Mar 142013

Contemporary Political Parties in the Philippines


The Configuration of Post-Edsa I Political Parties




Roland G. Simbulan*




* The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance provided by Mr. Cyrus Alanis as research assistant in the preparation of this chapter.






     Throughout the history of Philippine politics, the economic and political elite has always held on tightly to the reins of power.  From the time the municipal governments were formed by the Americans, Philippine politics has operated within the institutional parameters that often limited and shaped interactions to factions of the elite, utilizing both unicameral and bicameral forms of government. Political parties have been the vehicle for this elite rule and monopoly of political power.


     With this kind of political system in the Philippines, no real representation and participation exist for the people, especially the marginalized, in all levels of government decision-making.  As a result, the marginalized and underrepresented sectors in our society are further eased out. 


     In the post-Edsa I era, progressive mass movements and organizations emerged to challenge this kind of political system.  People’s organizations and other progressive forces have pursued the struggle for fundamental change in different ways.  They have been engaged in both extra-legal and what is known as the parliament of the streets to pursue the transformation of our society.   Although progressive organizations have traditionally held a negative attitude towards the country’s electoral system as well as other forms of parliamentary processes, they nevertheless have actively engaged themselves in election activities as part of their parliamentary struggle.


      Starting with groups like Akbayan, and later the Bayan Muna, party-list organizations have shifted or expanded the protest movement’s arena of struggle by taking the path of electoral struggle in pursuing their end, that is, advancing the interests of the masses.  Bayan Muna sees the electoral struggle as one arena by which the masses may pursue their interests.


     However, with the knowledge and experience that the ruling elite in the present political system would take every possible way to maintain the status quo and suppress progressive parties from entering the halls of Congress, Bayan Muna had to devise its own electoral strategies to achieve the objectives of its electoral struggle. The electoral strategies employed by Bayan Muna and others are assessed in this chapter. 


     Qualitative methodology in data gathering was used.  Qualitative data were gathered through key informant interviews.  Some top officials of the political parties as well as people involved in the party machineries were likewise interviewed.  Additional data were gathered through library research, internet research and book sources.  Lastly, a triangulation of the results was conducted to ensure that the analysis is valid, objective and unbiased.


     What will be unique and new about this chapter, which covers an analysis of Philippine political parties from 1987 to 2007 or from the 8th to 13th Congress of the Philippines, is that it will contribute to the literature assessing political parties from the framework and perspective of people’s organizations.




Political Parties and Participatory Governance

     In his seminal work, Political Parties, Robert Michels posits that “Organization is the weapon of the weak in their struggle with the strong.” (Michels, 1963).  The organization that he defined could be an association, a trade union, and even a political party. But a political party is not just any organization.  It is, according to Michels, an ideological party, with elements of party life, which is sustained by trust, loyalty and discipline. C. Wright Mills likewise contends that political parties are usually associated with or are an offspring of social movements (Mills, 1963: 33).  Antonio Gramsci,  on the other hand, describes the history of a political party as the history of a particular social group, “a political force which is effective from the point of view of the exercise of governmental power…to the extent that it possesses cadres at the various levels and to the extent to which the latter have acquired certain capabilities.”  (Gramsci, 1984: 151)


     Political parties are associated with organizing political action, for it is through parties that people identify and articulate their political visions, policies, platforms and interests. A political party mobilizes its members and sympathizers to gain support for the political platforms or positions it has taken, and in this way attain popular consent and legitimacy which is accomplished through success in elections or similar mechanisms for leadership selection. But political parties must be more than vehicles for winning power; they must be the bridge for realizing the expectations of the public for effective policy-making processes and the service-delivery of public institutions, i.e., for eradicating poverty.


     Theoretically, Philippine political parties exist in a democratic environment.  This formal facade, however, crumbles as we examine closely the nature and character of contemporary political parties.  The realities of power relations in the Philippine economic and social structure show that electoral politics and political parties in the Philippines are dominated by elite family factions with their respective followers, whose rivalries are formalized by their affiliation with political parties. Philippine electoral political parties can be said to be the weakest political institutions that are at best described as ad hoc, if not transient and fluid. They are the weakest link in Philippine democracy.

Effective Political Parties Defined

    In one of his privilege speeches in the 8th Congress, Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, who was Secretary of the Department of National Defense for more than a decade under Ferdinand Marcos, surprisingly admitted that the only political party in the Philippines that is behaving like a real political party is the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), only that it is shunned from participation in Philippine electoral politics. This author who was then Senior Political Consultant to Sen. Wigberto Tañada, personally heard Enrile remark that even without its participation in elections, the CPP which is genuinely an ideological party, continuously recruits members as a mass party, carries out its defined program and projects, and builds bailiwicks and spheres of influence in different parts of the country. Its strategic objective, of course, is to seize political power and establish a socialist government, he said.  The CPP, it must be noted, strengthens itself not only through the strict enforcement of party discipline based on a coherent political program but engages in recruitment for mass membership and political education.


      But the electoral character of political parties in a democratic environment distinguishes it from other organizations in that “it constitutes a group of individuals whose primary objective is to attain control of the government through the electoral process.”  ( Tancangco, 1988: 97)  In the Philippine setting, political parties are not identified with visions or platforms but are seen as mere electoral vehicles of convenience for the elite politicians.


