Party Party! But which is which?*

By Julius Ryan Umali and Myk Gregory Albao 

Liberal Party. National People’s Coalition. Kabataan Party-List. Nacionalista Party. United Nationalist Alliance. Communist Party of the Philippines – Are these all the same?

Sa pagkaka-alam ko, yung party-list kase, parang merong tinutulungan. ‘Yung partynaman, kumbaga team yan eh,” said Nica Orciga, a college student who is also first time voter.She was unsure of her very own answer to the question “What’s the difference between a political party and a party-list?” And she is one of countless others who do not understand the political concepts that electorate face every three years during elections.

 A political party, says UP Political Science Professor Jean Encinas-Franco, is in essence a team, just like Nica thought. “Political parties recruit members and select those that they can field in electoral contests. The politicians selected are the ones voted by the citizens,” explained Prof. Franco.

 Thus, the Liberal Party, for example, has members from all over the archipelago that are chosen as candidates for the senatorial elections and positions all the way down to municipal-level polls. This is also related to what we call slates, or a list of officially-endorsed candidates who will be the standard bearer of political parties for the elections.

 Prof. Franco said that party-lists are in essence, also political parties. But party-lists mainly seek seats in the country’s legislative body, specifically, the House of Representatives. Party-lists “select nominees that will sit in the parliament the moment the political parties garners the required number of votes,” explained Prof. Franco.

 Whereas the candidates from the political parties have their actual name written on the ballot, the names of the parties in the party-list system appear instead, added Prof. Franco.

 So we don’t see Liberal Party or UNA or Bangon Pilipinas on the ballot, because they are political parties. They have the individual names of the members of their slates or their standard bearers to represent them. But we do see the party-lists like Buhay, CIBAC, Kabataan, Gabriela, etc. When they get the required number of votes, they will be represented by one to three nominees, depending on how many votes they get.

 The party-list system aims specifically to represent the marginalized sectors, according to Article VI of the 1987 Philippine Constitution. But it is not only used in the Philippines; countries such as Spain, Israel and Albania have their own versions of the party-list system.

 Politics: More fun in the Philippines

While it is common sense that these instruments (the political parties and party-list system) should be employed for the good of the Philippine society as a whole, the benefits might be limited to the entertainment the public get when opposing parties (and in the present election season, party-lists) start the mudslinging and muckraking during the election period

“The present party set-up in the Philippines is advantageous to the elites. It is far from the traditional description of political parties, that is, as institutions for interest aggregation of societal goals,” lamented Prof. Franco, who teaches Philippine Government and Politics classes in UP.

 This is evident when politicians just slip away from party to party; jumping into another’s wagon whom they think will benefit their candidacy and their interests. She added, “[The party set-up] is personality-oriented and does not lend itself to serious discussions of policy issues. I don’t think it has advantages only disadvantages to a society that relies on parties to represent their interests.”

 In short, the electorate are made to choose those who have the celebrity appeal because of the present party system in the country.

 Ronald Molmisa, another UP Political Science professor, explained that this is nothing new. Ever since, politics has been “more fun in the Philippines,” if you get what that means.

 “Political parties since the American period have been elite-driven. During that time you cannot vote if you are not propertied or never had political leadership experience,” said Prof. Molmisa

 His words are echoed by Prof. Franco: “[Our political system] is a product of our historical and colonial experience which shaped our country’s political economy and our political institutions.”

 What now?

Aside from the fact that many like Nica do not really grasp the political system of the country (we’re just supposed to vote, right?), the overall system needs to change.

 Prof. Franco bleakly explained, “I don’t think it has advantages, only disadvantages to a society that relies on parties to represent their interests.”

 The citizens only have their representatives to speak out for them, and these representatives better have the right motives and right heart in their quest for political office. Otherwise, the House of Representatives might one day be full of phony representatives claiming to be champions of the marginalized.

 Prof. Molmisa gave an old but enduring advice: “The party-list system act should be implemented seriously. It must also faithfully adhere to its noble aim – to give the marginalized a voice in the legislature. Else, Philippine politics will remain an inter-elite rivalry. Our country is not really democracy but an oligarchy. Democracy only in form and procedures, but not in substance.”

 Political entities mentioned do not represent the writer’s political views. They are named as mere examples.

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