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A true party system: It’s about time

“IT’S about time we passed a measure that will institutionalize and strengthen political parties as pillars of the country’s democratic system,” Senate President Franklin Drilon said as he filed Senate Bill 226, the Political Party System Act.

Actually, we needed such a measure many years ago. Our old two-party system was killed by martial law in 1972. When elections were restored in 1986, we evolved a system where every new administration saw politicians of all kinds flocking to it. Members of Congress joined the new president’s political party, saying that they needed – for their constituents, they stressed – the benefits that go with legislative positions assigned to the majority party.

This has resulted in single parties dominating various administrations – the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) of President Corazon Aquino, the Lakas-CMD of President Fidel Ramos, the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino of President Joseph Estrada, and the Lakas-Kampi of President Gloria Arroyo. They are hardly remembered today, having merged with other parties or hibernating. The Liberal Party of President Aquino may soon share their fate.

For six years, the LP was THE party. Then President Duterte won and the migration of party members started. Senate President Drilon saw the members of his party trooping to Duterte’s PDP-Laban. He himself joined the Senate LPs in a majority coalition with the PDP-Laban. A coalition may be a step lower than outright membership in the majority party, but not much further away. We don’t expect the kind of independent assessment of bills that a true opposition party would carry out in a real party system. We don’t expect the kind of independent assessment of policies and programs of government.

Senate President Drilon said his bill aims to promote party loyalty, discipline, and adherence to ideological principles, platforms, and programs. Many politicians change political parties for convenience, he said, rather than because of conviction, showing their lack of ideological commitment.

The bill would penalize political turncoats by banning them from running for any elective office in the next election. They would also be asked to refund all amounts they received from the party, plus a 25 percent surcharge.

The bill will face its first test in the House and Senate of the 17th Congress which opens on July 25. It may face the same kind of opposition as the Anti-Political Dynasty bill and the Freedom of Information bill, both of which go against the grain of most politicians today. Even if it passes, it will be sometime before it gains general acceptance among politicians.

It will take some time before it becomes truly part of our political system. But it is time we start now.