     Effective political parties play an important role in the democratization and political maturity of society. (Valdemer, 1952; Timerman, 1991; Wolinetz, 2002).   They are supposed to be important vehicles for collective action and empowerment of their constituencies to influence and shape public policy where the masses can emerge from the inertia of powerlessness to improve their lives and lift them from poverty. Political parties are also expected to provide much of the political education of their constituencies.  They act as venues for the articulation of the concerns of their constituencies and help them to influence or fiscalize policy-making in government. The divergent classes, specific groups or sectors in society are the natural constituencies of political parties which mobilize them to nominate and elect candidates for government office. 

Restoration of Elite Political Parties after EDSA 1


      Philippine post-war, pre-martial law and martial law politics has been characterized by the traditional monopoly of political and economic power by the tiny minority of wealthy elite families, especially the landed oligarchy.  At best, these political parties have been extensively described as “political machines” if not “money machines” of the landed and propertied Philippine aristocracy that make their presence felt only during electoral contests.


     The 8th to the 13th Congress after Edsa I can be characterized by the restoration of the elite democracy that dominated the Philippine Congress before the declaration of Martial Law in Sept. 1972. The traditional pattern of elite political groupings was restored under the 1987 Constitution, as were the conditions for the restoration of the pre-martial law two-party system. But this could not happen because the two former dominant parties were already weakened by martial law; in fact, their membership had been decimated by their defection to the Marcos party, the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan, during martial law.  By introducing a “party-list system,” the 1987 Constitution was, in fact, implying the creation of a multi-party system, elite-led nevertheless, out of several elite parties and groupings.


     Factions within the oligarchy continued to have squabbles in their struggle for political power.  They restored all the trappings of the undeveloped and distorted party system: elite-dominated and characterized by the ideological sameness of the mainstream parties. As the beneficiaries of the status quo, they have a common hostility to the demands for basic reforms coming from the grassroots. As Carl Lande (1965) in his outstanding study of Filipino elite parties and their factions observed, it does not any more matter whether the elites are in one party, two parties, or multi-party, they are still “a ruling elite with the same analysis of social conditions, same political norms and same programs of government.” ( Lande, 1965)  If this is the case, can the rulers in power as a ruling class ever be expected to legislate against its own interests and seek the national interest?


     Our answer to the above question is found in a study of the 9th Congress just after the watered-down Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Law (CARL) was finally signed into law, causing even its original sponsors composed of progressive congressmen to withdraw their sponsorship to a bill that they themselves could no longer recognize substantially. In this study, it was revealed that two-thirds of the House members had substantial interests in land and agriculture, comprising the biggest bloc in the legislature; 25% were involved in property development in their declared assets; while 37% had interests in banking in finance (Gutierrez, 1994).  This may be the reason why the administration and minority parties even in the pre-martial law Philippine Congress have been described as “the best expression of the political power of the landlord class.” (Guerrero, 1990: 113)


The changing fortunes of the majority and minority parties in the Philippine Congress which have changed from one administration to the other because of massive defections and party-switching of members, give us a glimpse of the absence of party discipline. It also lays bare the lack of differentiation between the parties.



The Aquino years


      Immediately upon the ratification of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, Corazon Cojuangco Aquino allowed her brother Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr. to recruit Marcos’s Kilusang Bagong Lipunan and other pro-Marcos traditional politicians into the de-facto ruling party of PDP-Laban.  The appointment of officers-in-charge in all local governments to rid them of Marcos loyalists  should have been an effective vehicle for reform but instead, the displaced elites before Martial Law were restored, and the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) emerged as a conglomeration of restored Marcos and anti-Marcos elites in electoral contests. Thus, Marcos’s people formally forged a political alliance with Cory Aquino’s Lakas ng Bayan and PDP Laban. In the 1987 congressional and local elections, the LDP dominated Congress and the local governments up to the end of Cory Aquino’s term. It was amazing how the LDP core composed of anti-Marcos opposition could so easily now align with pro-Marcos, ex-KBL stalwarts under the LDP.  The LDP during the Cory years was led by Speaker Ramon Mitra.


     As for the Senate in 1987 when the 8th Congress convened, only two opposition candidates made it to the Senate: Senators Juan Ponce Enrile and Joseph Estrada. Estrada was later to defect to the administration coalition (of Cory Aquino), leaving the Senate with a one-man minority in the person of Enrile.  Particularly in the Senate where there are only 24 senators, defections or turncoatism could easily tilt the balance of power and alter its leadership. Thus, from the 8th to the 13th Congress, the Senate leadership changed hands no less than 12 times because of Senate “coups” triggered by party defections or realignments. 


The Ramos administration


       When Ramos first tried his stake as presidential candidate, he had hoped to be nominated under the LDP but lost the nomination to Mitra. So failing in this, Ramos formed the Lakas-NUCD (National Union of Christian Democrats) and even got the endorsement of outgoing president Cory Aquino.


      In 1992, the LDP lost the presidency but dominated the congressional (Senate and House majorities) and local elections. Lakas, however, quickly became the majority party at the House of Representatives just a few months after its convening. This was largely due to the defections from LDP, which ironically became the minority and opposition in the House together with the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC).  NPC was Eduardo “Danding” Cojuangco Jr.’s party in his unsuccessful presidential bid in 1992. The LDP, however, retained the majority seats in the Senate under LDP President and Senate President Edgardo J. Angara.



Estrada administration


      When Joseph Estrada formed his own party, the Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino (LAMMP) to run for president in 1998, the LDP and the NPC joined him. Under the Estrada presidency, Lakas in turn became the minority party when a large group of Lakas members led by Manuel Villar defected and joined the LAMMP-LDP-PMP-NPC coalition in the House of Representatives. Villar would later on become Speaker with LAMMP’s crucial  support.  LAMMP was the ruling party coalition under Estrada and it dominated both the House and Senate.



