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Philippines - Political Parties

Political parties play important roles in modern democracies. Ideally, they aggregate interest demands and educate the polity on the vital issues of the day. They serve as vehicles for stability and good governance as they help in resolving societal conflicts. Patronage-ridden and personality-oriented parties characterize the country’s politics. Thus, they are unable to aggregate demands of the electorate and fail to serve as a mechanism to educate the public on vital development issues. This then leads to a political system dominated by the elite. Some scholars blame this on the institutional design transported by the Americans at the turn of the 19th century that privileges the landed and educated. Consequently, political parties have often been used by the elite to further their interests and build big one-party coalitions even after the Marcos leadership.

Political parties grew in profusion after the Marcos martial law regime (1972-81) was ended. There were 105 political parties registered in 1988. As in the pre-Marcos era, most legal political parties were coalitions, built around prominent individuals, which focused entirely on winning elections, not on what to do with the power achieved. There was little to distinguish one party from another ideologically, which was why many Filipinos regarded the political system as irrelevant.

Party organizations are relatively weak in the Philippines and are overshadowed by the influence of personalities. On the surface, party politics are alive and well in the Philippines. There are over 100 political parties registered with the Commission of Elections (COMELEC) and literally hundreds of unregistered parties -- mostly very small -- operating in the country. These parties represent views across the political spectrum. That said, given the entire mosaic of Philippine politics, parties basically serve as bit players compared to the role that personalities play.

In fact, parties primarily service the needs of political personalities, who have gained influence usually due to their family links. During periods of national campaigns, the larger political parties sometimes gain strength due to their association with powerful personalities who can give patronage in exchange for votes and support. Party influence tends to recede dramatically, however, after the election takes place, when the money dries up and attention totally focuses on the personality in power. During the run-up to the May 2004, for example, President Arroyo's Lakas Christian Muslim Democrats (Lakas-CMD) Party gained a certain degree of influence as it organized rallies and other events for the president. Its influence receded after the election, however.

The larger national parties have focused on party-building activities, but with limited success. Lakas-CMD and several other parties have participated in workshops in Manila and elsewhere meant to encourage such institution-building activities as ways to increase membership, develop party platforms, implement standardized funding mechanisms, and facilitate rule-based decision-making among members. Opposition senators Edgardo Angara and Jinggoy Estrada both introduced 2004 legislation to reform the party system by limiting party switching, among other proposals. Their bills languished in committees, however. Teal commitment among politicians to these reform efforts remained elusive. Even Lakas -- the largest of the national parties -- is understaffed, underfunded, and over-reliant on the wealth of a few single benefactors to be truly effective as a national political organization.

Philippine political parties' impact rises dramatically during campaign season, when their ability to connect funds to candidates comes into play. Parties aim to field pairs of candidates that represent the strongest combinations of broad public visibility and winning personality. Individual parties may coalesce and back a common presidential candidate to increase that person's chances of winning, and some candidates may opt to become vice presidential running mates if not drafted as their party's standard bearer, reducing the need for large sums.

The cost of running a presidential campaign in the Philippines is heavily determined by the cost of television and radio advertising, which accounts for a significant portion of campaign costs. Campaign spending law limits expenditures to approximately 135 million pesos per candidate but, in the 2007 elections, a majority of viable candidates exceeded this amount by 25 to 50 percent. Actual campaign costs can hit USD 60 million or more per candidate, enough to discourage candidates without access to the deep pockets of Manila's business elite.

There are alliances as well for the local races, but candidates generally run under individual parties. In many localities, candidates run unopposed, but in others candidates from two or more of the pro-Administration coalition parties are competing against each other.

Senate Race - 2007

The pro-Administration "Team Unity" and the "Genuine Opposition" fielded slates of candidates for the 2007 Senate race, with a small "third force" not identified with either camp.

  1. The pro-Arroyo TEAM (Together Everyone Achieves More) Unity (TU) had the strong advantage of a well oiled and funded party machinery organized from the national down to the local level. Lakas has maintained its strategic alliances with other major parties, including Kabalikat ng Malayang Pilipino (KAMPI) or "Partner of the Free Filipino" (founded by President Arroyo), the Liberal Party-Atienza wing, the Nationalist People's Coalition (NPC), and Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) or "Fight of the Democratic Filipino." Also, the team had a strong field network, controlling a majority of local government seats.
  2. The Genuine Opposition slate was the compomise handiwork of the fractious opposition, which nonetheless agreed to consolidate forces to prserve an opposition-dominated Senate and continue the fight against the Arroyo administration. Obsrvers saw the Estrada camp's effort to flex its remaining political muscle and noted that some canddates have quietly condoned past attempts to overtrow the Arroyo government, while others played a active role in the ouster of Estrada himself. Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, son of the late Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, Jr. and former President Corazon Aquino, vowed to continue his parents' fight for democracy, minus his father's fiery eloquence and his mother's influential moral leadership.

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