Oligarchic Politics by Francis A. Gealogo, Roland G. Simbulan, Ely H. Manalansan, Jr., Felix P. Muga II, Bobby M. Tuazon, Temario C. Rivera, and Danilo Araña Arao
Published by the Center for People Empowerment in Governance
Oligarchic Politics, published by the Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), is a timely book considering that the Filipino electorate is again in the midst of an election season. The questions it raises and the answers it strives to provide, however, deal with issues the relevance of which will last beyond the coming electoral exercise.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Politics in the Philippines is often observed to be largely an enclave of the country’s moneyed and privileged classes. A new book published by the policy study institution Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG), Oligarchic Politics –- set to be launched May 8 at the Balai Kalinaw, University of the Philippines (UP) in Diliman, Quezon City –- tells why this observation is sound.
Oligarchic Politics dissects the political party system in the Philippines, but gives special focus to the party-list bloc.
In his essay “History of Political Parties in the Philippines,” historian Francis A. Gealogo of the Ateneo de Manila University traces the roots of Philippine political parties to the American colonial period. He gives two reasons for their origins:
The first was the realized need by the American colonizers to put forward a viable avenue for political participation by Filipinos as a counterpoint to the armed resistance of the Filipino revolutionaries against colonial occupation. The electoral exercise and the attendant formation of political parties will therefore present itself as an alternative reaction to American rule by Filipinos who would otherwise be involved in armed resistance. The second is the need to attract a significant number of Filipino elites into the fold of colonial governance. The electoral process would ensure elite participation in the colonial political project of integrating the well-to-do members of the society to the institutionalization of the colonial administrative control over the population.
Roland G. Simbulan, a former Faculty Regent at UP, analyzes Philippine traditional politics since the 1986 downfall of the Marcos dictatorship in “Contemporary Politics in the Philippines: The Configuration of Post-Edsa I Political Parties,” using in part research by Cyrus Alanis. He puts forward in this essay the view that what happened after the ouster of Ferdinand Marcos from the presidency was not the restoration of “democracy” as claimed by some journalists and historians, but the restoration of what he calls “the trappings of the undeveloped and distorted party system”: elite domination and the “ideological monotony” of the mainstream political parties.
The succeeding chapter, “The Philippine Party-List System: Opportunities, Limitations and Prospects” by Ely H. Manalansan, Jr., provides a historical perspective on the Philippine party-list system. Manalansan, who was involved with a number of research institutions before working as a staff researcher at the House of Representatives, lays bare in his essay the bitter irony that while the party-list system is mandated to serve as a mechanism by which marginalized sectors may be represented in Congress, it is itself marginalized in the overall scheme of things.
He cites the proliferation of “party-list groups” that are appendages of traditional political parties and, worse, adjuncts of the incumbent administration. Manalansan also documents several instances in which the bills filed by progressive party-list groups were blocked, citing as a case in point the recall of Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Rep. Crispin Beltran’s bill for a P125 across-the-board, nationwide wage increase for private-sector workers after it was approved at the House of Representatives. He also cites the political persecution of progressive party-list representatives.
In the end, Manalansan points to the progressive party-list bloc as the force that makes the party-list system really work for those sectors of society it is supposed to serve. As he says:
Not only have they done the most in terms of legislations for the masses they represent, they likewise represent what genuine party-lists of the masses should be doing in Congress. Without them, prospects for the party-list system appear not very promising, even dreary. It may lead to party-lists becoming instruments of traditional political parties, as in fact is the trajectory of interests of elitists in government.
Meanwhile, in two essays -– “The Negation of the Party-List Law on the Principle of Proportional Representation” and “On Stakeholder-Based Allocation Method: A Fair Allocation of Power in the Philippine Party-List System,” Feliz P. Muga II, an associate professor of Mathematics at the Ateneo de Manila University, dissects the mathematics behind the principle of proportional representation in the party-list system.
The next chapter after Muga’s two essays –- “The Future of Oligarchic Politics and the Party-List System” by Bobby M. Tuazon, CenPEG’s Policy Study, Publication and Advocacy (PSPA) program director –- projects a not-so-bright future for the party-list system, with conditions having become “less and less favorable for its full realization” as he says, but nonetheless counsels the progressive bloc not to give up the struggle in the electoral arena even as he reminds that it is not only through electoral or parliamentary struggle that what he calls “real governance” can evolve.
In “The Crisis of Philippine Electoral Democracy,” Temario C. Rivera, a professor of Comparative Politics and International Relations at the International Christian University of Tokyo, examines what he considers the two “critical problems” of Philippine electoral democracy: the elitist mode of representation and the lack of accountability and its continuing political instability. “A clear alternative to this status quo lies in building up a strong and more representative and accountable party system that can challenge elite dominance of electoral processes,” Rivera writes.
The last chapter, “Elections, Personality Politics and the Mass Media” by UP Journalism professor Danilo Araña Arao, criticizes the personality-based orientation of much of media coverage of elections, and reminds journalists of their task “to ensure a comprehensive discussion of issues concerning politics, economics and culture and consequently transcend personality politics that characterizes campaigns during elections.”
Oligarchic Politics is a timely book considering that the Filipino electorate is again in the midst of an election season. The questions it raises and the answers it strives to provide, however, deal with issues the relevance of which will last beyond the coming electoral exercise. Bulatlat