The Arroyo administration


     After Estrada’s removal from office in 2001, Lakas–in which Arroyo was a nominal member–again became the ruling party in coalition with the NPC which readily abandoned Estrada. LDP, in turn, became the minority party.


      What are the causes of turncoatism and defections to other parties?  No one will of course admit their true purpose. Instead, they all said, “ I did this for the sake of country” (Chua & Coronel, eds., 2003: 65).  Or, there is the much-quoted but abused phrase from the late President Manuel L. Quezon: “My loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins.” 


      But it is not difficult to discern the real motive for turncoatism: to get (or retain) the chairmanships or vice chairmanships or leaderships in lucrative committees  in Congress, a function which is the prerogative of the majority party.  Congressional leaders of the majority party have mastered the art of parceling out power and perks thru the congressional committees to gain support.  Usually, they dangle the most lucrative committees such as Finance/Appropriation, Legislative Franchise, Public Works, Agriculture, etc.  Assuming the leadership of a congressional committee brings with it additional perks such as its own additional staff, a substantial budget, allowances–in short, added resources all “in aid of legislation.” But more important, there is the clout to bargain with private contractors and interest groups depending on the areas of concern of the congressional committee. Defections to other parties may also be the result of trade-offs, an accommodation, a political quarrel, or pressure by party-mates.


     LDP President Angara admits that party-switching and turncoatism is “the most destructive aspect of Philippine politics. That’s why there is no stability, continuity in political parties because the winners from the other parties usually go to the majority ruling party which usually controls the perks, pork barrel and privileges.” (Interview with Angara, 2007)


     At the level of local politics, turncoatism by the political clans is best manifested by the Dy family of Isabela which is headed by the patriarch, Faustino Sr.  The Dy family has as its economic base the logging concessions in the province.  During the Marcos years, they were solidly behind the KBL.  Under Cory Aquino, the Dys were with the LDP. In 1992, they were with the NPC although they had promised to support Ramos (who was with Lakas) in his presidential bid. And during the 12th Congress (2001-2004), Faustino Dy Sr. was a member of Lakas, although he occasionally proclaimed his party as “NPC-Lakas.” (Coronel, 2004: 66)


      Turncoatism becomes the rule in Philippine politics when seen in the context of politicians being allowed to become members of several parties or coalitions, at their convenience. Further, a provision of the Revised Election Code of 1985, Section 70-71, Art. IX, actually provides that a political party may nominate and/or support non-member candidates.  Also, under the same Code, an elected official is allowed to change his party in subsequent elections provided he changes prior to that election!


      On the other hand, while the beneficiaries of “people power” like Cory Aquino, Ramos and Arroyo found “people power” and people’s organizations useful in their bid to wrest power from Marcos and then later from Estrada, their administrations would consider these “dangerous” and “subversive” when used to broaden democratic participation. It is as if members of the oligarchy consider government and political decision-making as their sole preserve and not to be shared with the people. It is in this context that we could understand the transformation of the Aquino and Arroyo governments in their relationship with people’s organizations of the marginalized sectors. Organizations of farmers, workers and urban poor have all been tagged as “subversive” and “communist fronts.” Their leaders have been subjected to harassments, arrests, torture and now more often killed.


     Meanwhile, the Philippine military, armed and supported by the United States and the Philippine oligarchy, is carrying out a “total war” at the grassroots. By targeting people’s organizations that are working for human rights, justice and social reform, in the name of “anti-communism” and “anti-terrorism”, the Philippine military has really become the instrument of the oligarchy in protecting the prevailing elite-dominated system.  And instead of solving the insurgency problem, it is really laying the groundwork for a wider civil war that will only result in more widows and orphans, in more death and destruction.



Background on Post-Edsa Political Parties


     The post-EDSA party system is governed by the 1987 Constitution and the following enabling laws passed by a Congress whose members are themselves the beneficiaries: the Omnibus Election Code and the Party-List Law (RA 7941).


     Randy David, in an article, gave this characterization of Philippine political parties:


“Political parties in the Philippines are nothing more than the tools used by the elites in a personalistic system of political contests.  The elites themselves do not form stable or exclusive blocs or factions.  Their boundaries are provisional and porous at any point in time.  They revolve around political stars rather than around ideologies.  They nurture networks of followers and supporters who are dependent on them for money, jobs, favors and political access, not party members loyal to party principles and alert to any perceived betrayal of party causes.” (David, 1986)


       As David further observed: “… (P)olitical parties are chronically unable to maintain an organizational continuity and a level of professional existence that one expects parties to possess in mature democracies.  As a result, their activities are confined to elections, their potential for political education completely lost underneath the frenzy of personal political contests.” (David, 2007)


       Truly, the lack of a sense of party or ideological discipline is shown by the fact that members of the mainstream political parties may be “adopted” so easily by other parties if they are not given accommodation by their own party.  That they are bereft of ideological unity makes these party machines vulnerable to personalistic politics based on the charisma of the candidates. But this is not enough as shown even in studies of local politicians and warlords (McCoy,  1994). The national political parties in the mainstream are normally dominated by their leaders who use the party as a vehicle for their political ambitions, usually presidential ambitions. Whichever way, the only ones who can be perceived as alternatives to the members of the wealthy political clans are the likes of Loren Legarda or Noli de Castro, who have no political pedigrees but are celebrities, as they are creation of mass media. (David, 2007)


       The only major issue that the mainstream political parties use against each other to check one another is the issue of corruption.  But they repeat the same complaint themselves when the opposition becomes the ruling party, and they never question the social injustices of the prevailing economic system, much more the dominance and intervention of the United States in Philippine economy and politics. 



