation, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, to run under the hitherto unheard of Partido Federal ng Pilipinas. And instead of fielding a running mate from the same party, he chose to “adopt” the vice presidential candidate of another party—Sara Duterte of Lakas-CMD, after Duterte ditched her own regional party, Hugpong ng Pagbabago.
When it comes to senatorial bets, there is a broad mix of candidates representing several parties. Yet not one major party has fielded a full slate of candidates. Rather, presidential tandems are sharing guest candidates or common candidates representing various parties in their senatorial slates.
Only in the Philippines, one is inclined to say. But this is only so because in Philippine politics, political parties exist to serve the interests of their leaders, not the other way around. Hence the regular spectacle of politicians switching parties at the drop of a hat, sometimes every election season, or new parties getting created or splitting away in the event of differences among leaders and members of an established party. Their very proliferation only underscores how irrelevant and diminished such parties have become in the anything-goes ethos of the current political landscape.
Parties should be the main avenue by which the collective interests of its leaders, members, and adherents among the electorate can be represented to the fullest, and the means by which competing visions of governance and policies can be pursued and offered to the public.
The Philippines may be the oldest democracy in this part of the world, but clearly it remains far from being mature compared to more advanced democracies that have benefited from stable political parties in their systems, and that have found a viable, sustained way to make this “core institution of democratic accountability” work.
Moira G. Gallaga served three Philippine presidents as presidential protocol officer, diplomatically posted to the Philippine Consulate General in Los Angeles and the Philippine Embassy in Washington, DC.
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