BEYOND THE BEND: On prescriptions concerning political parties in the new charter

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QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 28 April) – As most Filipinos would attest, political parties in the country are more renowned for their clever and catchy slogans than genuine reform platforms. The electoral experience after the EDSA People Power in 1986 have firmly established that political parties are simply pathways to acquire wealth and power.

In fact, in the aftermath of the 2016 elections, many members of Congress jumped ship to the ruling party to ally themselves with the newly elected leader who determines how state largess is allocated. President Rodrigo Duterte even ridiculed a recent transferee saying that if Vice-President Leni Robredo suddenly became the Chief Executive, he would happily return to the fold of her political party. The bottom-line is, to characterize Philippine political parties as democratic institutions that safeguard national interests is quite simply, a very tough sell.

The health of a political system depends heavily on the quality of political parties. A robust democracy is only possible when political parties can do the following: 1) offer the polity coherent and viable policies and programs; 2) promote constitutional principles such as respect for human rights; and, 3) genuinely thrive to reflect the aspirations of the people. Anything short of these standards can compromise a political system.

A complete overhaul of our political party system should be forthcoming because President Duterte won on the promise of change. And helping him in the task of bringing this particular promise to fruition now falls on the administration’s Consultative Committee (Con-Com) on constitutional reform.

Accordingly, it is incumbent upon the Con-Com to ensure that their draft charter establishes a credible and coherent political party regulatory framework. Obviously, not all the issues of the existing set-up can be addressed here. But a structure more substantial that the present one must be self-evident.

Article IX-C, Section 6 of the 1987 Constitution provides: “A free and open party system shall be allowed to evolve according to the free choice of the people, subject to the provisions of this Article.”

Without a doubt, the current constitutional prescription on political parties is thin. And the phrase “shall be allowed to evolve according to the free choice of the people” offers absolutely nothing as far as regulating political parties is concerned.

For contrast, Chapter I, Article 8 of the Constitution of South Korea provides:

“(1) The establishment of political parties shall be free, and the plural party system shall be guaranteed.

(2) Political parties shall be democratic in their objectives, organization, and activities, and shall have the necessary organizational arrangements for the people to participate in the formation of the political will.

(3) Political parties shall enjoy the protection of the State and may be provided with operational funds by the State under the conditions as prescribed by Act.

(4) If the purposes or activities of a political party are contrary to the fundamental democratic order, the Government may bring an action against it in the Constitutional Court for its dissolution, and the political party shall be dissolved in accordance with the decision of the Constitutional Court.”

The administration’s Con-Com can do better than the South Korean approach and include in their draft charter a stricter regulatory mechanism covering the “objectives, organization, and activities” of political parties. A provision that unequivocally prohibits turncoatism would be a welcome game-changer. As would a broad but sensible regulation relating to political finance.

Additionally, the Con-Com can include an explicit mandate on political parties to present credible “organizational arrangements for the people to participate in the formation of the political will.” Such a constitutional prescription is only fitting for it has been said that “democracy is not a spectator sport”.

In a fully-functioning democracy, political parties operate as a mouthpiece for policy ideas. They play a key role in bringing people to engage in political discourse. As many Filipinos now realize, without genuine political parties to guide the way, public discussion on burning political issues is severely diminished by social media hacks and irredeemable apologists employed by the powers-that-be.

The goal in articulating these prescriptions in the draft charter is to ensure political parties work towards maintaining a political system we can all be proud of. Doing this will be very controversial for sure. But if the Con-Com shirk their duty, many Filipinos, the 16 million most of all, would likely treat this as a betrayal of the President himself.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Atty. Michael Henry Ll. Yusingco is a practicing lawyer. He is the author of the book, Rethinking the Bangsamoro Perspective. He researches on current issues in state-building, decentralization and constitutionalism.)

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