CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews / 23 July) – Our multiple party system is a bewildering hodge podge of mostly contrived barkadas of political opportunists representing legitimate and illegitimate interests.
To call it a party “system” is an oxymoron; for none are really a party in the proper sense of the term. Does any of them—mainstream, party-list, independent, or marginal—undertake voter education campaigns?
Do they support candidates, unify the electorate, or moderate conflicts by facilitating public discourse and opinion-forming? Not by a long shot! Do they produce statesmen? Never!
Do they translate their platform, if any, or public preferences, into actual policy or programs? If anything, their members (if any) bastardize their so-called platform and distort policy for self-serving ends!
The Party-Lists are even more oxymoronic (sic!): no real party lists them; they’re free-standing lists—like a stand-alone billboard advertising itself.
This explains why people or the media rarely bother to consult or interview a party-list group as such—as a party. They turn instead to its talking head who, as everybody knows, maintains the alleged party-list as his personal vehicle for catching attention to get elected.
How the logic of the party-list scheme was contrived, then pass muster in the 1986 Constitutional Commission, has been a source of puzzlement to many people, local and foreign.
It flies in the face of the principle that a congressman represents all of the people in the district or constituency that elects him or her. He or she represents their interests—regardless of sex, occupation, category, or station in life. He is a consolidator, harmonizer, moderator, and champion of social or political issues.
Providing an extra congressperson to represent labor, peasant, urban poor, women, youth, indigenous communities, and whatever other sectors, has sliced up our communities into narrow slivers of vested interest with dubious agendas.
Calling it a “party-list” without any relation to a bona fide party, existing merely as a “list” consisting of a candidate’s own name—which he himself and no one else prepares—taxes credulity and makes the scheme laughable.
It’s even more hilarious if you go over the Comelec listing showing the array of ridiculous acronyms devised willy nilly and without logic in an obvious bid to fool a person into voting purely on the basis of an arbitrary alphabet trick. Did the Constitutional Commissioners think it a good joke to have us unravel a terminological puzzle posed by the chore of discerning which alphabet soup is better?
This has given rise to a) an added burden for us taxpayers, jacking up our overhead by adding the carrying costs of maintaining party-list talking heads, b) the transformation of an already messy electoral arena into a Babel of vocal interest groups, c) the trivializing of the concept of a “political party,” and d) the deterioration and demise of a proper party system.
As far as one tell, the party-lists don’t even bother to recruit for membership or organizational expansion. There’s no indication of how they propose to enhance society or government.
It’s not clear what they stand for except to have a talking head or two or three elected. They have no platform or what passes for one; no program of government or reform, no rites or observances to promote cohesion, no caucuses or conventions.
Gone are the days of the Nacionalistas and Liberals, the main trunk of our unlamented two-party system and the adventitious buds that sprouted in a bid to be mainstreamed and replace either.
We have our freewheeling, unstructured approach to politics and political involvement to thank for this confusion. It is really an indictment against the myopic and self-gratuitous service of our leaders thus far.
As bad as the system was, it’s been further convoluted by the present halo-halo of a political concoction—which enables an individual who yearns to gate-crash Congress to launch his candidacy by cutting out a slice of the community, label it as a marginal sector, finance it, and have it elect him as its party-list representative.
The constitutionalists unwittingly aggravated the problem of opportunism and greed in politics. To the entrenched trapos and shameless dynastic officeholders, they added a dubious assortment of party-list opportunists to partake of the pleasures of political office as a livelihood.
And, oh yes, I believe it would be instructive to research the flow of pork money from the dozen or so party-lists—also known as the parliamentary Front of the CPP-NDF struggle—to the murderous NPA commands in the countryside.
Who can say that the government does not subsidize insurgency (especially in Mindanao) with party-lists as conduits? Earning P70 million each in yearly pork for years now, the financial backbone of the insurgency is something no one can scoff at.
[Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, Development Academy of Philippines; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Panel; and PPI-UNICEF awardee, most outstanding columnist. Today he is President and National Convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc firstname.lastname@example.org]