The short shelf life of Philippine political parties

"I hope the next president will see it fit to initiate revision of the 1987 Constitution and end this insanity of a multi-party system in presidential form."


What transpired in the last few weeks insofar as the PDP-Laban party is concerned demonstrates the truism, nurtured by the 1987 Constitution, that political parties in our setting are mere flags of convenience for the use of political ambition.

That is a fatal flaw in our political system. For all its supposed lack of differentiating ideology or principles, the presidential system was far better served during the Third Republic operating under the 1935 Constitution by the Nacionalista and Liberal parties.

Generations of political leaders and followers remained loyal to their respective parties. Conventions were the standard method of choosing candidates fielded in regular elections, whether national or local.

Party leaders, whether elected or nominated, chose the candidates to represent their party in political combat. This system of choice made certain that regional or ethno-linguistic groups were adequately represented in senatorial slates.

Thus, the NP and LP more or less equitably chose candidates representing the Ilocanos, the Tagalogs, the Kapampangan, the Bicolano, Ilonggo, Cebuano, Waray, Christian Mindanao and Muslim Mindanao in their national slates.  Conventions held about a year before election day were tightly-contested affairs within the party, with delegates from every city and province gathering together to choose their best and most winnable for the presidency.

Since the 1987 Constitution was adopted after the fall of authoritarian rule, we had no more Muslim candidate winning as senator since the late Mamintal Tamano and Santanina Rasul, both elected as two of 24 candidates in 1987.  In their place, we were swamped by celebrities and celluloid actors almost always from Metro Manila.

The last Waray senator, Decoroso Rosales, was elected along with Ramon Magsaysay, and before him Jose Avelino who became Senate President in Manuel Roxas’ presidency, although broadcast personality Senator Orly Mercado had paternal roots in Tanauan, Leyte.  Have we ever had an Igorot senator?  Nunca.  Any senator from Caraga?  Neither.

And then again, look at the shelf life of our parties.  UNIDO, the party under which Cory and Doy ran during the snap elections, the aftermath of which was the EDSA people power revolution, was virtually disbanded soon after the military recognized the popular will and installed Cory and Doy to political power.

In its stead, the merged PDP of Aquilino Pimentel and Laban of the late Ninoy Aquino became a major party, along with Senate President Jovito Salonga’s Liberal Party.  Then from the House of Representatives was born the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, the name of which was a play between Ninoy’s Laban and the usual “demokratiko” label used by Pimentel Sr.  It became the biggest political party until after its crushing defeat by Fidel V. Ramos and his hastily put up coalition called Lakas-NUCD.

In 1992, the following flags of convenience were used:  FVR’s Lakas, began by six or seven ribs taken out of the humongous LDP of Monching Mitra and Peping Cojuangco; Miriam Santiago’s hastily registered People’s Reform Party; Danding Cojuangco’s Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), a splinter group from Doy Laurel’s Nacionalista Party; Imelda R. Marcos’ resurrected Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL); and the coalition of LP and PDP where Salonga ran for president with Pimentel Sr. as his vice-presidential candidate.  Initially running for president under his own Partido ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), Joseph Estrada midway through the campaign coalesced with NPC and became ECJ’s vice-president, winning as such.

Since Lakas-NUCD’s FVR won over Miriam’s PRP by a whisker, Lakas became the dominant political barkadahan until it made the mistake of fielding Joe de Venecia for president against the uber-popular Joseph Estrada, who formed a coalition with Ed Angara’s LDP, and supported by Cojuangco’s NPC, formed an umbrella group called Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino (LAMMP), which ended with Estrada’s fall from power in January 2001.

Because Gloria Macapagal Arroyo ran as vice-president under the Lakas banner of Joe de Venecia and FVR, Lakas became the party in power, with the original NUCD of Christian Democrats subsumed.  Everybody and his mother migrated from their parties and joined Lakas.  The other parties remained either “jeepney” or “tricycle” parties hibernating with a few cohorts.

But Lakas was thrashed by Noynoy Aquino’s Liberal Party in 2010, which then became the largest shelter for politicians of various original stripes.  A politician from Region 8 for instance, was originally allied with Monching Mitra’s LDP, then transferred to Lakas with FVR’s victory, then became LAMMP with Erap, then Lakas with GMA, then LP when PNoy was in power.  Guess where he is now?  Why, PDP-Laban, of course.

By an accident of fate, Rodrigo Duterte needed an instant flag of convenience to keep his candidacy in magnified suspense.  The PDP now led by Aquilino Jr. or Koko Pimentel became the FOC.  And so now, everybody and his mother swear by the PDP-Laban.

The other FOCs became convenient tools for continuing bargaining leverage of big business:  NP of Villar; NPC of the late Danding Cojuangco; NUP of Enrique Razon, plus a plethora of party lists owned by nascent dynastic or fledgling vested interests.

Remaining in some sort of political somnolence were FOCs previously used:  Reporma of Renato de Villa’s losing run in 1998, People’s Reform Party of Miriam Santiago, Aksyon Demokratiko of the late Raul S. Roco, PMP of Erap and Jinggoy Estrada, LDP of the late Ed Angara now inherited by Senator Sonny, and UNA of former VP Jojo Binay.  These parties are waiting for the appropriate presidential candidate to field or be in coalition with for 2022.

But for now, the major administration party, the PDP Laban is rent asunder between two warring factions: That of the president himself as represented by DOE Sec. Alfonso Cusi, and Manny Pacquiao, himself sponsored by the son of PDP’s founder, Koko Pimentel.

Each faction will likely bring the matter of legitimacy before the Comelec, eventually reaching the Supreme Court.

Hopefully, the next president will see it fit to initiate revision of the 1987 Constitution and end this insanity of a multi-party system in presidential form.  

 Since it is unlikely that the people will not want to give up their right to elect the supreme leader of their choice, the president, we may have to adopt a unitary, presidential form of government, until a more progressive economy renders the environment for a parliamentary set-up in the future. 

So then let us revert to a two-party system, and initiate other political reforms.

* * *

We grieve over the passing of beloved Tita Celia Diaz Laurel, wife of democracy icon Salvador “Doy” Laurel, best friend of Ninoy Aquino and vice-president of Cory.

Not only was she a great artist, in the visual, music and theater arts; she was an inspiration to all of us who worked with her husband Doy in forming the UNIDO way back in 1982, and nurturing it to become the political vehicle for the return of democracy to the land.

After a hard day’s work, she always fed us well with home-cooked meals at her Shaw Boulevard residence and at times, the whole Laurel family would end the day with an evening soiree of lovely music with her talented children.

She now joins Tito Doy, who left this world 18 years before, and together they will sing with the choir of angels.

Topics: Lito Banayo , PDP-Laban , political parties , 1987 Constitution , Nacionalista party , Liberal party
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