It may sound like a cosmic joke, but people who have followed the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) story describe as the “supreme irony” its recent endorsement of presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong”. Marcos Jr. How does a party formed in 1982 to overthrow Marcos Sr. now support the campaign to bring another Marcos back to power?
In a scathing statement, Ms. Lourdes Pimentel, widow of the party’s founder, Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr., called “thieves” those who “stole the PDP-Laban, which was created by the blood and sacrifice of people like (the opposition senators) Nene Pimentel, Ninoy Aquino and Lorenzo Tañada, and shamelessly used it to support the candidacy of a person who does not deserve to be president of our country.
The endorsement of Marcos by the PDP-Laban faction led by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi and backed by President Duterte sparked outrage among members of a rival faction led by Pimentel’s son, Senator Aquilino. Koko » Pimentel III. The Koko wing supports presidential aspirant Manny Pacquiao under the banner of the Promdi party until the Electoral Commission (Comelec) settles the dispute over the party’s leadership.
The Koko faction emerged from the ousting of Pimentel and Pacquiao from the party during what the two called “an illegal rally” organized last year by Cusi and Mr Duterte. In what could be karmic justice, the Cusi wing, which previously voiced support for Davao mayor and presidential daughter Sara Duterte, found itself without a standard bearer when it opted to run for the vice-presidency. While Comelec rejected its proposal to reopen the candidacy, the Cusi faction found itself endorsing its running mate, Marcos Jr., last week.
The very public PDP-Laban intramurals, which exposed the venality and transactional habits of local politicians, also exposed fatal flaws in the country’s political party system. Unlike other countries where political parties are seen as an organized group of people who share the same vision, values and governance platforms, political parties in the Philippines are primarily personalities. Although ostensibly a multi-party system that offers voters more choice in the polls, the country’s democracy is shaped by two major parties that may well be one, as they do not exhibit divergent ideologies and agendas.
In a 2017 press release about his participation in the Global Dialogue of Political Parties organized by the Chinese Communist Party, Pimentel acknowledged: “Politics in other countries is based on ideology and politics, as proposed by political parties. In our country, our politics are still based on personality. There is no coherence in policy and institutions are weakened leading to many of the problems we are currently facing.
In the same press release, Pimentel mentioned that PDP-Laban stands for “theism, humanism, enlightened nationalism, democratic socialism, participatory and consultative democracy and federalism.” But except for a doomed attempt to push federalism, members of this ruling party barely mention these ideas, let alone how they would figure into their style of governance.
Indeed, most Filipino voters opt for personalities and rarely check the agenda or politics of the parties to which their candidates belong. Which explains why radio/TV and movie personalities, sports celebrities and members of political dynasties dominate local and national politics, with name recall and popularity being their forte.
So why bother with political parties? Because apart from a powerful machinery drawn from its network of neighborhood leaders and local officials, a political party is allowed to have election inspectors at every polling station on election day to protect against fraud. Politicians, too, are lining up with the ruling party to help it win a majority in Congress, for which they are assured committee chairs and a bigger slice of the pork barrel. This was painfully evident when Mr Duterte won in 2016, as the former ruling Liberal Party was decimated almost overnight as thousands of local and national officials moved to PDP-Laban. According to Pimentel, the party’s presence in the House of Representatives eventually grew from three to 123 members. By April 2018, 300,000 politicians had joined the party.
Given these ills, the country’s political party system can certainly benefit from an overhaul, starting with a series of reforms proposed in the Political Parties Development Act 2011. Among other provisions, the bill seeks to strengthen the party system by preserving party loyalty and ideological principles, platforms and programs by penalizing backsliding; reduce corruption and bribery by regulating campaign finance through transparent mechanisms and professionalizing political parties through state subsidies which, in a non-election year, can be used for recruitment of political parties parties, civic education, policy research and development, and voter education programs.
Hopefully, such reforms would prevent another spectacle of a political party imploding in public and eroding people’s faith in truly participatory democratic processes.
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