The traditional parties


       The oldest existing political party, the Nacionalista Party (NP), which just turned 100 years old this year, has produced six Philippine presidents.  The fact that the United States allowed it to dominate Philippine electoral politics for almost 40 years during the American colonial era before the outbreak of World War II  proves that it was so efficient and reliable in safeguarding U.S. interests.  It was one of the two dominant pre-martial law parties. Its current president, Manuel Villar, is the Senate president.


        The Liberal Party, formed in 1946 by then President Manuel Roxas as the break-away group of the NP, was founded on a pro-U.S. bases, pro-Parity Rights amendment platform when the NP made posturings as a more independent political party after independence.  The LP founders were, in fact, the conservative, right wing of the Nacionalista Party that broke off to create a semblance of a two-party system similar to the United States. In this instance, however, one party checks the other in maintaining the hegemony of U.S. interests and the dominance of the landed class over an “independent” Philippine republic.  It also creates the illusion of a democratic choice in Philippine elections, albeit the elite composition of those choices.  From 1946 to 1972, three of six Philippine presidents were LP members.


      Prior to martial law in 1972, the LP was one of two dominant political parties. During the Marcos martial law years, many LP members defected to the KBL. The party tried to regain its stature after EDSA I under Senate President Jovito Salonga who led the historic Philippine Senate vote in rejecting the proposed bases treaty, thereby putting an end to U.S. military bases in the country. (Malaya, J. & Abad, F.eds, 2006)


      In fairness to the LP, it is the only traditional party that is known to attempt to imbibe a “liberal-democratic ideology” among its members. Second-generation individual LP stalwarts like former Sen. Wigberto Tañada, Rep. Florencio “Butch” Abad of Batanes  and J. Nereus Acosta of Bukidnon are known for their progressive views on land reform , environment and reproductive rights (Coronel, 2004).  It has also recently made attempts at institutionalizing party life beyond the elections through party building, ideological seminars, etc. , although these initiatives are resisted by traditional politicians within its ranks.


      After 2004, the Liberal Party has been split into the Franklin Drilon faction and the Lito Atienza faction, with the latter taking the side of the Arroyo administration after the “Hello Garci” scandal.


     The Nationalist People’s Coalition or NPC originated in 1992 as the political party of Marcos crony Danding Cojuangco who failed in his bid for the presidency.


     The NPC is made up of many former Marcos stalwarts from the KBL and is said also to be composed of the most conservative clans especially in the Visayas and Mindanao.  It tried to initiate impeachment proceedings against then Chief Justice Hilario Davide after the Supreme Court ruled that the coco levy funds were public, not private, funds.  It is said that the NPC uses private patronage to impose party discipline or court political support by offering Cojuangco’s San Miguel exclusive distributorship for its beer products to political clans in various parts of the country. When anti-Marcos politician Ernesto Maceda was Senate President, he was also the president of the Nationalist People’s Coalition of Cojuangco.


      The Lakas, which was formed in 1992 as the presidential party for Fidel V. Ramos, was originally named the Lakas Tao-National Union of Christian Democrats. But now it is called the Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats (but what’s in a name?) In 2001, it emerged as a “People Power Coalition” in the House of Representatives to re-install Jose de Venecia as the Speaker. Lakas became the vehicle for Arroyo’s 2004 presidential bid which was marred by controversy because of the “Hello Garci” tapes.  Under the administration of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Lakas controls the House of Representatives thru coalitions, and the majority of the nation’s governors, city mayors and municipal mayors.


     The Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (Laban or LDP) was put up in 1988 as the merger of the Laban wing of PDP-Laban and Lakas ng Bansa, a party of pro-Aquino politicians. But its ranks also include former members of Marcos’s KBL. It was the de facto administration party although President Aquino herself was not a member. At its heyday during the Cory years, Laban was dominated by the Aquino-Cojuangco clans and had 150 representatives in the House, six senators and 53 of the 75 governors who joined the party. Behind its founding was Cory’s brother, Representative Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr., but its membership declined in favor of Lakas in 1992, after its standard-bearer, former Speaker Ramon Mitra, lost the presidency to Ramos. LDP joined forces with Lakas during the 1995 senatorial race, but in 1998, it joined a coalition with Estrada’s Partido ng Masang Pilipino and the NPC to form the Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino or LAMMP against the Lakas presidential slate.


     LDP had a serious split in 2003 when an LDP faction supported Sen. Panfilo Lacson who ran for president in 2004, while the LDP-Angara faction supported Fernando Poe Jr. for president.


     Once regarded as the formidable Marcos party, the KBL used to be the dominant party at the unicameral Batasang Pambansa during the martial law years.  Founded and personally headed by Ferdinand Marcos in the mid-‘70s, it dominated the political arena until the EDSA I Revolution.  It was beefed up by former NP and LP politicians who switched parties during martial law.  Today, in the 12th and 13th House of Congress, Rep. Imee Marcos, the eldest daughter of the former dictator, is the only KBL member left.


     This is not to say that the existing political parties in the legislature never vote as a party on issues. In some instances, they do vote as a party or coalition, but only on issues that are “political in nature” such as the issue of impeachment. According to Rep. Rene Magtubo of the party-list group Partido ng Manggagawa, “Parties identified with the administration collectively voted to reject the impeachment complain in defense of the administration.” (Interview, 2007)  According to Magtubo, the traditional parties do not vote in terms of genuine advocacy because they are not really interested in these issues.

