To Cement "Daang Matuwid," We Need Party Reforms, FOI and Anti-Dynasty Law

To Cement "Daang Matuwid," We Need Party System Reform, FOI and Anti-Dynasty Law*

For "Daang Matuwid" to be sustained, expanded and deepened, good governance has to become a norm; good governance practices must become common, not mere islands and best practices up for awards. Political party reforms, Freedom of Information (FoI) and the anti-dynasty law are mechanisms that will make "Daang Matuwid" a norm that will bring about change that can be felt by ordinary citizens.

Below are three (3) propositions that argue and substantiate this point based on experience and empirical evidence that also open possible ways forward.

1. We will not be able to effectively stop corruption unless we address money politics in elections.

Don't we wonder why elections have become a threat to sustaining good governance, instead of a boost to it? This is an irony because elections is an accountability mechanism as well. It is supposed to serve as a venue for people to reaffirm good performance.

Money politics perverts this.

Consider these numbers from the 2008 campaign expenditure estimates by acampaign finance monitoring group called Pera't Pulitika:

To run for city mayor, one will need Php 10 Million; for Governor, Php 5-150 Million; for Senate; Php 150-500 Million and for President, Php 2.5-5 Billion.

Who has this amount of money? More specifically, who has this amount of money and is willing to use it for campaigns and never get it back?

Joel Rocamora explains how money politics leads to corruption and undermines democracy:

"Campaign finance issues lie at the heart of electoral reform in the Philippines. If in the past, patron-client ties limiting effective participation by the the most serious problem corrupting democratic representation, today rapidly growing election campaign expenses is the key problem. Running election campaigns have become so expensive that only rich people or those dependent on rich financiers can run. Qualified, popular candidates without money and without financial backers cannot win. Even when relatively honest people do win, they have to spend so much money to campaign that they invariably become corrupt in order to recover their expenses or to return the favor of financial backers."

Unregulated campaign finance create webs of compromises and unscrupulous deals that make decision-making of officials vulnerable to corruption and to capture by particularistic interests.

We cannot simply rely on "good leaders" to stop corruption and ensure good governance sustainably. We must develop and nurture a system that will support and/ or discipline politicians to become good leaders. Effective regulation of campaign finance to stop money politics is an integral part of that system supportive of good leaders and good governance.

Our inability to develop our system supportive of good leaders and good governance means relying heavily on chances, on flukes -- rich individuals who are incorruptible or individuals who can mobilize resources for the rich without the strings attached. What are the likelihood of these scenarios?

More importantly, is it progressive to rely on such scenarios? For one, this makes our electoral exercises exclusive to the rich. There is wealth of knowledge untapped in public service and leadership because we have structurally excluded a big part of our population from getting elected.

2. Party subsidy can tilt the balance of power in elections in favor of an actor that is more predisposed to being programmatic and to having accountable processes that could mitigate the impact of money politics -- the political parties.

President Noynoy Aquino said in his endorsement of Mar Roxas, "Doon na tayo sa sigurado." A very good point. Certainty, predictability, regularity are functions of institutions. Our partisan political processes lack regularity and predictability because it is weakly institutionalized, with parties hardly established to perform their supposed functions of serving as vehicles for decision-making processes and means to put order in how political actors behave and relate with one another during elections.

Parties are weak because they have no resources; and because, as pointed out by De La Salle University professor Julio Teehankee, they have weak link to society.

Party subsidy changes this. State subsidy means the government is being biased in favor of political parties, making political parties strong enough to assert its will vis-a-vis personalities and political families.

Why give money to parties? Party-based politics is supposed to be more predictable and accountable than personality- or family-based partisan political exercise. It also allows long-term thinking/ planning that will support long-term strategy and program of action needed for real inclusive development and democracy to happen.

Empirical evidence based on experience abroad have pointed to how state subsidy had contributed to the institutionalization of parties, i. e., their ability to be programmatic and undertake educational training programs, make party processes inclusive to marginalized sectors and conduct party processes that depend on its membership and not select individuals who have money. In a survey conducted by the Social Weather Stations (SWS) in 2006, Filipinos look at political parties as sources of political education and leadership trainings. With evidence pointing to how state subsidy supports parties' educational programs, state subsidy, therefore, can also support the improvement of parties' relevance to the citizens given the evidence on what citizens hope parties could do.

3. For us to have a chance at party-based politics, we need a party law supported and complemented by guaranteed access to information and state regulation of political monopoly.

Empirical evidence based on studies abroad have shown the importance of party law in institutionalizing political parties and party system. In the Philippines, the proposed party bill filed in Congress proposes to:

  • provide subsidy;
  • set standards on what are the functions of parties; and
  • sanction turncoatism.

These key features are most critical to support parties to becoming full-fledged and programmatic.

There are several pre-requisites for us to pass a party law and ensure its effective implementation. This is where the passage of the FOI as well as an anti-dynasty law becomes inter-related to party reforms.

For the party law to be passed and have a chance of getting implemented effectively, the parties must own it. For parties to own it, they should do a better job at trying harder to be real parties. For programmatic parties to fair better in managing power politics, there should be demand from informed citizens. Furthermore, dynastic politics that arguably is the competition of party-based politics must be regulated. This makes FOI and anti-dynasty law critical to party development and reform agenda.

Parties must also be subjected to good governance. They too must earn the trust of the people and develop their own institutional integrity. In the experience of the Philippines, good governance has been achieved not by having good laws alone. We have good laws, but they are hardly implemented effectively. Participation of citizens to demand good performance and exact accountability has been pivotal to good governance. Key to this is access to information.

There should be demand from citizens for parties to perform well and this requires access to information. I am not sure if parties are subject to FOI, but I am certain politicians who occupy official government seats will be subject to it.

Access to information is an indicator of transparency, which is a pre-requisite of accountability and participation critical to preventing corruption and ensuring continued improved performance of government.

Meanwhile, no amount of support and demand for parties to institutionalize and perform well will succeed if the main competition to the role of being a key mechanism for decision-making in partisan political processes will continue to hold monopoly of economic and political resources. That main competition are political dynasties. Monopolies are never good because they trump competition from the onset given the monopolies' undue advantage.

For parties to become a viable electoral vehicle for candidates, they should be strong enough to withstand the power of political dynasties.

For "Daang Matuwid" to be sustained, expanded and deepened, good governance has to be a norm, good governance practices must become common. Political party reforms, Freedom of Information (FoI) and anti-dynasty law are mechanisms that will make "Daang Matuwid" a norm that will bring about change that can be felt by ordinary citizens.


* Presented during the forum entitled "Aquino's Last Mile: Ramping Up and Sustaining Daang Matuwid" organized by Building an Inclusive Democracy (BID) consortium consisting of Ateneo School of Government, De La Salle University, University of the Philippines and Asian Institute of Management (AIM). The forum, spearheaded by AIM, in partnership with Rappler and Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), is the 2nd installment of the #PHVote The Leader I Want Forum Series