Strong competitive parties are necessary for a strong and inclusive democracy, where the State protects the political and economic rights of both majority and minority groups, the rule of law prevails, and there is equal opportunity to justice. Philippine political parties, however, can be characterized as weak in general.
For sociologist Randolf David, the following characteristics of Philippine political parties make them quite different from North American and West-European parties:
(1) official membership is limited to politicians, (2) there is no regular recruitment of non-politician members, (3) there are no regular sources for party funds, (4) there are few party activities outside the election season, (5) party platforms are prepared mainly for compliance with State documentary requirements, and (6) loyalty to personalities is stronger than party loyalty. (David, 170)
David gave this assessment in 1996, before the Bayan Muna (People First) party was organized in 1999 and won seats in Congress since 2001 and every succeeding election. Bayan Muna is the political party of a militant mass movement that identifies foreign domination and feudal bondage as the basic problems of Philippine society. While it is the most disciplined party and it actively builds up mass membership, it remains a minority party. Some groups accuse Bayan Muna of being an electoral front of the outlawed New People’s Army of the communist insurgency.
The bigger parties (Lakas-Kampi, NPC, Liberal Party) maintain their dominance partly because of patronage politics or the prevailing culture of patron-clientism and dependency especially among the masses. The characteristics identified by David are reaffirmed a decade later by Rodolfo Severino, who concludes that there are “no real political parties” in the country “through which people can articulate their preferences, priorities and grievances” (Severino, 336).
For believers in inclusive democracy, it is imperative to strengthen Philippine political parties so they can do better in the following: (1) promoting a clear political vision and coherent policies that persuade and inspire the citizenry, (2) providing a system and context for the theoretical and practical training of current and future political leaders, and (3) raising campaign funds with efficiency, transparency, and accountability.
The parties ought to prioritize the enactment of a Political Party Development Law (House Bill 3655 and Senate Bill 67), which is stalled in the two houses of Congress. Among the major features of the proposed law are the following: the creation of “a State Subsidy Fund for both party development and campaign financing,” the requirement of full disclosure and the establishment of a monitoring system in the use of the Subsidy Fund, the requirement of an established participatory process for selecting the candidates of an accredited party, and the punishment of party-switching or political turncoatism (Casiple, 2-4).
The political parties have weak party discipline, and this weakness has roots in the history of successful party-switching by presidential candidates. The late Presidents Ramon Magsaysay (1953-1957) and Ferdinand Marcos (1965-1986) won after they changed parties to challenge the incumbent presidents who were running for re-election (Navarro, 113-15, 215-20). Fidel Ramos (1992-1998) participated in the party convention of the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), the biggest party in 1991, to offer himself as its presidential candidate, but when he was not chosen, he left and formed his own party, Lakas-CMD, with which he won.
Besides a Party Development Law that can strengthen party discipline, there are other priorities, which can be drawn from a survey on political parties which was commissioned by the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung
Nationwide, two-thirds (67%) of the respondents say that no political party “truly promotes their welfare,” while 27% identify some political party that does so. Regardless of area (NCR, Bal. Luzon, Visayas, &
Party-leaning is weak among all classes from ABC, the upper to middle classes, to class D, the working poor, and class E, the very poor. The low percentage of Filipinos that are party-leaning suggests that the parties have not sufficiently informed, inspired, and persuaded the citizenry about their political visions, policies, and platforms.
Unfortunately, “party platforms are prepared mainly for submission to the Commission on Elections.…They are not meant to be a guide to the political education of the electorate, nor to govern the conduct of those elected to public office under party emblems.” (David, 171)
The political parties are neither inspiring nor persuasive, for they “are for the most part only loose coalitions of self-centered individuals and groups without any strong binding force or program to which they are committed” (Carroll, 158).
Party Leaning and Educational Attainment
The percentage of respondents who have no party leaning decreases with progress in education. Around four-fifths (81%) of the respondents who are not elementary graduates, 69% of elementary but not high school graduates, 63% of high school but not college graduates, and 56% of college graduates say that no party promotes their welfare.
While 27% of Filipinos (projected at 13.6 million) can name some political party that promotes their welfare, 12% of non-elementary graduates, 25% of elementary but not high school graduates, 29% of high school but not college graduates, and 38% of college graduates can do so. Party leaning among Filipino adults seems to increase with higher educational attainment.
Respondents were shown certain characteristics of political parties, and were asked to identify to which parties they applied. The characteristics are as follows: (a) does many things that benefit the citizens; (b) has noble leaders; (c) has a realistic platform; (d) recruits candidates who are truly qualified; (e) interacts with many sectors like farmers, workers, indigenous peoples, etc; (f) faithful to the true will of the party members.