     The cost of running as candidate in the electoral contest is staggering and this forces even the affluent political clans to forge alliances with other families to shore up their campaign kitty or coffers. The electoral law’s allowable expenditures for a candidate is three pesos per voter and a maximum of P131.45 million, thus limiting electoral contests as an exclusive playground for the rich .

Clans as Primary Political Organizations

     Political clans are the real political parties in Philippine society which have weathered colonial powers and administrations.  Today, the political clans and their political dynasties are well-entrenched in power. “Democratic elections” have put them in the national government, in Congress and in local governments.  As observed by David, certain Filipino families have become “a powerful generator of political careers.” (2007)


     The accessibility of clan interests and families to patronage networks and their ability to dispense this patronage allow them to flexibly realign their party affiliations without taking into account ideological considerations.  In fact, the party affiliations or identification are only as good as the patronage network on which they are totally dependent. They depend heavily on the funds and largesse dispensed from state coffers and funds from private contractors who seek favors from government officials.


      The dynastic tendencies of political clans are very much evident in the Caraga Region, covering the two Agusan provinces and Butuan City. Here you have 10 members of the Plaza political clan holding power, next to the Ecleos, Barbers, Pimentels, Andanars, Amantes, Navarros and Matugases. Here, positions ranging from mayor to councilors and barangay chairmen, are occupied either by the husband or wife, sons, daughters, nephews, in-laws, or relatives who belong to powerful political clans. It is no wonder that the Caraga region is called the “Center of Political Dynasties” in the country. (Philippine Star, March 28, 2007)


       Also, though it is now a common trend, dynastic politics is also nowhere evident than in northern Cebu, where the Durano family can claim a 100-year monopoly of political office with the present extended clan having 25 members who have held public office since the 1890s (Coronel, 2004; Mc Coy, 1994).


     Members of political clans are most vulnerable to party-switching and the control of those who command necessary resources who have captured state power, feeding on these like predators and subjecting the state structure to systematic plunder.  Party-switching notwithstanding, the dominant political clans are the backbone of the ever-changing political machineries such as the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), Lakas, NP, LP, and the PDP-Laban.


      Political patronage, a “characteristic of the American party system” which the Philippines inherited, was, according to Recto, ingrained from the first political party established by the Americans, the Federalista Party, where “in the appointment of natives, the fact that the man is a member of the Federalista Party, is a good recommendation for him for appointment.” (Recto, 1990) The Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), formerly the Countryside Development Fund (CDF) that is actually the pork barrel, allots P65 million for each congressman for his district.  The networks of patronage are developed by the political machines.


      It has been observed in a recent empirical study of congressmen at the House of Representatives that “what passes for political parties are actually coalitions of political clans”, and that families are in fact the building blocks of political parties. (Gutierrez, 1992). The political clans in the Philippines are actually composed of “only 60-100 families which dominate and determine the process of selection of holders of the country’s elective and appointive positions.” (Ibid, 1992)


      In a study by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism of the clans and parties  in Philippine politics, based on the 12th Congress between 2001 and 2004,  it was clearly shown that political parties in the country are in fact clan alliances of the following families:


LABAN NG DEMOKRATIKONG PILIPINO (LDP) – Angara, Aquino, Caculio, Banaag, Biazon, Calizo, Garcia, Lobregat, Plaza, Remulla, San Luis, Suplico/Tupas


NATIONALIST PEOPLE’S COALITION (NPC) – Almorio, Alvarez, Antonino, Badelles, Barinaga, Bautista, Bondoc, Bulut, Cagas, Cojuangco/Teodoro, Dilangalen, Duavit, Dumpit, Durano, Escudero, Espina, Espinosa, Estrella, Fuentebella, Garcia, Imperial, Ipong, Jalosjos, Joaquin, Joson, Kintanar, Lapus, Ledesma, Locsin, Lopez, macias, Malanjaon, Maranon, Montinolla, Nepomuceno, Ortega, Rodriguez, Romualdo, Veloso, & Yapha.


LIBERAL PARTY (LP) – Abad, Acosta, Aquino, Cua, Dadivar, Defensor, Hizon, Nantes, Ramiro, Singson and Suarez.


LAKAS – Ablan, Albano, Alfelor, Amante, Amatong, Andaya, Apostol, Arbison, Barbers, Carloto, Cayetano, Chatto, Chiongbian, De Venecia/Perez, Defensor, Dimaporo, Dy, Ecleo, Ermita, Espino, Floirendo, Gonzales, Gordon, Guinigundo, Jaafar, Javier, Lacson, Lagman, Leviste, Locsin, Lopez, Martinez, Monfort, Paras, Perez, Punzalan, Real, Reyes, Salceda, Sandoval, Silverio, Teves, Unico, Violago, Ylagan & Zubiri.


      So superfluous and insignificant are principles and platform to political parties that some families have members who belong to rival parties, like the Aquinos of Tarlac: Rep. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino who is with LP;  Rep. Agapito “Butz” Aquino who is with LDP; and Jesli Aquino Lapus who is with the NPC (before he was appointed by President Arroyo as Secretary of Education).


      The dynastic character of Congress is more predominant than the prominent role of parties.  The PCIJ study showed that in the 11th Congress, 26 percent belonged to first and second generations of political families. In the 12th Congress, it wa 47 percent, with spouses, siblings, children, children, or in-laws in public office. (Coronel,  2004 : 60)  This trend is true for both administration and opposition politicians.


