The state of Philippine political parties

The day of the SONA. I was in a meeting and on the road. I only had intermittent snapshots of the live footage. Early in the morning, I overheard a conversation, with a man saying that it’s SONA day and to this the woman asked, what’s that? I was sure the man was thinking (as I did) — where’s this woman from? But the man was polite and he tried to explain what it is. I sent him good energy – good luck with that, man! Later in the day, in the afternoon, during the speech, folks at the terminal looked at the screen, their faces appeared the reverse of cheerful (I imagined their facial features as having more emotion watching their favorite TV drama). These were a revelation: while the national capital or more specifically national media and the invited to Batasan made ready for SONA, the rest of the country had been going about its daily routine. When the President said ‘Boss’, how many recognized the implication of the address?

As for me, when I saw in passing a brief screenshot of the President, it dawned on me, watching him, that he is a liberal, of the Liberal Party. And that started the train of thought on the political parties in this country. Here’s a family tree of these Parties:

via Wikipedia

How many Filipinos vote based on Party ideals? Because whether or not they do tells a great deal how voters regard and deal with inconsistencies. But what are ideologies for? Why should a farmer, for instance, bother with ideologies?

An ideology offers an explanation of why social, political, and economic conditions are as they are, particularly in times of crisis… A Marxist might explain wars as an outgrowth of capitalists’ competition for foreign markets… A libertarian will probably explain inflation as the result of government interference in the marketplace… Their explanations are quite different…but all ideologies offer a way of looking at complex events and conditions that tries to make sense out of them…

The second function of ideologies is to supply (its followers) standards for evaluating social conditions… If you are a libertarian, for example, you are likely to evaluate a proposed policy by asking if it increases or decreases the role of government in the lives of individuals. If it increases government’s role, it is undesirable… Or if you are a communist, you are apt to ask how this proposal affects the working class and whether it raises or lowers the prospects of their victory in the class struggle… Whatever the position…it is clear that all ideologies provide standards or cues that help people assess, judge, and appraise social policies and conditions so that they help people decide whether those policies and conditions are good, bad or indifferent.

An ideology supplies its holder with an orientation and a sense of identity–of who he or she is, the group to which he or she belongs and how he or she is related to the rest of the world… If you are a communist for example you most likely think of yourself as a member of the working class who belongs to a party devoted to freeing workers from capitalist exploitation and oppression and therefore implacably opposed to the ruling capitalist class…

An ideology…tells its followers what to do and how to do it… If you are a libertarian your political program will include proposals for reducing or eliminating government interference in people’s lives… But if you are a traditional conservative, you may want the state or government to intervene in order to promote morality or traditional values…

Let’s take the Liberal Party of the Philippines. Its ideals, as stated on its website, is liberal democratic. Like that woman, we ask “what’s that?”

Liberal democracy is a form of government in which representative democracy operates under the principles of liberalism.

Liberalism, in a nutshell

The program of liberalism…if condensed into a single word, would have to read: property, that is, private ownership of the means of production… All the other demands of liberalism result from this fundamental demand.

Let’s go to the Nacionalista Party of the Philippines. What does it stand for? Its website says

Q: What is the slogan of the Party?
A: Ang Bayan Higit sa Lahat. (The country above all things)

Q: What is the core value of the Nacionalista?
A: From its inception, Independence has been a value held dear by the Nacionalistas. In fact, some of them paid for this value with their lives during the first half of the 20th century. The Nacionalistas achieved political independence from its colonial masters. Now, the focus is on achieving economic independence.

Today, the continuing struggle for independence center on freeing its people from the oppressive manacles of poverty. It is a vision that will require fresh ideas, courage, and self-sacrifice-a supply of which is never lacking among the current crop of Nacionalistas.

In the latest elections, the LP coalesced with the NP despite their values being fundamentally at opposite ends. How? LP promotes liberalism while the NP, historically, is founded on conservatism. In the UK, it would be like the marriage of the Labour Party and the Tories – a political sacrilege! But apparently here, well, only in da the Philippines.

