Political Reform and Human Development

By Christopher Ryan Maboloc
Ateneo de Davao University

Why is the political party system in the Philippines weak? Why is it that the most Filipinos do not find these political parties instrumental to their well-being? What is the relation between political reform and human development? Why have we not created, for decades now, a mature democracy?

My argument is that while our democratic rights and entitlements are important, it matters how we are able to fully use them, and how we use them depends on our sense of self-worth. The basic point is that to make democracy work, it must be stressed that democratic procedures alone do not guarantee the creation of a just or well-ordered society. The Party Reform Bill now pending in Congress is a crucial step, but first, the electorate needs to understand what it means to be in a functioning democracy. Political parties in the Philippines don’t mean anything to most Filipinos because as voters we are more concerned about personalities during elections rather than party programs. To most parties, you have to be makamasa in order to get votes.

The Party Reform Bill rests on two crucial provisions – election campaign financing and punishing political turn-coats. First, campaign financing helps principled young men and women who otherwise do not have the resources to unite themselves and venture into politics. It ensures that the state equitably gives equal chances in terms of realizing the political visions of all citizens. While it can be argued that precious state funds should be spent on more urgent concerns, financing political parties needs to be considered since political institutions are basically the engines of social growth. Obviously, many of our intelligent young men and women do not join politics since it is like committing suicide if you lack the machinery and resources.

Secondly, political turn-coats poison democracy. While it can be said that political turn-coats are men and women who have no clear principles, it must be noted that many candidates in Philippine elections receive little or no financial support from their parties during campaigns. They therefore use personal money or solicit money from spurious sources in order to finance their campaign. The obvious fact is that it is not possible to win without funds, for you need resources for the logistics of a good campaign. Thus, some politicians switch parties in order to take advantage of the resources of the party. The candidate sacrifices his principles in favor of financial support. It may not guarantee his winning the elections. But if he wins, he will think that he owes his victory to his new party or sponsors. When Albert Einstein said that “politics is temporary; a mathematical equation is for eternity”, Einstein seems to be suggesting that nothing is permanent in politics since politicians do not live forever. But the point here is that while people are easily weakened by external factors like money and prestige, public service should be governed by strong ethical principles. Ultimately, the goal for any political organization is to win in order to implement one’s vision and programs. But this must never be at the expense of ethical principles.

Political reform is badly needed in the country because most politicians are indebted to their rich benefactors. Politicians rely on their money in order to win during elections. As such, politicians fail to promote and protect the agenda of the poor and disadvantaged. If power is that which matters in the political apparatus, then it is essential that such power must not to fall in the hands of political financiers who seek to control government decisions and appointments. The influence of powerful and moneyed persons who dictate the goals of our political parties is bad for democracy. This is because the choice of right principles is affected by the self-serving motives and interests of a powerful few. This clearly undermines the poor and uneducated, those with mental disabilities, and women who are marginalized. There is political exclusion because the poor have no voice in our political institutions. For instance, the party list system is a sham. Real democracy is not manifest when party list representatives are those who belong to the elite.

President Manuel L. Quezon once said that “my loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins”. But it must be understood that a political party is meant to serve the interest of the country. Politicians are supposed to serve the interest of the public. Political parties, as a requirement of social justice, must ensure that each Filipino is given his or her due as a citizen of this country. If democracy can have any meaning at all, it must work for the greater good of ordinary people. The rule of law is meant to protect the weak and innocent. Just economic policies must benefit the poor and vulnerable. In a democracy, people are above all other values. The speech of former President Fidel V. Ramos at the Australian National University, as quoted by Sen, clarifies this: “Under dictatorial rule, people need not think – need not choose – need not make up their minds or give their consent. All they need to do is to follow. The political challenge for people around the world today is not just to replace authoritarian regimes by democratic ones and beyond this, it is to make democracy work for ordinary people”.

Howard Handelman, a sociologist, notes that “full liberal democracy requires not only freely contested elections but also respect for civil liberties”. This means that under the rule of law, there exists the constitutional essential of “respect for due process”. This is necessary to protect people from political persecution and from the abuses of those who are in power. The apparent moral incompetence of many of our leaders makes them vulnerable to greed and selfishness. Dynasties reflect this as a matter of fact. In this regard, political power becomes the domain and playground of the chosen few, who disadvantage the poor and vulnerable no end. “Fair elections” are not really fair because the playing ground is not level.

Realizing the vision of human development is only possible under a mature and fully functioning democracy. Democracy therefore requires, fundamentally and as matter of principle, the basic respect for the dignity of the human person, which means respecting the voice of an ordinary voter. Far beyond politics, there exists an individual who dreams, desires, and hopes. What we owe to each other is self-respect. Self-worth is the ultimate basis for a life that is well-lived. If one does not see the meaning of one’s life, then one cannot have a life that is worth living. Thus, the basic structure must work, according to Dr. Gaston Ortigas, for the “whole person” and for “all persons”.

The “dynamic interplay of people participation, empowerment and moral governance” or in the words of Dr. Ortigas, the “democratization of development”, happens only when people come to realize the moral ends and real value of just political institutions. Political maturity requires that a voter does not only go to his precinct to exercise a right but that more importantly, he understands that his vote means something for he stands to benefit from the government he elects. Depth in terms of a person’s political maturity matters in the kind of institutions people come to establish. People need to understand issues and evaluate their judgments in terms of how these may affect their lives. Self-reflection is crucial in confronting the complications of modern socio-political existence for the individual to realize his social and political goals.

The Party Reform Bill is about people choosing a future in which they have a stake. The weakness of our institutions manifests our very weakness as a people. Institutional decisions and strategic directions are based on the choices made by the individuals to whom we entrust political power. As such, it matters how we as a people choose our leaders and those who formulate policies that affect us. Voters must be empowered to exercise their political will in electing good and competent leaders. Political parties are the building blocks of a functioning democracy. As such, political parties must manifest, secure, and work fully to actualize the hopes and aspirations of a free people. Until then, human development remains a dream.

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