Patterns in Elite-driven Political Parties in the Philippines

      The Philippine elite, personified by the political clans from the various parts of the archipelago, have honed the machineries of their political parties. There may be various political parties today, but most of these parties are actually representing only one sector, the sector of the propertied sectors in Philippine society (Simbulan, D., 2005; Hollnsteiner, 1969; Hutchcroft, 1998).  Here are some patterns and characteristics of political parties in the post-EDSA period:


  1. 1.      There is continuity and stability of elite control over traditional political parties.
  2. 2.      There is now an array of multi-parties on the national level, including a few in the regional and provincial level, but they nevertheless represent the factions of the elite; thus, competition for political power is kept among themselves. 
  3. 3.      Except for the party-list groups, on the national level there is a similarity of programs and political principles among the elite-driven parties and the absence of ideological issues, looseness of party affiliations and interchangeability of their members.
  4. 4.      Political patronage and spoils, not policies or programs, are what determine the alignment or realignment of the political parties of the elites together, thus resulting in the expected party-switching and turncoatism that characterize Philippine politics today since the era before martial law, during martial law and after the two EDSA revolts.      The party alignments of the incumbent 13th Congress (2004-2007) reveal the ad-hoc nature of the “party system” as depicted in the House of Representatives:


                                Lakas                    81

                                NPC                      37

                                LP                         32

                                KAMPI                 31

                                 NP                        15

                                 LDP                       3

                                 KNP                       2

                                 PDSP                      2

                                 PDP-Laban –           1

                                 PMP                        1

                                 Reporma                 1

                                  KBL                        1

                                 Party-List               24


                                 Total                      232 


Source: House of Representatives records, 2007.                                


       Even the 24 party-list seats are now the targets of opportunity for certain political clans who have discovered that it could be a cheaper way of gaining political power for another relative. The party-list votes are even more crucial as influential party-list representatives with strong organizational and mass support have shown themselves to be the core of the impeachment attempts against President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.  And this is why there have been alleged attempts by government to indirectly gain party-list seats.  According to Akbayan party-list Rep. Loretta Ann Rosales, certain government “fronts” have enlisted and have been accredited  as party-list groups such as Babae Ka, Ang Kasangga, Akbay Pinoy, Aksyon Sambayanan(AKSA), Agbiag!, Timpuyog Ilokano Inc., Ahon Pinoy, Aangat Tayo, Aangat ang Kabuhayan(ANAK), Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy(ANAD) and Kakusa.  The last, Kakusa, stands for Kapatiran ng mga Nakulong na Walang Sala (Association of Convicts who are Innocent), which suddenly appeared from the National Penitentiary in Muntinglupa. (Philippine Star, 2007)


 The much-vaunted “machinery of political parties,” “machine politics” or “party machinery” has a lot to do with the mobilization of pork barrel, patronage (especially in the case of incumbent candidates), and cash and violence. In an elite democracy, this is considered a “right” as much as it is actually a machinery of cheating in contemporary Philippine electoral politics.


     The so-called political parties of the traditional type are therefore not really political parties in the real sense, but political machineries, money machines which can instantly create networks of leaders and supporters from the barangay upwards, depending on the amount of the largesse that is available. (Tirol & Coronel, 1992; Abueva et al, eds., 1969; Wurfel, 1998)



Political Parties of the Marginalized and Disadvantaged Sectors

     Elite-based politics has not gone unchallenged in Philippine history.  The revolutionary secret society – the Katipunan, which organized the revolution against Spain — became a model for latter-day organizations of the masses.  The emergence of working-class parties and other social movements has always challenged the foreign and local elites in the country if not in the electoral struggle, in the streets and remote hinterlands (Simbulan, R., 2000).


     Even before she was elected as Akbayan’s first elected representative in the first party-list elections in 1998, Rosales has long worked for legitimate representation of the marginal and underrepresented sectors in the Philippine Congress.  She was a former leading member of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan or BAYAN.  In 1994, as executive director for the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER), she was one of the active lobbyists for the enactment of the party-list law as provided in the 1987 Constitution.  In the first party-list elections held in 1998, which was not participated in by the mainstream Left, Akbayan won a seat and as its first nominee of the party, Rosales represented its multi-sectoral members in the 11th Congress of the House of Representatives.


     Akbayan (Citizens’ Action Party) is an organization that serves as a vehicle for building political power for political, economic and social reform. Its “state and civil society framework” guides its program for economic and political reform as well as its more detailed platforms on issues such as agrarian reform, labor, women, environment, etc. Akbayan is a progressive political party comprised of many progressive groups and political tendencies – national democrats, socialists, democratic socialists, and popular democrats. It has been serious in its “constructive engagement” with the government to improve the lives of the masses. During its first bid in the 1998 party-list elections, the party won 240,000 votes, coming in number nine out of 124 parties.  By the 13th Congress, it had three party-list representatives.


