COMMENT: Aquino’s Big Mistake

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 17 July) – President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III’s big mistake by now is his failure, during his term, to strengthen the Liberal Party as a national party – a “party that rules” instead of the party that is ruled”. He has had the rare opportunity to do it. Had he done so, he could have revived a genuine party system in the Philippines by signaling to other parties to do the same.

A ruling party is the support of the head of government; a ruled party” in the hands of the head of government or of any other strong leader is impotent. The first manifests a genuine party system that is sorely needed now in the Philippines although not felt. At present, there is the so-called “multi-party” system that, in reality, is an odd “coalition” system around a political personality before and after every national election.

Genuine Party System

In a genuine party system, whether two-party or multi-party, a political party has a platform built on a philosophy and principles of government; it is well-organized nationwide. During elections, it nominates and supports candidates from genuine party members whose programs of government adhere to the party platform. On winning, the candidates have the support of the party. Is this so in the Philippines today?

In a two-party system, there is no coalition government. When the party wins, it does by majority vote, earning a genuine mandate to rule. This used to be so in the Philippines until 1969, the last presidential election year before the Marcos martial law government.

In countries with a parliamentary form of government under a multi-party system, a party may just win by plurality; to form a government, it coalesces with other parties. Note very well: the coalition happens after the election to form a government – not before the election to win the election, as it is being done in the Philippines?

In most countries with a presidential system of government under a multi-party system, the president still has to win by majority vote. Should no presidential candidate get a majority vote in the first balloting, a run-off election is held between the first and second placers. In the Philippines the presidency can be won by mere plurality; in 1992, Fidel V. Ramos won by a mere 22 percent plurality.

A Big Joke

In the Philippines today, politics is a BIG JOKE. While the politicians enjoy, the people are joining the fun at their own expense. Happy days are momentary.

The menu is familiar. The big politicians in Manila stir the multi-party system to form pre-election coalitions to support their chosen candidates. The incumbents who are not running for reelection anoint their successors.

Under the Philippine “multi-party system”, any Juan, Pedro or Maria can form a political party to be registered with the Commission on Elections according to law. In reality, the parties, aside from identifying the candidates in the ballots, don’t have much role in the election. As the parties coalesce, the candidates campaign under the coalition. After the election, the winning candidates, at their convenience, continue sticking together under the coalition or they part ways. In the next election, there will be new coalitions.

Coalitions come and go. The administration coalition cannot continue the program of government of the President. Political leaders in coalition don’t care about their parties; they are only after their political interest on the “scratch-my-back, scratch-your-back” basis. Unsatisfied with the “scratching”, they leave the coalition. Only the President’s strong national party can guarantee to continue his program as part of the party platform.

The Liberal Party

That is the problem of President Aquino III. He wants his “Daang Matuwid” program continued. Evidently, he cannot trust the Liberal Party. He has to anoint someone as his successor – whether an LP member or a member of the administration coalition. The LP leaders are inclined to pick the LP chairman-on-leave, DILG Secretary Manuel A. Roxas III; but if the President anoints someone else, they will do what the President wants. The LP is not a ruling party, but a party ruled”.

Under a genuine party system, the party nominates from among its members its standard bearer and other candidates for the lower offices through a national convention. Outsiders may be considered but they had to be first inducted as party members – as in the cases of Ramon Magsaysay (1952) and Ferdinand Marcos (1964), both Liberals, who were invited by the Nacionalista Party to run as its presidential candidates.

If the LP were a genuine ruling party, the President even as its titular head must follow party rules in the nomination of his successor – through a national convention. That is not the case now. President Aquino is about to anoint his successor – either the genuine LP Roxas or the popular Sen. Grace Poe, Independent and a member of the administration coalition in the Senate. The LP leaders will accept Aquino’s decision. He rules the LP; he is the Liberal Party .

A strong political party chooses its candidates following its philosophy and principles of government and makes them win. But it appears the LP has no philosophy and principles of government to follow in choosing its candidates. Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr., one of the LP top leaders, said that for Roxas to be anointed by Aquino he must prove he can win. The burden of winning is in the candidate, not in the party.

“Winnability” – the word “winnable” bastardized and popularized by Filipino politicos – means the capacity to win with money and popularity. Poe may not be richer than Roxas but poll surveys show she is very much more popular. Money can be easily raised, but not popularity. By Belmonte’s comment, Aquino may pick Poe over Roxas because of her popularity. She possesses more winnability”.

Aquino and the LP

Aquino and Roxas are traditional LP leaders, both their fathers being LP bigwigs. But Aquino won the presidency in 2010 not because of the LP but of the charisma of his mother “Cory”, the President installed by People Power that toppled Dictator Ferdinand Marcos 1986. It was because of Aquino’s “winnability” that Roxas gave way and slid down to the vice presidential slot.

Aquino won with a big plurality but short of the majority. However, the results of the 2010 election showed the LP was an insignificant factor in his winning. It was the voters and coalitions attracted by the “Cory charisma cum idolatry” that catapulted him. But he did not carry Roxas and enough number of LPs to the Senate and the House to form the majority. He won; the LP did not.

In 2010, out of the 229 district seats in the House, the LP won only 43; the Lakas-Kampi-CMD of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo won 109. In the Senate, there were only four LP senators after the 2010 election. In the 2013 midterm election, the administration fielded candidates not under the LP but “Team Pinoy” coalition. At present, there are still four LP senators; in the House, the LP won 126 out of the 234 district seats. During his term, Aquino has to rely on the “Pinoy” coalitions for legislative support – not the LP.

As we can see it now, Aquino rules the LP; he, not the LP through a national convention, will choose the party candidate after meeting the “probable bets” and “consulting” the “top LP leaders” as well as others. The party last won the presidential election in 1960 with Diosdado P. Macapagal as the standard bearer; it looks the same as it was in 2010.

Missing the Imperative

Is it imperative to have strong national political parties that rule?

We boast of being democratic and are jealous of our democratic rights; but we are under dynastic, feudalistic and hereditary leaders anointed like royalties. They put up political parties as the façade of sham democratic elections. There are no candidates except they, their heirs and anointed ones; they perpetuate themselves in power.

The imperative is to rid the country of this sham. The 1987 Constitution has term limits for elected officials; but, the Congress enacted an enabling law that limits but perpetuates terms dynastically. The Constitution also bans political dynasty. But since the restoration of the Congress in 1989, no enabling law had been passed; bills slept to death.

The multi-party system, despite the good intentions behind it, has led to “personalized political parties” and abetted the rise of political dynasties. It has been exploited by the popular and the wealthy to institute “winnability” as the primary quality of “good” candidates together with the “pre-election coalition system”.

This was not so until the election of 1971 when there were two predominant national parties and one or two lesser ones. The parties had well entrenched leaders at the helm but they only held power for as long as they have the confidence of the party. There was patronage; but, patrons and protegés have to fight for nomination in party conventions. There were schisms and new parties or party wings formed but they were not shams.

This sham does not exist in democratic countries with strong political party system, whether two-party or multi-party. The parties rule, are not ruled.

The Philippine Congress infested by political dynasties is not expected to pass a law banning dynastic politics or to amend the term-limit law to plug the loophole. Only strong national parties that can discipline their ranks and command votes can rid the Philippines of the sham touted as democracy.

Aquino III could have paved the way by strengthening the Liberal Party during his term. But he either failed to or chose not to; the LP has remained weak. Evidently, Aquino III will perpetuate the coalition and anointing systems rooted in “winnability” that installed and sustained him in the presidency.

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards honored Mr. Diaz with a “Lifetime Achievement Award” for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate.” You can reach him at [email protected])