United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). I can’t find its website. But it has a Facebook account, with 1,050 likes and in order “to connect with United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), sign up for Facebook today”.

Lakas-CMD has no website. Nothing about itself out there.

The Nationalist People’s Coalition, according to its website

npc

The Parties’ websites are wanting: why do they do a particular set of activities? what ideals drive them? how do they engage with the people? how do they make themselves relevant? Let’s have a look at the more advanced sites of major Parties in the US and UK.

UK’s Conservative Party
conservatives-uk

UK’s Labour Party
labour-uk

The US’ Democrats
democrats

The US’ Republicans
republicans

The force of these Parties is palpable even online.

When the media exhorts the public to vote intelligently and to be particular about professionalism, I myself couldn’t picture what these exhortations mean, not because I’m illiterate and poor but rather the Parties themselves can’t paint to the public the picture of intelligence and professionalism. Voters need to have a working definition of these in order to detect and veer away from what is stupid and unprofessional.

Without a working definition, Filipinos, at least the many who do, vote based on popularity and celebrity status (fame, wealth, and power) of personalities because these are things they understand–see–in concrete terms.

When you go to the NP home page, you’re swamped with the honorable Cynthia Villar. I’m not against the honorable C. Villar occupying the Party’s headlines but can the site have a more balanced information? If for example I’m interested in supporting NP and I go to its site, there’s nothing there that will leave an unequivocal picture of the Party. There’s only C. Villar and articles on accomplishments that appear to be solely hers. The Party, NP, is effectively relegated to the background, leaving you rather confused. In such a case, why not redesign the site to one dedicated to promoting the Senator?

There’s also the exhortation for citizens to participate in the political process yet these Parties have not informed citizens how they could through the Parties. I’m not sure if it’s the NP or NPC which encouraged citizens to participate through the Party, yet doesn’t mention how exactly. The major Parties in the US and UK as seen earlier are transparent about how they engage citizens. Similarly, the UK Parliament informs the public how locals can engage with their representatives — and the means, you don’t have to be schooled at Oxford in order to get yourself through the process; that access to representatives isn’t as challenging as finding the galaxy of X:

uk-parliament

Back to Political Parties and ideologies. How many Filipinos affiliate themselves and vote based on political ideals and resulting platforms? How many know what ideologies are, what liberalism is, what the Liberal Party for example stands for? I don’t know who the Parties are trying to fool, the voters or themselves, when in the recent elections they threw about their affiliation to the Parties at the same time promised things that contradicted the values of their Parties. That’s when you know it’s not about “serving the people”.

And now this pork barrel scam. What Parties do the alleged scammers belong to? To them, please review your Party ideals, values, and manifestos. The resolution of the scam didn’t have to be debated in Congress or the Senate (besides these things are not for debate but outright court investigation and decision), it should’ve been resolved at the level of the Party because members who bring shame to the Party well what is the Party’s stand on that? And now the clamor is for the pork to be scrapped. It’s like saying let’s raise a pig without the fat; if you want a pig without its fat it’s a fat-sucked-out dead pig you have. People are taxed so that government can have some fat, it’s a given. It’s not the pig or its fat. You may have left your wallet in a taxi but if the driver believes in honesty as the best policy he’ll find a way so that it will get back to you. But if the the driver believes that finders are keepers, the sooner you forget about your wallet the better for your health. The SK too. The Parties have not provided political molding and direction to their young members who are in SK, yet the finger is directed at the young people and their agency of participation proposed to be scrapped. In scrapping the pork and the SK, we might as well scrap the Parties. It follows the same logic.

The Parties are a mess. (The only professional looking website – though in want of more information on its programs and citizen engagement – is the Liberal Party’s.) Like the pork, the Party system has been debased. The Parties founded on nationalism, for example, what have they done in the name of nationalism, at local and national levels? How have the Parties contribute to the political maturity of Filipino voters, citizens? Their member-scammers — a Filipino admonition comes to mind — walang prinsipyo. So watching the President, I feel for him. He really has inherited some especially big things. Worse, public reaction is that he is Superman and the rest need only to stand back.

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