     Historically, there is no precedent of a Left political party organized nationwide for purposes of fielding and/or supporting candidates before the declaration of martial law in 1972 and even during the entire Marcos era.  Moreover, with a few exceptions at the local level, the Philippine Left largely refrained from organized electoral participation before the 1987 elections.  Heavy-handed government policies, electoral fraud and crackdown against Democratic Alliance (DA) candidates of the organized Left, such as in the elections of 1947, largely discouraged the emergence of issue-based ideological party groups in the electoral arena. In the case of the PKP-initiated Democratic Alliance which participated in the 1947 elections and won six congressional seats, the DA representatives-elect were all barred from sitting in the legislature on charges by the landlord-dominated Congress that they had committed fraud and terrorism.  Other experiences that served to discourage the Left from taking part in electoral politics was the crackdown after the 1978 National Assembly elections where Left fielded candidates in Metro Manila. That crackdown only served to validate the boycott position within the Philippine Left in the years to come, between the official lifting of Martial Law in 1981 and the fall of Marcos in 1986.  These experiences became the basis for the boycott line of the Left during the 1986 snap elections. The Left remained secure in the arena of their “parliament of the streets.” (Ladlad, 2001)


     In 1987, the Left saw an opening in the “democratic space” created after the downfall of the Marcos dictatorship. For the 1987 national elections, they organized the Partido ng Bayan (PnB) with its senatorial slate consisting of candidates who were former political detainees.  Carrying a platform of “New Politics,” it was the first time that the Left fielded candidates on the national level for an electoral contest. But the Left was not really ready nor serious to participate in elections where the rules were determined by patronage. Many PnB supporters were not even able to register for the elections, and besides, there was a feeling then that the Left was participating only to bring its issues to the people, in other words, for “propaganda.” It could not match the electoral machinery of the traditional political clans and elites who survived the demise of the Marcos era.  It has been observed that the PNB candidates in the 1987 elections were doomed to defeat because the Left was largely unprepared for this political engagement. (Rocamora, 2001)  The two representatives of Partido ng Bayan who managed to get elected in the House of Representatives—Ben Garduce and Gregorio Andolana–later defected to the ruling political party of the administration, the LDP.


      The phenomenal showing of the Bayan Muna party-list group in the 2001 and 2004 elections, though expected because of the national organizational machinery and structure of the mainstream Philippine Left that it built painstakingly since the Marcos martial law years, also highlighted the limitations of genuine people’s representatives in an elite-dominated Congress.  A party-list organization is limited to three representatives even if the party gets more than 6% of the votes, thereby restricting party representation and empowerment of the marginalized sectors represented by that party.  The ceiling of three maximum representatives not only restricts true representation, but puts to waste the excess votes from the disadvantaged and marginalized sectors.  Further, the party-list rules at present encourage fragmentation rather than consolidation into a single political party. A maximum of three representatives can be elected from a single party.  The party-list system would be greatly improved if the 20% seat allotment were increased and the three-seats limit per party-list group were removed. ( Interview with Magtubo, 2007).


       The loose process of accrediting party-list organizations by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) has allowed some groups or politicians identified with the administration to sponsor their own party-list organizations using government funds.  But while the COMELEC has allowed some religious organizations or sects like Mike Velarde’s El Shaddai to sponsor the BUHAY party-list and the Citizens Battle Against Corruption or CIBAC which is backed up by the Jesus is Lord Movement of Brother Eddie Villanueva, it has strangely not given accreditation to party-list groups like LADLAD, a national organization of gays and lesbians. This distorts the very essence of party-list representation which is to give voice to under-represented sectors like labor, peasants, urban poor, and indigenous peoples, including the “third sex” such as gays and lesbians.


         Party-list groups have the potential to become a counterfoil to elite-driven politics. Progressive people’s organizations and non-government organizations should take the task of building political parties that are capable of winning elections seriously. It is through the party-list system where the organizations and parties of the marginalized sectors of society who are under-represented in the congressional district-based Congress, are beginning to challenge the programs, political principles and even the ideology of the elite parties. They can, in fact, be agents of hope towards democratizing the elite-dominated Congress (Co et al., 2005).  Progressive political parties could also start the transformation of Philippine politics.


     Conclusion: The Prospects of Philippine Political Parties


      Many Filipinos hope that political parties can broaden democracy through greater popular participation in decision-making.   But there are no real political parties among the present major players in the electoral arena.  There is truth to Enrile’s observation in the early 1990s that only the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) is playing the role of a real political party, but it is shut off from the electoral arena.  What “political parties” the country has are actually alliances of convenience among political clans who have no coherent program or platform. They live, survive and thrive on the money machinery, political spoils, access to power and patronage politics. 


       Disappointingly, the post-EDSA political system and environment have failed to produce national leaders – even if they belong to the elite clans – who can forsake family and clan interests for the larger good of the nation and stake their political careers to that end.  Needless to say, mainstream Philippine political parties and their leaders did not mature enough to develop a national outlook for the national interest. 


        In looking at contemporary political parties and the political terrain and process, one finds that while there is a formal mechanism that offers citizens a voice in national affairs, it is also one that is designed to assure the monopoly of political power by the economic elite.  The model and examples shown by the few but very effective party-list groups in the 11th  (1998- 2001), 12th (2001-2004)  and 13th Congresses (2004 -2007) reveal that there is still a glitter of hope for Philippine political parties.  Party-list organizations like Bayan Muna, Akbayan, Anakpawis, Gabriela, Partido ng Manggagawa, to name a few, have shown that it is possible to promote clear visions and programs into the electorate and the political system but this has yet to be refined, improved and expanded.


     We would like to see the day when all 24 Senate seats are reserved for nationally elected party-list organizations while at least one-third of the House of Representatives are reserved for regionally elected party-list representatives. The 200 members of the House elected by congressional districts can be retained, but an added 100 seats should be for party-list representation elected by region. This way, the party-list system could be improved and a way out is found to break the personality and money contests that have come to characterize Philippine elections.


