Monday, May 14, 2007

This article originally appeared at

Political Parties 101
Lou Janssen Dangzalan
14 May 2007

Tuazon, Bobby M. (2007) Oligarchic Politics: Elections and the Party-List System in the Philippines. Quezon City: Policy Study Publication and Advocacy & Center for People Empowerment in Governance.

A collection of essays, this book provides to those who have short memory a brief and accessible history of oligarchic politics from the American colonial period to the present. The articles approach oligarchic politics through the lens of the development of our political party system.
The book’s main critique, albeit not entirely new, is that the elite party system and its oligarchic politics fail in building true political parties that articulate public-interest issues. It falls short in putting forward a trailblazing idea in the study of oligarchic politics in the country. It simply uses the development of political parties, elections and the party-list elections as its anchor.
Francis Gealogo, one of the authors, points out a known fact about Philippine political parties—that these have not been ideologically-driven (with the exception of the Communist Party of the Philippines, according to Roland Simbulan) and that they do not enjoy the support of a mass base. These parties are what political scientists call legislative clique parties or elite parties.
The book thus documents attempts to build ideologically driven parties that are distinct from mainstream political parties. They cite, during the American colonial period, the formation of the Sakdal party and the Socialist Party of the Philippines as examples.

Romanticizing the Party-List System?
But one juncture in history seems to be the point of unity for the articles, and that is the inclusion of the party-list system in the post-Marcos period.
The party list is one of the many forms of proportional representation. In the Philippines, we have a House of Representatives that is a mixed member system, which is a hybrid combining single-member district representatives (i.e. our regular congressmen) and party-list representation. The 1987 Constitution provides that 20% of the members of the House of Representatives shall consist of party-list representatives.
Though not flawless, the authors say that the system has given political party development in the country some boost.

A caveat though: echoing University of the Philippines professor Felipe Miranda’s sentiments during the book launch, caution must be taken for there is always the danger of romanticizing the party-list system. The book argues that party-list systems do not guarantee political stability and the representation of the greater majority’s sentiments. They cite as an example the failed proportional representation system in Germany leading to the rise to power of the Nazis, thus prompting the post-World War II victors to augment the German system with an English-style single-member district system to prevent the rise of similar extremist parties.
Roland Simbulan’s recommendation in his remarks thus raises questions. Without elaborating on the reasons for such a recommendation, he stated that “[he] would like to see the day when all 24 Senate seats are reserved for nationally-elected party-list organizations while at least one-third of the House of Representatives are reserved for regionally-elected party-list representatives.”

Silent on Links to the Armed Left
The authors point to the Left as a possible contender in bringing about a force that will change the political order substantially. They argue that for the entire duration of the history of political parties in the Philippines, there has always been a marginalization of left-wing political parties.

The expulsion of the members of the Democratic Alliance after the Second World War, and the sedition charges leveled against left-leaning politicians since the inception of electoral contests in the Philippines, betrays the elitist nature of our political and electoral system, the authors contend.

Ely Manalansan, Jr. cites the example of party-list representative Crispin Beltran who has been detained since February 2006. He laments that the government has been using the “legal ruse of rebellion” to thwart the gains of left-wing party-list organizations.
These arguments are nothing new for we hear these from the ranks of the left leaning party-list organizations. What the authors are silent about is the issue of the party-list organizations being fronts for the armed Left, specifically, the New People’s Army Surely if one would conduct an exhaustive study on the party-list system, its transformative potentials, and the Left within the context of oligarchic politics, this area should not be left out.

Betrayal of Proportions
One of the more significant points in the book is the clear and razor-sharp argument against the formula of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban.
Felix Muga II argues that the formula that has been reiterated by the Supreme Court decision in 2006 (Partido ng Manggagawa and BUTIL vs. COMELEC) violates the principle of proportional representation. Under that formula, the spirit of proportional representation through the party-list system is betrayed as it becomes even harder for groups to hurdle the requirements to get additional seats. This leaves the 20% reserved seats for party-list representation under-occupied, thus marginalizing a system for the marginalized.
Muga recommends that the three-seat cap be removed along with the 2% minimum threshold in order to achieve full representation. Therein lies the problem.

In Germany, the minimum threshold has succeeded in impeding the entrance of extremist parties such as the Neo-Nazis. In fact the minimum threshold in other countries is higher than 2%.

The book’s value, really, is in the historical context it provides and the discussion on representation and the party-list system.

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