A Boholano’s View by Jose “Pepe” Abueva The Bohol Chronicle July 1, 2012 Our Oligarchical Politics, Parties, and Senators

As we have said, our national political parties are loose alliances of politicians. mostly belonging to our political oligarchy made up of local and national family dynasties as patrons and their dependent allies: mga alalay or clientele. Their main aim is to capture governmental power through election to public office. They are not distinguished by their party platforms as a program of government and reform that bind their members after their election. Unlike in mature democracies, our parties do not have mass membership that take their party seriously. The parties are oligarchical, not democratic, in the choice of party candidates and the drafting of the party platform which is not a serious undertaking.

 

The party oligarchs decide who will run in the name of the party, with hardly any  participation of  the rank and file members. So unlike, say, the Democratic Party or the Republican Party in the United States. There it takes many months for each party to select its presidential candidate through primaries and caucuses, a presidential debate, and then the party nominating convention.

 

And after our presidential election, many opposition leaders join the party in power for their personal convenience. The aim is to share in the spoils and patronage of the President and the ruling party and coalition, for the personal good of the leaders and their local constituency. Neither the President of the Philippines nor his/her political party or coalition is accountable to the people for the success or failure of his/her leadership and administration; for the President has a single term of six years with no reelection.

 

A few Filipino political leaders are more principled in imbuing their candidacy and political party with a serious program of government and reform than most others. Even then, they don’t have a cohesive, loyal, and committed organization to pursue their aims against the selfish interests of their party or coalition members. We are still a transitional society with a pre-modern political structure in which personal, not principled and institutional, considerations, govern our selection of candidates for public office and the conduct of elected leaders.

The oligarchic selection of the senatorial candidates. For weeks now we the people at large are just watching how the political oligarchs—the rich, powerful, and influential leaders of the various parties and coalitions—are choosing their senatorial candidates while being covered extensively by the mass media. We are mere watchers and onlookers from the outside. The selection of the senatorial candidates is presented to us as sensational front-page news, high political drama, and personal conflict entertainment provided by our top politicians.

 

The ruling Liberal Party coalition led by President Benigno S. Aquino III and his senior party mates in his administration and the Senate and the House have selected the core of their senatorial ticket, minus a few more to make the whole Liberal Party slate.

Vice-President Jejomar Binay has joined his Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban)  with the Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) of former President Joseph Estrada into the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA).

Focus on “the political hero.” Meanwhile, Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III has been the cynosure of the political drama: “the political flavor of the month.” Cheated of his election to the Senate in 2007 by massive electoral fraud in Maguindanao, Koko protested his defeat to fellow Mindanaonon, Miguel Zubiri. Koko was deemed the legally elected senator and assumed his post only in August 2011, with just two years of his remaining term.

Confronted with the outcome of Koko’s protest, Zubiri resigned as Senator as the honorable action in the circumstances. He claimed he had nothing to do with the electoral fraud that favored himself. Meanwhile, Zubiri has been welcomed as a senatorial candidate from Mindanao of the United Nationalist Alliance by both former President Joseph Estrada and Vice-President Jejomar Binay.

In the 2010 presidential, senatorial, and local elections, vice-presidential candidate Binay enjoyed the support of the PDP Laban, under whom Koko Pimentel had run as a candidate for the Senate. Meanwhile, Koko is President of the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino—Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) that his father, former Senator Aquinilino “Nene” Pimentel, Jr. had founded. The PDP-Laban is presently chaired by Vice-President Jejomar Binay.

As mentioned, PDP-Laban and Joseph Estrada’s Puwersa ng Masang Pilipino have formed the Nationalist People’s Alliance (United Nationalist Alliance) for the 2013 elections, looking forward to the 2016 presidential elections.

According to Senator Koko, he could not in conscience and principle campaign in the same coalition ticket with Zubiri who had cheated and deprived him (Koko) of two thirds of his term as Senator. He, Koko, would be running under the campaign platform of good and honest governance, and therefore could not be a companion candidate of Zubiri in the United Nationalist Alliance.

In a statement, Koko Pimentel’s father, former Senator Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., said that “even in politics, principles could not be bargained away for the sake of political expediency.”

Joseph Estrada had asked Koko to “give and forgive” for the sake of the alliance and the country. Our leaders always invoke the good of the country to justify their selfish partisan actions. They know that the people, by and large, acquiesce with their leaders.

When they finally met last week, Senator Koko asked for his Ninong Estrada’s forgiveness (paumanhin) for not accepting to run as UNA candidate with Zubiri. Koko announced that he was running as an independent candidate or an ally of another party or coalition of parties

In his statement sent from abroad, Zubiri expressed regret over Pimentel’s decision. “Today is a sad day for the people of the Visayas and Mindanao whose leaders have been clamoring for unity among us both to have more representation for the region,” Zubiri said. “I truly wanted us to mend our differences for the sake of more representation for the region.” In fact, Mindanao—in relation to its size and population—is always under-represented in the Senate whose members are elected nationally.

By leaving the UNA coalition, Koko Pimentel said he was now “open for adoption” and would “consider any offer” from other political parties or alliances, including President Benigno Aquino’s Liberal Party. Koko made it clear that he was staying with the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban), of which he is the party president.

Koko said his decision came after he had consulted his partymates, including his father who was among the founders of PDP-Laban. He admitted that he was taking a “risk” by leaving UNA and running under PDP-Laban, a relatively small political party until it regained national prominence with Binay’s come-from-behind victory in 2010.

“My chances of winning are better if I am endorsed by President Estrada, Vice President Binay, and Senate President Enrile. But that’s life. Sometimes, you cannot have it all. We are willing to take the risk,” he said. “I want to campaign with a happy heart.”

Malacañang aides said President Benigno S. Aquino III would “graciously welcome” Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III if the head of the PDP-Laban party decided to join the ruling coalition’s senatorial slate in the 2013 polls. Negotiations for Pimentel’s inclusion on the Liberal Party’s senatorial team would happen “soon” following Pimentel’s announced decision to leave the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA). That’s it.

Some Catholic bishops are activists in partisan politics. Archbishop Emeritus Oscar Cruz said: “Senator Koko is like his father, both of them are principled … both of them are straight.” Cruz said the younger Pimentel should earn respect because he was not blinded by UNA’s strong political machine. Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes said Pimentel made a “good decision. It’s a sign of protest against cheats.

Much better to change from our obsolescent presidential system to a new and functional parliamentary system. My considered opinion is that, ideally, we should abolish the Senate to have a unicameral Parliament; or transform the Senate as an upper house of the Parliament in a new parliamentary system. Instead of our separation of powers and paralyzing checks and balance between the President and Congress with its Senate and House, both the executive power and the legislative power shall be vested in the Prime Minister and his Cabinet who are chosen by the majority party or coalition in Parliament. The majority party or coalition of parties will be clearly accountable to the Parliament and the people. In our present system, neither the President nor the Congress is accountable to the people for their performance. The people have no way to make them effectively accountable.

If we should keep the Senate, its members should be elected in the various regions which they will represent in the Parliament. Under our old and present system, our nationally elected senators are elected largely on the basis of their wealth, popularity, celebrity, and name-recall, or their win-ability; not necessarily on their individual competence. Each one hopes or aspires to become president and this affects his/her behavior in the Senate to gain leverage with the President, and publicity nationwide.

 

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