      The present political landscape reveals a political and economic class that continues to hold on to state power, increasing their dynastic hold, and becoming intolerant of the critical and open dialogue that should sustain a democracy.


       The rash of killings of members of a particular political party is not encouraging. The force of arms should not be used in the competition for political power, even if some parties do it in their quest for political power. This is why a group like the Armed Forces of the Philippines should not be allowed to compete as a political party given its advantage in discipline, training and arms. It would be an obstacle to the broadening of democracy and serve to encourage groups to use extra-legal means to seize political power.


      The challenge is to broaden democracy through greater popular participation in the political process and in government. Until that happens, political power in the Philippines will continue to reside in money. As such, Philippine political parties will remain as money machines.






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Co, Edna, et al. (2005)  Philippine Democracy Assessment. Manila: Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) & UP-NCPAG.


Coronel, Sheila S.  (2004) “Dynasty”, 46-55, and “Clans and Parties”, 6-69 in Coronel et al, eds, The Rulemakers, How the Wealthy and Well-born Dominate Congress. Q.C.: PCIJ. 


David, Randy. (1986)  “Re-democratization in the Wake of the 1986 People Power Revolution: Errors and Dilemmas”, KASARINLAN, p. 20.


David, Randy. (2007) “The Future of Political Parties”, Column, Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 28, 2007.


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Guerrero, Amado.(1990) Philippine Society and Revolution. Reprint edition by the International Association of Filipino Patriots.


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Gutierrez, Eric. (1994) THE TIES THAT BIND: A Guide to Family, Business and Other Interests in the Ninth House of Representatives. Pasig: PCIJ. 


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       Ladlad, Vicente P.  (2001)“Ang Kabuluhan ng Tagumpay ng Bayan Muna sa Eleksyon at ang mga Salik sa Pagkakamit Nito”, Paper read before the Bayan Muna National Council Meeting on June 27, 2001.


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        Brochures, documents and newsletters of the following party-list groups: Buhay, Cibac, Butil Farmers Group, An Waray, Alliance of Volunteer Educators (AVE), Coop-NATCCO, Anak Mindanao (AMIN), Bayan Muna, Gabriela and Anakpawis. 






  1. Representative Renato Magtubo, Partido ng Manggagawa Party-list, Feb. 5, 2007.
  2. Senator Edgardo Angara, President, Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, Feb. 7, 2007.


Table I

Major Political Parties Based on 2004 Elections

Party Name                                  Founding year    Chairperson/Founder


                                ALYANSA NG PAG-ASA


Aksyon Demokratiko (AD)                       1997         Sulpicio Roco

Partido ng Demokratikong Reporma 

    – Lapiang Manggagawa (REPORMA)  N/A         Renato de Villa

Proinsya Muna Development Initiative

(PROMDI)                                                                    Lito Osmena





Kabalikat ng Mamamayang Pilipino        1996       Gloria Macapagal

           (KAMPI)                                                                -Arroyo(Founder)

Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats         1991       Jose de Venecia


Liberal Party  (LP)                                      1945       Franklin Drilon

Nacionalista Party (NP)                               1907      Manuel Villar  

Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC)          N/A       Eduardo Cojuangco


People’s Reform Party (PRP)                     1991       Miriam Defensor-


Philippine Democratic Socialist Party        1973        Norberto Gonzales






Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino               1985       Edgardo Angara

    (LDP -Angara Wing)                           

Partido Demokratikong Pilipino-

     Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban)                  1984       Aquilino Pimentel

Partido ng Masang Pilipino  (PMP)              1987       Joseph Estrada



                                    UNAFFILIATED PARTIES


Kilusang Bagong Lipunan  (KBL)                 1978       Ferdinand Marcos

Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino                 1985       Agapito Aquino

     (LDP- AquinoWing)               





      Party Name                                    Founding year    Chairperson


Akbayan Citizens’Action Party(AKBAYAN)  1998  Ronald Llamas

Buhay Hayaan Yumabong (BUHAY)                n/a    Melquiades Robles 

Partido Magdala                                                   n/a    N/A

Sarangani Reconciliation and Reformation

Organization (SARRO)                                        n/a  Priscilla Chiongbian


Alagad                                                                    n/a     n/a

Alang sa Kalambu-an ug Kalinaw(ALAYON)   N/A  John Osmena

Alliance of Volunteer Educators (AVE)              N/A   N/A

Anak Mindanao (AMIN)                                       N/A   N/A

ANAKPAWIS                                                         N/A   N/A

Ang Laban ng Indiginong Filipino(ALIF)           N/A    N/A

An Waray                                                                2001   Florencio Noel

Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives   N/A    N/A


Bayan Muna                                                              1999      Satur Ocampo 

Citizen’s Battle Against Corruption(CIBAC)      N/A       N/A

Cooperative NATCCO Network Party                 1998      Cresente Paez


Gabriel Women’s Party  (GABRIELA)                 n/a        Liza Maza

Luzon Farmers Party (BUTIL)                               N/A       N/A

Partido ng Manggagawa (PM)                              N/A    Renato Magtubo

Veterans Freedom Party  (VFP)                            N/A         N/A




Bangon Pilipinas Movement (BPM)                      2004   Eddie Villanueva

Green Party of the Philippines (GP)                   1990 Felizardo Colambo 

Partido Isang Bansa Isang Diwa (PIBID)           2004 Eddie Gil

Progressive Party (PP)                                          1957  Raul Manglapus




Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino (LAMMP)

Puwersa ng Masa(PnM)

United Nationalists Democratic Organizations (UNIDO)






The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip in May 20th 2010




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