A plurality of Filipino adults (28-31%), regardless of class, says that no party has the favorable characteristics enumerated above. Among party-leaning Filipinos, college graduates have a stronger tendency to affirm those characteristics in some party.
Except with one characteristic, Lakas-CMD is the top choice followed by the Liberal Party (LP) and Bayan Muna, among the respondents who have identified a party that possesses those favorable characteristics.
Respondents were asked which political party “has great capability” in the following:
(a) addressing the problems of the economy; (b) fighting inflation in the cost of living; (c) eradicating graft and corruption; (d) promoting peace and order; (e) reconciling with Muslim rebels; (f) resolving the communist insurgency.
A plurality of Filipino adults (29-33%), regardless of class, says that no party has the capabilities enumerated above. Lakas is the top choice followed by the LP, among the respondents who identify a party that possesses those capabilities.
On the question about which party has great capability in “reconciling with Muslim rebels,” 33% say no party. As regards geographical area, there is a notable gap between 44% of NCR respondents and 24% of
On the question about which party has great capability in “resolving the communist insurgency,” 33% say no party. As regards geographical area, there is a notable gap between 45% of NCR respondents and 27% of
Party leaning increases with educational attainment among Filipino adults in which 38% of college graduates have party leaning, while only 12% of non-elementary graduates do so. Party-leaning college graduates, however, have the lowest percentage of those who consider themselves party members. Among party-leaning Filipinos, 10% of college graduates, 17% of high school but not college graduates, 22% of elementary but not high school graduates, and 22% of non-elementary graduates consider themselves party members. These figures suggest that political parties ought to target more college graduates in their recruitment for party membership.
Nationwide, only 5% of Filipino adults (approximately 2.4 million) consider themselves party members, and
Reasons for Membership
Respondents were asked to choose from five reasons that would induce them to become members or continue to be members of a political party, and were allowed multiple responses. A third (35%) say they want to learn more about politics; 28% want to participate in selecting party candidates for national offices; 24% want to participate in selecting party candidates for local offices; 19% want to have access to politicians; 13% want to participate in formulating the party programs. At 37%, class D has the greatest interest in learning more about politics, with class E at 34%, and classes ABC at 26%.
Among college graduates, the opportunity to select national candidates is considered slightly more important (32%) than the opportunity to learn more about politics (30%). Also, college graduates have the most interest in participating in the formulation of party programs (16%).
For those college graduates who consider themselves party members, their interest in formulating party programs is their most preferred reason (47%) for their continuing membership. Political parties ought to target more college graduates for recruitment if they want members who have less interest in patronage politics and more interest in shaping party programs and policies.
For party members in classes ABC, access to politicians is their most preferred reason (59%) for membership, while for those in class D, this is their least preferred reason (20%). The most preferred reason of party members in class D is the opportunity to participate in selecting the party’s local candidates (37%).
The responses suggest that the parties will strengthen themselves and their support from the grass roots by engaging in recruitment and educational activities especially among class D, which has the most interest in political education, and by involving their respective members in the process of selecting the local and national candidates of the parties.
Without a law that requires an established participatory process in selecting candidates and which strengthens and regulates campaign financing, candidate selection “can be bought from the parties” (Hellmann, 10).
When asked about party-switching by politicians after elections, about half of the respondents (49%) say this is neither bad nor right. A third (35%) say this is bad (usually or always), while 15% say this is right (usually or always). The high plurality of respondents who are neutral or indifferent on this issue is one of the roots of weak party discipline.
Neutral opinion on party-switching prevails in Balance Luzon (54%), in class D (50%), and among high school but not college graduates (54%), with the balance of opinion tilting toward those who say it is bad. Negative opinion as regards party-switching is most pronounced in the Visayas (43%), in classes ABC (42%), and among college graduates (43%).
Negative opinion is higher among those who consider themselves party members (49%) than that of the general population (35%), and this negative opinion is most pronounced in the Visayas (67%), among non-elementary graduates (74%) and college graduates (66%), and in class D (59%). It seems that party members in class D are the ones who can be considered vanguards against party-switching.
Among the 35% who say party-switching is bad, two-thirds (65%) say that politicians who do this should be removed from their posts rather than be fined or left unpunished, and this opinion has the highest percentages regardless of area, class, and educational attainment especially in the Visayas (75%), in class E (74%), and among elementary but not high school graduates (76%).
Importance of Candidate over Party
When asked about the importance of the candidate versus the party in their voting decisions, pluralities of Filipinos by area and educational attainment said that “the candidate and the party matter equally,” whether one voted for a member of Congress (46%) or for a Mayor (44%). The balance of opinion tilts towards those who say that “only the candidate matters,” whether one votes for a member of Congress (29%) or for Mayor (33%).
