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Bill on party politics gathering dust

As important as the proposed Freedom of Information Act (FOI) and antipolitical dynasty bills is the proposed Political Party Development Act of 2014 (PPDA), which seeks to institutionalize party politics in the country. Like the two others, the PPDA bill is gathering dust in Congress. Despite its goal of ridding Philippine elections of the “3 Gs”—guns, goons and gold—its chances of enactment get dimmer by the day.

Lawmakers do not appear keen to pass the PPDA bill. They busily deal with other important bills at the moment—those involving the proposed national budget of P2.6 trillion for 2015, the proposed “emergency powers” for the President to help him deal with the expected power shortage next year, and the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law—as well as the inquiries “in aid of legislation,” including the corruption charges against Vice President Jejomar Binay.

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The FOI, antipolitical dynasty, and PPDA bills constitute the three reform measures that seek to empower ordinary citizens, democratize political power, and alter the course of socioeconomic and political developments in the country. The first seeks public access to information, and the second attempts to limit the domination of political families by putting flesh to the constitutional ban on political dynasties.

The third seeks to reform the party system by establishing a state subsidy fund for political parties, instituting mechanisms for their transparency and accountability, and ensuring party loyalty and discipline. It seeks to address widespread and persistent criticism on the absence of a definitive party system in the country and its inability to check the domination of a number of political families.

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This bill goes for party development and campaign expenditures to prevent political parties from becoming dependent on vested-interest groups that seek to influence political parties. It proposes the allocation of 5 percent of the state subsidy fund to the Commission on Elections for monitoring, voters’ education, and information campaigns; 30 percent to political parties in the Senate; and 65 percent to political parties in the House of Representatives. The fund will be proportionately distributed to the number of seats a political party has in Congress.

The proposed PPDA seeks to instill party loyalty and discipline by discouraging political turncoatism and imposing penalties on those who switch parties more for convenience than beliefs and convictions. It mandates political parties to develop and enforce internal codes of conduct for party members. Hence, political turncoats, derisively called balimbing, are expected to be reduced to the minimum under the bill.

Furthermore, it disqualifies political turncoats from running for public office in the succeeding elections after they change party affiliation, from being appointed to a state agency for three years after they switch parties, and from assuming any executive or administrative post under the new party affiliation, and directs them to refund all amounts, plus 25-percent surcharge, that they have received from their former parties.

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Of the three reform measures, the FOI bill has a better chance of enactment because no less than President Aquino wants it passed before his term ends in 2016. The fate of the antipolitical dynasty bill still hangs by a thread. The House committee on suffrage and reforms has reported it out for plenary deliberations but the rules committee has yet to calendar it.

Akbayan Rep. Ibarra Gutierrez III admits the difficulty of pushing for the bill because of the absence of champions in the Senate and the lukewarm attitude of parties in the ruling coalition, which stand to lose their members in the transition following enactment. The three reform measures are generally regarded as acts of self-immolation by lawmakers, a number of whom belong to powerful political dynasties and political parties or engage directly or indirectly in the concealment of vital information involving official governance.

The FOI bill has been languishing in Congress for over two decades, the antipolitical dynasty bill for nearly three decades, and the PPDA bill for 12 years. Pundits note that the PPDA bill has undergone several revisions: Its previous proponents earlier agreed to water it down for purposes of compromise and easier enactment. Just the same, Congress has not been keen to enact even a watered-down version. Certain lawmakers even wanted to strike out the provisions on the state subsidy fund for political parties, Gutierrez noted.

It is a widely accepted reality that the Philippines lacks a party system. Politicians join political parties more for convenience than shared beliefs, and the parties hardly possess definitive ideologies and platforms, which are necessary to unify various leaders in the pursuit of certain political objectives.

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In brief, party politics is almost nonexistent for the mainstream political parties. Only the parties at the extreme fringes of the political spectrum are guided by specific ideologies. Mainstream political parties only become alive and useful during elections because they serve as political vehicles for candidates.

The proposed PPDA seeks to shift the balance from politicians and political families to political parties. By instituting party politics, it hopes to professionalize political processes and parties so they can serve as vital cogs in nation-building. Democracy belongs to political parties, not political families.

Philip M. Lustre Jr. ([email protected] gmail.com) is a freelance journalist now engaged in a book-writing project. He used to cover politics and the economy.

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