MANILA, Philippines – From the usual features that define democracy — representation and participation of people, control of executive power and equality of opportunity — the Philippines is an awfully dysfunctional model, lending truth to the phrase used by former Chief Justice Reynato Puno, that it has a “façade democracy.”
This brutally frank assessment of the political situation was shared recently at the “Kapekonomiya” forum sponsored by the UP School of Economics Student Council.
Political parties and processes took centerstage in light of the upcoming midterm elections, with organizers keen on knowing how the election campaign and the behavior of parties and candidates will impact the economy.
At the forum moderated by UP Prof. Barry Gutierrez, the country representative of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, Dr. Peter Koppinger, began by ticking off the traditional concepts associated with truly working democracies.
He didn’t mince words: “Let me start with saying, there is something awfully wrong with the democracy in this country. This is my understanding after living here for more than three years and having observed and cooperated in many countries.”
As a political scientist, Koppinger told the forum, “democracy is about representation of people , it is about participation of people in decision making. It’s about control of executive power and equality of opportunity.”
Here he elaborates on what he described as some key features of a genuine, mature democracy:
1) Real representation. “Representing means you have an influence on the people who represent you in this country. And do you have an influence on the candidates which the different political parties send into the elections? As the stakeholders in the democracy, can they influence the different parties set up?”
2) Participation. “Participation goes through different functions. Parties come up with different political programs. You know [for instance] that this party stands for focusing on education programs and rebuilding the taxation system and that and that and that. But if you look at the platforms of the political parties these are merely motherhood statements. They are not different from each other in a real meaningful way. With the exception of course of the Akbayan.”
3) Concrete ideology solutions.
4) Accountability from elected party representatives. “If the representatives of these party members are voted into office, are there party members who can hold them liable [after] the elections? NO, because these parties are composed of officials, and not citizens who vote them,” he added, referring to the system in, say, the US, where Democratic Party members are working-class citizens who demand that their representatives who get elected must articulate the issues that resonate with them, whether it is health insurance or gun control or tax relief.
Therefore, Koppinger concluded, with the set-up where the party members are the political officials also, “[there is] no real participation of the people,” which becomes incarnate when citizens as party members can influence policy later on.
5) Control of executive power in the system. Koppinger’s verdict is also dim because ordinary folk “don’t know about the options to hold them accountable.”
He went on, “Can you hold them accountable? This has happened several times in the past 20 years in your country. There are no strong parties that can hold them accountable – no control of executive power.”
6) Equality of opportunities. He pointed to the slim chance that the ordinary citizens can become a senator or a president. “Who can be a president when you need at least 10 Million US Dollars to run a national campaign?”
With such key features of democracy absent or flawed in the country, the KAF official concluded, “the system is awfully wrong. The system is wrong. Democracy, doesn’t work . As your former chief justice Renato Puno says, this is all a facade. Democracy in the Philippines is only a facade.”
Having said that, he underscored the need for real political parties where the “citizens have an influence on who will represent them and the capability to hold them liable;” parties with real ideological solutions; and which give the opportunity for normal citizens to run for office if they are competent.
Criteria for good parties
Moving on, he cited the criteria for good parties. “There are no parties where the citizens are the one who run the party. Another important thing to look at is, who is financing it? If you have a patron financing the party, you also need citizens running the party.”
The institutionalized system in mature democracies where members pay dues to run the party needs to be entrenched in the Philippines, he said.
“You must have parties who are financed partially, at least in the basic structure, by membership dues of the citizens and this must not be a huge amount.”
His example: If you have a party of citizens and this party has 20,000-30,000 members and they pay at least 1 peso a day, then you have P20-30,000. “Then you can now run the basic structure. And don’t say people are not able to do that. It’s a matter of mindset.”
Summing up the criteria for a good party system, he concluded that “parties which do not fulfill these four criteria are not real political parties.”
The four criteria are:
- It is a party of citizens.
It is a party with internal discipline, and democratic structure where decisions are made from bottom up.
It has a clear programmatic orientation; clear ideological orientation and clear answers on how to address the problems of the country.
The party must exist not just during the elections time but ongoing.
These parties, he added, must be able to hold accountable the ones elected. “So if the party does not exist between the elections, forget about them.”
As for his prescription on how to remedy the Philippine situation, Koppinger lists these to-dos:
First, a different legal framework must be in place, where first, a party must be forced to have internal democratic structures and to have citizens as members and not just in the elected positions.
Second, there is need for a legal framework in which the financing of the parties is controlled. This means no single person or entity is giving such a huge amount of money that the party becomes dependent on it. It must be limited.
Third, turncoatism must be curbed.
Fourth, parties must be less dependent on donations. There must be state subsidies for educational projects; civic education leaders who are there not only for campaigning.
Finally, he said, since more than half of the voting population is young, there must be good role models they can look up to, who will make it worth their time to be engaged politically.
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