COMMENT: New Politics Syndrome

When the 1987 Constitution mandated the multi-party system, the party-list system, and term limit for elected officials, it ushered new politics. On January 20, 2001 President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo gave new politics a big push when, in her inaugural speech, she pledged to change “our politics of personality and patronage”.

Twenty years after, the multi-party system, the party-list system, and the term limits have mutated and “new politics” has become the abnormality. President Arroyo’s push has turned to be a pull. The signs and symptoms are unmistakable in the present midterm election.

Multi-Party System

The multi-party system has mutated into the coalition system. Political parties organized by individual leaders to promote their presidential ambitions are too small to win an election on their own. So, several such parties have to coalesce, usually around a bigger dominant party, in order to have a share of the political pie.

Normally and ideally, a political party is “a group of persons organized for the purpose of directing the policies of a government”. Obviously, not this but personality cult is the real basis of the Philippine multi-party system. The party’s existence and advocacy float with the whims of and are co-terminus with its founder.

Under the multi-party system in other countries like Japan, parties coalesce to have a majority necessary to form a government. In the Philippines, parties coalesce to win an election but do not collectively govern after winning.

And worse, unsatisfied members leave their parties to join the opposing coalition. In reality, the coalition is built not around common issues but on the desire for power. Hence, winning is primary and anyone deemed “winnable” is welcome to the coalition. Winners, however, leave the coalition to form new alliances to serve self-interest.

Voters elect candidates by various forms of personal persuasions not by their stand on national issues and program of government – the commitment by which the elected can be judged while in office. Without that there is no basis for their accountability and for them to feel accountable.

The mutation of the multi-party system into the coalition system unless reversed will make our democratic election a perpetual farce. The only sure redemption is to return to the two-party system.

Party-list System

The party-list system is basically good. However, the 1987 Constitution does not clearly define the concept. Its definition by Congress in R.A. 7941 is open to abuse. Are all the party-lists accredited by the Commission on Elections falling within the concept?

Without a clear definition of the concept in the Constitution, it is difficult to resolve the question. Congress must have taken so much liberty in its definition and the Comelec must also have taken as much liberty in its interpretation of R. A. 7941.

In this election, some party-lists are being questioned as having been organized with funding by Malacañang. This has been denied but denials are cheaper than half a centavo. Nominees of some party-lists are not members of the sectors represented but are suspected to be financers of the party-lists or the financers’ nominees.

A party-list may not really represent the true sector originally conceived or the party-list nominee may not belong to the sector represented. This has made the party-list system an instrument for the powerful to be and to remain in power contrary to the original concept.

One redeeming grace is that, according to constitutional commission member Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, S.J., the party-list system is an experiment that can be scrapped if it doesn’t work. Through the three elections since 1998, it appears that the system has become more controversial. But only a constitutional amendment can abolish it.

Term Limit

The term limit for all elective officials from the President down to the town councilor is intended to open the elective positions to as many qualified leaders as possible. But the implementing rules have instead engendered the proliferation of political dynasties.

In the pre-martial law period when politicians could hold on to power as long as they won in elections, usually only one member of a family or clan was in power. Now, the term limit has not only not deterred the politicians from perpetuating themselves in power but also has put members of their families in power while going around the term limit..

As we see the practice now, Juan Cruz, on finishing his three-term limit as mayor, lets his wife run for the post in the next election and he runs for congress, governor, or even vice mayor to his wife. If he wins as congressman, he will serve either for three years or three terms then after that run again for mayor and his wife runs for congress.

As we also see, three, four or more members of a family can keep as many elective posts rotating among themselves. By MindaNews report, this is very true in Mindanao. And so it is in the whole country. President Arroyo’s family is much into the game.

With families keeping in rotation elective posts, the Philippines has become a dynastic or oligarchic democracy – a monstrous contradiction. This, too, is a mutation of a best-intentioned political reform.

Personality, Patronage

Personality and patronage are inseparable in politics. This is true between candidates and voters as it is true among candidates – the underlings and the godfathers or godmothers. Personality – which in politics connotes popularity, power and wealth — makes a leader; patronage keeps and enhances leadership.

Politics of personality and patronage played a big role in the making and unmaking of political leaders in pre-martial law era. But then candidates were chosen for their high qualities of leadership indispensable to good governance. Personality, though highly valued, came only next.

Today popularity, power and wealth are primary. Joseph Estrada won because of his popularity despite his lack of qualities to be president. That popularity as well as wealth has kept him in power to remain the godfather of the opposition even while under detention for plunder. The masses loyal to him are his biggest source of patronage.

President Arroyo is unpopular. But the powers of the president and the vast government resources in her control are the sources of her patronage. The local candidates, mostly belonging to Lakas-MCD and Kampi, the administration parties, have pledged votes for her TEAM Unity in exchange for her patronage and funds.

What breed of senators, representatives, governors and other local officials will the May 14 election yield? Look at TEAM Unity and Genuine Opposition to foresee the next Senate – and despair! The House will most likely remain the same – a House of varied vested interests.

President Arroyo, contrary to her inaugural pledge six years ago, has promoted the politics of personality and patronage for her political survival. She has presided over the mutation of “new politics”.

To cap the farce of “new politics”, look at this. She picked Manny Pacquaio, the “hero-worshipped” world boxing champion – brawny and new-rich but brainlessly unfit – as her candidate to unseat Rep. Darlene Antonino from the first district of South Cotabato.

Like AIDS, NPS will sap life out of Philippine democracy.

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to