Our country’s ‘broken political system’

The dizzying developments in the political front in the past week are incontrovertible proof that we have in the Philippines what University of the Philippines political science professor Clarita Carlos described in a recent forum as a “broken political system” where “there are no real political parties that groom and vet political leaders, and help define policy and programs.”

Since the 1987 Constitution basically broke the two-party system that defined our elections and political system for decades, dozens of political parties have cropped up – to rise during elections and go into deep slumber in between.

Because most of these political parties are based on personalities rather than on principles or platforms, they often fade with the death or defeat of their founders and leaders, only to be revived by another set of politicians for political expediency.

At least 16 national parties are represented in Congress, not counting the more than a dozen party-list groups. And there are dozens more party-list groups aspiring to gain seats in Congress and dozens of local or regional parties that emerge during elections.

Because many of them don’t have grassroots support or members beyond their core group, these political parties are forced to form coalitions every three years to gain better leverage during elections.

Thus, there is no single party fielding a complete ticket.

Here are some of the national political parties in the Philippines as listed by Wikipedia: PDP-Laban, Nacionalista Party, Nationalist People’s Coalition, Lakas-CMD, Liberal Party, Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, Partido para sa Demokratikong Reporma, Anakbayan, United Nationalist Alliance, Bagumbayan Volunteers for a New Philippines, National Unity Party, Partido Federal ng Pilipinas, Aksyon Demokratiko, People’s Reform Party, Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino, and Centrist Democratic Party of the Philippines.

You’d be smart to remember even half of them. And it seems so long ago that we had to choose betwenjust two major parties – the Nacionalist and Liberal parties – with a third minor one, the Progressive Party of the Philippines (PPP) of the late Senators Raul Manglapus and Manuel Manahan.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the “major” political parties.

The ruling PDP-Laban is a merger of the late Sen. Nene Pimentel’s Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino and the late Sen. Ninoy Aquino’s Lakas ng Bayan (Laban), two parties founded by two democratic icons to fight the dictatorial regime of Ferdinand Marcos.

In the 2016 presidential elections, PDP-Laban adopted then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, a self-confessed Marcos admirer and the exact opposite of a democratic icon.

As the 2022 elections neared, the ruling party broke into two factions, one led by Sen. Manny Pacquiao and Sen. Koko Pimentel and the other led by Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi with Duterte as chairman. The party, just as confused in its advocacy as its leaders, doesn’t even have an official presidential candidate in the May elections.

Last week, Cusi announced it is supporting Bongbong Marcos for president, several weeks after endorsing presidential daughter Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte-Carpio for vice president, and months after announcing it was fielding Sen. Bato de la Rosa, and later, Sen. Bong Go, for president.

The Pimentel-Pacquiao faction, of course, is supporting Pacquiao for president.

President Duterte has not categorically supported Marcos nor signed the PDP-Laban statement of support, although his son, Vice Mayor Baste Duterte, now says his father is inclined to throw his support for Marcos. No surprise, really.

It has been obvious that Duterte was only trying to show his disdain for the fact that it wasn’t his daughter who is running for president and also to gain some leverage under a Marcos presidency.

Duterte’s silence comes after he said during a press interview that he would prefer a “lawyer with compassion” – there are only two lawyers among the candidates – Robredo and Joe Montemayor – to become president and after Eastern Samar Gov. Ben Evardonne shifted his support to Robredo, claiming he had sought permission from Duterte.

Or Duterte could be referring to his daughter Sara, also a lawyer although I’m not sure about her being compassionate.

The previous ruling Liberal Party, led by Vice President Leni Robredo and Sen. Francis Pangilinan, is at least fielding its two top bets for the top two positions in the country.

But then Robredo filed her candidacy as an “independent” instead of as an LP member. And Robredo and Pangilinan are running as a coalition with a cacophony of candidates from various parties and persuasions in its ticket.

The Partido Reporma, founded by former Defense Secretary Renato de Villa after he failed to get the nomination of the then ruling Lakas-NUCD in 1998, was recently revived and invited Sen. Ping Lacson to be its presidential standard bearer in 2022.

Last week, the party dropped Lacson and chose to endorse Robredo. Lacson was forced to resign from the party and is now running as an “independent.”

But even on this matter, the Partido Reporma couldn’t show unity because three of its four topnotch party members who are in Lacson’s Senate slate said they would continue to support Lacson for the presidency.

Lacson’s ticket is also comprised of candidates from various parties, including Senate President Tito Sotto of the Nationalist People’s Coalition for vice president.

Bongbong Marcos is running as a member of little known Partido Federal ng Pilipinas, and is in coalition with Sara’s Hugpong ng Pagbabago, and has a Senate slate also comprised of om various parties in a coalition known as “UnityTeam.”

Last week, the National Unity Party, a party formed in 2010 by former members of the ruling Lakas-CMD of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who is believed to be responsible for the Marcos-Duterte alliance, said it was supporting Marcos. Again, little surprise here because we all know that the NUP leaders, mostly former officials of the Arroyo administration, have remained loyal to Arroyo.

The surprise here is that the NUP president, Cavite Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, and his wife, Dasmarinas Mayor Jenny Barzaga are defying the party stand and said they were endorsing Robredo. Obviously, there is no unity in the National Unity Party or in Cavite, where Gov. Johnny Remulla is supporting Marcos.

I won’t be surprised if other political parties and leaders shift their support in the coming days because, as I said at the outset, most of these parties exist only for political expediency, rather than for genuine advocacy.

And the changing of party loyalty and alliance affiliations won’t end there. More will be shifting loyalties and affiliations after the election, with members of many parties gravitating towards the winning presidential candidate.

Such is the state of our “broken political system” as Professor Carlos aptly describes it. “ She said the Philippine political system is “so compromised that anyone can just register a political party,”

and there is no real party that “vets” aspiring leaders, many of whom, she said, “can’t even win as dog catchers in their barangay.”
A little harsh, but true.