High pluralities of class D (49%) and class E (41%) say that candidate and party matter equally when voting for Congress. With classes ABC, 40% say that candidate and party matter equally, but another 40% say that only the candidate matters, when voting for Congress. Only the candidate matters for 28% of class D and 27% of class E.
When voting for Mayor, high pluralities of class D (47%) and class E (42%) say that candidate and party matter equally. With classes ABC, a high plurality (47%) says that only the candidate matters when voting for Mayor.
The tilt of opinion towards the candidate is stronger among classes ABC. For those who maintain the belief that candidate and party matter equally, class D should be their primary target of recruitment for party membership.
In the eyes of the public, the importance of a political party will never be able to sufficiently match or surpass the importance of its individual candidates, as long as the party’s commitment and effectiveness in helping its candidates towards electoral victory is not matched by its commitment and effectiveness in articulating and promoting a clear political vision and coherent policies and programs.
Awareness of Party Association of Prominent Politicians
When asked about which politicians came to mind when specific parties were mentioned, pluralities of the respondents either said “none” (36% to 43%) or they “don’t know” (35% to 38%). These responses show low public awareness of the link of prominent politicians with their respective parties. This low awareness suggests that politicians do insufficient public promotion of their parties.
Politicians and their parties have insufficiently informed, inspired, and persuaded the citizenry about their party visions, policies, and platforms. This partly explains the low percentage of Filipinos that are party-leaning (27%).
It is probable that insufficient party discipline and the propensity of many politicians to switch parties lessen party ability to persuade and inspire citizens to support party visions and policies, but in turn the high plurality of citizens (49%) who are neutral or indifferent to party-switching does not encourage political leaders to strengthen party discipline.
There is a significant minority (35%) of Filipinos who think that party-switching is usually or always bad, and most of those who hold this negative opinion agree that the political turncoat should be punished by removal from his/her elective post.
A plurality of Filipino adults (at least 28%), regardless of class, says that no party has favorable characteristics such as “has noble leaders,” “recruits candidates who are truly qualified,” “faithful to the true will of the party members,” etc; a plurality also says no party has great capabilities in “resolving the communist insurgency,” reconciling with Muslim rebels,” “promoting peace and order,” etc.
Among the Filipinos who identified a party as possessing the enumerated favorable characteristics and capabilities, Lakas-CMD, the biggest party, is the top choice in 11 out of 12 categories, with the Liberal Party as the 2nd choice in 8 out of 12 categories. Bayan Muna is the top choice in 1 category, and the 2nd choice in another category.
Pluralities of Filipinos by area and educational attainment say that the candidate and the party matter equally, whether one votes for a member of Congress (46%) or for a Mayor (44%). The balance of opinion, however, tilts towards those who say it is only the candidate that matters, and this tilt towards the candidate is strongest among classes ABC.
Political parties should take to heart the survey findings that show that the most preferred reason for party membership is the opportunity to learn more about politics (35%). In this light, parties ought to organize more educational and recruitment activities in which they articulate and explain their political visions and policies.
Unfortunately, political parties are mere electoral vehicles of politicians during the campaign period and their friendship clubs outside the election season. To ensure mass memberships, parties should do more recruitment of non-politicians like professionals, small entrepreneurs, and private sector employees from class D, which among the classes has the most interest in political education and the highest plurality of those who believe that the candidate and the party matter equally in voting for a national legislator and a local chief executive.
The parties will strengthen themselves and their support from the grass roots by involving their respective members in the process of selecting their national and local candidates. The opportunity to participate in the process of candidate selection follows the opportunity for political education as a major reason for Filipinos to join and stay in a party.
Parties should target also college graduates for recruitment, as they have the following: (a) the least interest in patronage politics, (b) the most interest in shaping party programs, (c) the highest percentage of those with party leaning, and (d) the lowest percentage of party members.
Political parties ought to prioritize political education and mass membership, as only 5% of Filipino adults (around 2.4 million) consider themselves party members, while there are 27% of Filipinos (around 13.6 million) who can be regarded as party-leaning or who do not think that all political parties are worthless to them.
The priorities ought to include also the completion of the Political Party Development Law that would create a State Subsidy Fund for party development and campaign financing, require an established participatory process for selecting party candidates, and punish party-switching.
2006 Social Weather Stations (SWS) Survey on Philippine Political Parties
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Casiple, Ramon. “Philippine Political Party Reform: Reality and Concrete Action.” Unpublished paper, 2008.
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Gonzalez, Dennis. “Elections, Popular Culture, and Democracy.” In How To Win an Election: Lessons from the Experts, 10-19. Edited by Chay F. Hofileña.
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