Clarifying Political Party Reform

By Mon Casiple

The supposedly routine approval on third reading of the Political Party Development bill in the House of Representatives surprisingly led to highly-critical reactions from a party-list representative, minority representatives, a Catholic bishop, the Comelec chairman, an election lawyer, and a newspaper columnist. This particular bill was already passed–with the exact same content–on third reading by the same body in the 13th Congress without such negative reactions.

The reasons given against the bill were varied: that it is unconstitutional, allegedly discriminating against small parties, that it did not include party-list groups, that spending public funds for political parties is wrong and increases corruption, and that Jose de Venecia (one of the authors) is the wrong messenger for political party reforms.

These are serious accusations and deserve serious answers. First, let me state my position as an electoral reform advocate. I stand four-square behind the bill–it is a vital part of the package of political and electoral reforms we had been struggling for more than 15 years already. The package included such laws as the party-list law, the fair elections act, the overseas absentee voting law, the electoral automation law, the continuing registration act, and such pending bills as the anti-political dynasty bill, the local sectoral representation bill, the anti-turncoatism bill and on the amendments to the Omnibus Election Code.

The political party reform bill was drafted in 2002 and endorsed by the major political parties in the first-ever Philippine Political Party Conference, chaired by then-Speaker and Lakas-NUCD chairman Jose de Venecia. Election reform advocates participated in the drafting and endorsed the original bill, and later lobbied with government to pass it.

The unity for the bill started unraveling when GMA announced her candidacy for the 2004 presidential elections. Later, the presidential legitimacy crisis prevented movement on the bill despite GMA’s own endorsement in her 10-point “legacy program” and its inclusion in the Medium-Term Development Program. The current situation opened once more the possibility for passing it because of the urgency to address the requirements of a fair and free 2010 elections.

Cynicism about traditional politics and politicians, the legitimacy crisis, and the valid concern of small parties and party-list groups are new elements that have come up in opposition to the bill. However, it is my opinion that these concerns, despite their being correct, are misplaced and critics are barking on the wrong tree.

One, the bill is not about party-list groups or even the possible transformation of these groups into political parties. It is about developing and strengthening the political party system. Party-list groups can be covered once they registered as political parties.

Two, it does not promote only a two-party system or even the monopoly by major parties. It is designed however to exclude fly-by-night “parties” or those that do not have significant constituencies. The reason is simple. You do not want nuisance groups or even nuisance parties to muddle the system and the electoral process and dissipate public funds. Actual seats in Congress and other measures of party strength such as membership, geographical spread, record in local elections, etc. are a logical criteria for measuring viable political parties. [...]

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