THE WORM’S EYEVIEW: Ersatz parties bastardize democracy

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/01 January) — There should be no place for fake or make-believe political parties in our system. They merely flatter the vanity of their masters, expand the profit margin of their financiers, and ride on the fawning loyalty of their sycophants.

As mere vehicles for conveying ambitious trapos (traditional politicos) to high levels of the political pyramid, ersatz parties make a mockery of democracy and bastardize it.

Such trapos are really opportunists, able to enter politics because they’re moneyed or well financed by political entrepreneurs (people who invest in election campaigns in hopes of big payoffs once in power).

They take advantage of the freedom and opportunity afforded by democracy, but they’re neither democrats nor equal-opportunity advocates. The fact that they’re dominated and controlled by the patriarch or dynasty that organizes and maintains them should warn everyone that they’re in the game only to serve their own interests, not to field non-relatives or non-cronies.


On the other hand, bona fide parties strengthen democracy and expand the democratic space. They keep the political playing field level and free for open competition. They are real assets to a democracy.

They not only welcome members, their processes are participatory and thus empower people by opening careers in public service for those who wish to serve.

Their caucuses and dialogues with members and constituents are usually instructive and supportive of ideas that promote democratic processes and egalitarian ideals.

They operate openly and address live issues that help shape public opinion, promoting intelligent discussion on them—in the process, help build consensus and solidarity in society.


Unfortunately, our patronage-oriented political system does not encourage genuine political parties. It is biased in favor of trapo-dominated cliques disguised as parties, groups with dubious loyalty or commitment to democratic processes.

Thus we have a dysfunctional political system, unprofessional as it is corrupt—the product of the pork-barrel mentality that conditions otherwise honorable people to rely on patronage to get elected. Even as they turn corrupt, they are turning off the idealists in our society.

As a consequence, these so-called parties can’t even be counted on for intelligent discussions on issues, let alone produce coherent positions on them. As they proliferate, blind loyalty to patrons and party leaders become substitutes for issue-based solidarity or earnest advocacy, producing a system built around the cult of money-backed and gimmick-laden personalities.


This arrangement accounts for why there is no challenge to creativity or vibrant thought in our politics. It kills initiative and resourcefulness, discouraging original thinking and challenging initiatives.

It is sad and unfortunate that whatever creativity is at play today seems to revolve around the search for novel substitutes for PDAF, DAP, CCT, and the like. Politics has become a sterile environment for ideas and ideals.

The absence of authentic political parties has deprived our society of the benefits of political education and our democracy of the maturation that accrues from dynamic, open, and free competition.


Is there a party today that so much as attempts to define the government’s mission at this juncture of our history? Is there one with a coherent vision of our national development and destiny? But there is no leader who bothers with such questions!


And so we have elections with no debates; then we expect intelligent outcomes. We have confused constituents but no one, no party, bothers to help clarify what direction society should take, how best to pursue it, and who best or what criteria to use in choosing who should lead Yet everyone expects wise votes to be cast!

Without dynamic interplay of these questions, it is unrealistic to expect the public wisely to evaluate or determine who or what will best serve society. It is an essential role of a political party to being about and participate in such interplay. To ignore the importance of this interplay consigns the fate of our country to the rabble and the greedy dynasties and trapos that thrive on their ignorance.

So it’s no surprise that our elections yield to the “sabungero” mentality—bet on the perceived winner, never mind if he or she is corrupt, scandalous, or incompetent. As in the cockpit, winning is the object, not the country’s development, not the community’s wellbeing, not the people’s welfare.

Bottom-line, elections merely divide our electorate into “winners” and “losers” that vote without relevance to society’s needs or to nation-building. And that explains why petty electioneering, money-driven gimmickry, and demagoguery flourish.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MidnaNews. Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. He is president/national convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc.