The title is not meant to be sarcastic, just as that highly creative internet “story” about Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong discussing Philippine democracy as characterized by many “parties.”
But indeed we have many political parties in the theoretical and legal sense of the word, because as long as the arbiter of elections, the Comelec, says it is a party, then party it is.
Long have I characterized our political parties as nothing more than flags of convenience for the personal ambitions of political players.
But this time, let us analyze the raison d’etre of these parties other than as a vehicle for personal, mostly presidential ambitions. Because most of them have ceased to be such.
Which are the national parties? Well, follow the money.
There is the Lakas which the late FVR cobbled for his successful presidential run in 1992.
But after Joe de Venecia, FVR’s handpicked candidate for Lakas, lost in 1998, the members started a beeline for LAMMP, or LAban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino, a conglomeration of the late Ed Angara’s Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, Danding Cojuangco’s Nationalist (Makabayan) People’s Coalition, and Erap’s Partido ng Masang Pilipino.
Looking back to the struggle against the dictatorship, activated from slumber after the assassination of Ninoy Aquino, the first to band together were the almost decimated members of the Nacionalista and Liberal parties, under a loose coalition called UNIDO or United Nationalist Democratic Organization, bankrolled by the late Salvador “Doy” Laurel.
In Mindanao, then Mayor Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel put up the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino (PDP), which attracted many from the progressive sectors.
Cory Aquino had an emotional attachment to Pimentel’s PDP, but during the snap elections of 1986, she had to bow to the reality that she needed a functioning nationwide machinery to battle Marcos with, and ran with Doy as her VP under the UNIDO.
Once in power though, Cory ditched UNIDO, through anointing the late Jovito Salonga as Senate President, thus reviving the pre-martial law Liberal Party, which her late husband and their branch of the Cojuangco family used in Tarlac, while her younger brother Peping revived Laban in the House of Representatives, later re-named Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) in time for the 1992 elections, the first presidential battle under the 1987 Cory Constitution.
But then the LDP candidate, Speaker Monching Mitra, lost to FVR’s rag-tag party of seven congressmen which comprised the Lakas-NUCD. In limbo, LDP was nursed by Sen. Ed Angara and coalesced with FVR’s Lakas for the mid-term elections of 1995.
So to follow the money, LDP was first bankrolled by the late Monching Mitra’s rich friends who, however, withdrew support when Monching lost and Edong presided.
Much of that money trail formed a line behind the popular VP Erap in 1998, when he trounced all rivals decisively, after a hasty political marriage with Ed Angara as his VP.
Meanwhile, the late Danding Cojuangco, after his defeat in 1992, continued to support his group of loyalists under the Nationalist People’s Coalition.
It never fielded a standard bearer for the presidency since Danding’s failed run, but became potent as an all-for-one and one-for-all bloc in the House of Representatives, with a sprinkling of senators to back up legislation favorable to the economic interests of the San Miguel conglomerate controlled by Cojuangco, later passed on to his highly successful economic partner, Ramon S. Ang.
Lakas triumphed after the downfall of Erap, when his vice-president, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, took over on January 21, 2001, the virtual coup later sanctioned by the Supreme Court.
By 2004, the late movie king FPJ ran against GMA under a coalition backed up by Angara’s LDP, Erap’s Partido ng Masang Pilipino, and Danding’s NPC.
With a little help from Hello Garci, GMA and her Lakas-LP alliance won, giving Arroyo the second longest-serving presidential reign since FM Sr.
Preparatory to 2010, Sen. Mar Roxas, who topped the senatorial elections in 1995 under the yet-functioning Lakas-LP coalition, rebuilt and bankrolled the Liberal Party founded by his grandfather, the first president of the Third Republic, and was virtually a shoo-in as the LP candidate for president.
But destiny had other designs. After Cory Aquino died, Mar had to play second fiddle to Sen. Benigno S. Aquino III. PNoy triumphed, and predictably, everybody took an oath as LP member.
PNoy’s closest rival before Erap overtook and placed second in the presidential sweepstakes of 2010 was Manny Villar, to whom an ailing Doy Laurel bequeathed the Grand Old Party, for the former to use as his vehicle for his 2010 run.
Despite his loss, Villar continued to bankroll the NP, attracting in 2016, three presidential contenders who later ran for vice-president, namely Alan Cayetano, Bongbong Marcos, and Sonny Trillanes.
Playing his cards right, as the three ran under different presidential candidates, the NP had no official candidate for president, although Villar gave his financial support to the “dejado” Davao Mayor Rodrigo Duterte who won.
Duterte used the PDP as his vehicle, and, after his victory, Speaker Bebot Alvarez brought into its tent all kinds of turncoats, a practice by then commonly accepted.
Meanwhile, other economic oligarchs took the cue from Danding’s NPC and Villar’s NP, and formed their own political parties, whether of regional or dynastic consequence through the party-list system, or a big national party such as Enrique K. Razon’s National Unity Party (NUP), which, like the NPC, nominated no presidential standard bearers, preferring to support whoever and from whatever party, based on their pre-election day survey ratings.
Seguristas always bet on the llamados.
Thus it was in the last elections.
Just to have a flag of political convenience, candidates ran under instantly-revived parties: Isko Moreno under the late Raul Roco’s Aksyon Demokratiko; Ping Lacson under the Reporma which Renato de Villa used in 1998; Manny Pacquiao under the late Lito Osmena’s Promdi, after an intramural within the PDP which did not run a candidate of its own.
Leni Robredo who won as vice-president under the LP six years earlier, ditched its yellow colors and formed an independently “pink” coalition of mostly LP stalwarts, the lord bishops of the Catholic Church, and the elite religious universities, etc.
The winner, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., formerly KBL, formerly NP, ran under a heretofore unknown entity called Partido Federal, yet won with more than 58 percent of the vote.
Post-June 30, where lies our political party system?
Follow the money.
NP is still Manny Villar’s (MBV), the richest man in the Philippines per Forbes magazine. NPC is bankrolled by Ramon S. Ang (RSA) of the humongous San Miguel conglomerate. NUP is funded by port and casino magnate Enrique K. Razon (EKR), and Lakas by Speaker Martin G. Romualdez.
PDP-Laban recently elected another billionaire, Palawan’s Jose Chaves Alvarez (JCA) as president, with the approval of former Pres. Rodrigo Duterte, its chairman.
One wonders who will bankroll the Liberal Party, decimated after 2016 and ditched by its own Leni in 2022, now headed by Rep. Edcel Lagman of Bicol.
Whither goes Pacquiao’s Promdi, even as Koko Pimentel continues to invoke hereditary rights over PDP?
Or Reporma after Ping Lacson was traded for by party president Bebot Alvarez for the “pink” coalition? Or Aksyon Demokratiko after Isko Moreno has left politics for now in order to form a media production company?
Unless and until we revise the 1987 Constitution and re-instate the two-party presidential system because we do not have the maturity to go parliamentary, come 2025, and come 2028, the template will remain: Have money, will party.
The late revered Sen. Jose Wright Diokno once defined politics as “nothing more than concentrated economics.” How right he was.
We decry our oligarchic economy, where regulatory capture is the best way to earn more, the sure fire way to billions in profits.
Truth is, they and their money have also captured our politics.