COLUMN: PARTYLESS

MANILA, January 6, 2004 (STAR) FIRST PERSON by Alex Magno - The 1987 Constitution specified a "multiparty system" for our electoral democracy. What this produced is a no-party system.

Since we adopted the current charter, what were presented to us as political parties were really coalitions gathered around major presidential personalities. The LDP was the coalition that gathered around former president Corazon Aquino. The Lakas was Fidel Ramos’ coalition. The NPC was Danding Cojuangco’s. The PMP was Joseph Estrada’s.

All of these "parties" were coalitions of convenience. They were never hard ideological blocs with fully developed orthodoxies. What they told voters in order to woo their votes were often very different from what they did when they found themselves with the responsibility for crafting policy.

But this is not entirely an act of omission on the part of our political class. It is true as well that we don’t have ideological voters who will support the growth and development of party-based politics.

Our voters make their choices on the basis of movie images, tribal loyalties and the endorsement of people they owe and allegiance to. The politics of popularity has induced movie actors, basketball stars, comedians and broadcasters to dominate our national politics.

It has been unfair that in the past we blamed only the politicians for making choices of convenience and abandoning principle on the road to electoral battle. Their decisions have been constrained by the character of our electorate – especially in the recent past when the oligarchic politics of landlord-politicians eroded before the tide of mass politics, of fiercely independent but under-informed voters.

In the run-up to the May elections, the political blocs have become more brazen – or more honest, depending on how one looks at it.

All notion of political party has been abandoned. All effort at philosophical – or even policy – coherence has been thrown to the wind. Pragmatism is not only allowed to govern decisions about affiliation and alliance, it has been advertised flagrantly as reconciliation.

For this election, we don’t see political parties.

Instead, we see a basically two cornered battle between two entities calling themselves coalitions: the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) that is fielding Fernando Poe for the presidency and the Gloria-led Koalisyon ng Katapatan at Karanasan sa Kinabukasan (K-4).

Raul Roco is heading up a "Coalition of Hope", although that seems to be unraveling too quickly. Panfilo Lacson anchored his strategy on capturing a political party – the LDP – instead of engaging in coalition-building. That has ended in disaster, putting him on a bitter coalition course with the Angara faction.

Not only are the major contenders in the forthcoming elections all anchoring their efforts on building the widest coalitions possible, they have also started poaching from each other’s camps. Individual candidates have straddled bitterly opposed alliances.

The KNP, for instance, grabbed Rep. Carlos Padilla – the only senatorial candidate of note for Lacson’s faction. Sen. Rodolfo Biazon has migrated, quite remarkably, from Roco’s Coalition of Hope, to Poe’s KNP and now to K-4. Sen. John Osmeña moved from KNP to K-4.

Rather incredibly, Miriam Defensor Santiago has bolted KNP only days after that coalition’s senatorial ticket was announced. As this is being written, she is being assiduously wooed by K-4. That is the main reason why President Gloria unveiled only an 11-person senatorial ticket yesterday morning, when she filed her certificate of candidacy.

Santiago expressed bitterness over the choice of Sen. Loren Legarda as Poe’s running-mate. It might be less a matter of personal animosity as it is a matter of personal disappointment. Santiago had angled to be Poe’s vice-presidential candidate.

To compound things even more, there was frantic talk last Sunday and yesterday that detained former president Joseph Estrada might decide to form his own ticket for the elections. Since the deadline for filing of candidacies was set for midnight Monday, we should know by now how that possibility has turned out.

Estrada has very publicly disagreed with some of Poe’s decisions. It seems he imagines himself as kingmaker, a perception that does not seem to be shared by Poe himself.

So far, it seems it is the pro-administration K-4 that has been winning in the poaching game. K-4 grabbed Noli de Castro to be the President’s running-mate. The pro-Gloria coalition has put together a powerhouse senatorial slate. The poaching is bound to continue to the local level, with the President’s men brokering local alliances around-the-clock.

The level of enthusiasm for coalition-building and the assembly of alliances of convenience does not characterize the other blocs. With the in-fighting going on in the LDP camp between the Lacson and Angara factions, no one seems to be minding the accreditation shop. For that matter, no one seems to know where local candidates should go to get accredited with the opposition bloc.

That will be fatal for both wings of the opposition when the campaign period sets in. That will leave them with large swaths where no local contenders are working to mobilize support for the opposition’s national candidates.

In all the localities, meanwhile, Lakas and Kampi are dividing up the major contenders for local posts, ensuring across-the-board support for the candidacy of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The ruling coalition knows fully well that the deficit in popularity can only be cured by hard work at putting a strong campaign network in place.

While the Comelec set January 5 as the deadline for filing of candidacies, it set January 15 as the deadline for the candidates to identify the groups they are affiliated with. This is for purposes of identifying affiliation in the ballot the Comelec will print early enough to ensure that they will be ready on election day.

The ticket unveiled by K-4 yesterday was a large bag of surprises, testament to the harsh fact that party boundaries are unreliable if they are there at all. The next few days will continue to hold more surprises – enough to dramatically alter the complexion of the main presidential contest.

It might be easy to condemn the political parties for lacking in integrity. It will be as easy to denounce our electoral system as a farce, an arena for short-lived alliances of convenience to be forged.

But we must remember that, like the rest of nature, political parties merely adapt to the environment within which we operate. Our electoral environment has been hostile to people who have difficulty changing their minds and, thus, changing their affiliations.


Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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