I was aghast to read an unusually virulent–yet very sloppily-written–editorial of the Philippine Daily Inquirer this morning titled “Dirty, Rotten Trapos.” If not for the serious subject matter–that of reforming the Philippine political party system–I would have just shrugged it off as part of the usual slippage in an otherwise good newspaper.
However, the editorial writer showed appalling ignorance of the subject matter and played fast-and-loose with the facts. As if not contented with this, the editorial unashamedly indulged in baseless speculations and circular argumentation, even the use of the sordid “guilt-by-association” argument.
Let’s dissect the editorial, part by part.
A so-called Consortium on Electoral Reforms (CER) composed of lawmakers from the two chambers of Congress is railroading the passage of what it dubs an electoral reform law that is really nothing but a perpetuation of the worst features of traditional politics or “trapo” (dirty-mop politics in Tagalog slang).
CER, of which I am the chairperson, is entirely composed of civil society electoral reform advocate organizations, 48 of them at the last count. There are no individual members, much more individual legislator-members.
As for railroading of the bill, the stage referred to is the third reading–where there is no more debate and only the vote for or against the bill is made. The fact that it was brought back to second reading to enable debate and entry into record of the views of those legislators who raised their questions after the third reading supports not the contention for railroading but the openness of the House leadership to accommodate these legislators.
The assertion or conclusion that it “perpetuates traditional politics” is nothing but that–an assertion unsupported by facts. Doing a conclusion at the start of an editorial is bad logic and bad writing. The editorial writer should have checked his or her facts.
Without anyone really knowing it, the CER had already held a series of workshop conferences in which the major political parties, party-list groups, members of the academe and so-called civil society reviewed House Bill 3655, “An Act Strengthening the Political Party System” and proposed changes thereto. Last Aug. 30 the bill was passed on third reading, but due to protests against its having been railroaded, it was sent back two days later by the House majority to “further plenary deliberations.”
Since 2002, this has been a bill, first filed in the 12th Congress. There was not much unfavorable reaction to this bill-which was included and discussed in GMA’s legacy program, in the Medium-Term Development Program, in the 2002 political party conference, in innumerable electoral reform summits, conferences, workshops, and symposia, and filed in every Congress. What, no one knows about it?
The railroading was only too obvious. By the time the bill was up for third reading, its title had become “An Act Strengthening the Political Party System, Appropriating Funds Therefor and Other Purposes.” The second clause shows that the proposed law is nothing but a way of channeling state funds (what the bill calls “state subsidy”) to political parties. In short, the bill seeks to fatten trapo parties with pork barrel in time for the 2010 elections. Senate versions of the bill similarly mention the state subsidy to political parties.
The editorial writer should really have checked his or her facts. The title has never changed–it is the 13th Congress bill’s title, it is the 14th Congress House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms committee report title, and it is the 13th Congress Senate committee report’s title.
Again in this passage, there is a leap into an empty conclusion. Pork barrel refers to largesse to individual legislators. This one is a subsidy to political parties-and under specific guidance in the bill on how to spend the money.
Remember, in our present system, it is the candidates who have the money, not the political parties. That is why the latter are weak. At any rate, failure to wisely spend the money for strengthening them can only disadvantage the parties who will do it.
Principally authored by Rep. Juan Edgardo Angara, HB 3655 is long on rhetoric, short on transparency. Ironically, it purports to promote transparency. According to the CER workshop, the bill aims “to institutionalize reforms in the financing of electoral campaigns, thereby promoting accountability and transparency.” It further seeks to penalize political turncoatism, adjust authorized electoral expenses to current consumer price indices, and define criminal liabilities for the non-submission, non-disclosure, false reporting of financial statements, as well as overspending beyond allowable limits.
What is laughable about the bill is that while it ostensibly tries to check electoral overspending and foster transparency in party financing, it seeks to do so by subsidizing the political party system. As things stand now, political parties are not exactly candid or forthright about their financing and spending.
This is the meat or the beef (pardon the pun–it is intended) of the matter of the editorial. It is the argument that the mere existence of the party subsidy constitute a derogation of one of the bill’s objectives, that is, to check overspending and foster transparency. I do not know how the editorial related the one to the other and come up with the wrong conclusion.
As I wrote in my earlier post, the subsidy is to enable political parties to minimally maintain its organization, tighten its influence on individual party candidates, provide an alternative to contributions by private vested interests and illegal fund sources, and act as a lever to open party accounts, monitor them, audit them, and promote accountability of party funds. Party subsidy from public funds is a major feature of strong political party systems in many countries, including those in the United States and Europe.
But let there be no question about it. The Philippines has no law governing political parties other than the Omnibus Election Code, and there are no laws regulating political finance outside the campaign period. There are no limits on spending or contributions, no required declarations of assets and liabilities, no reporting requirements, and no disclosure of financial records to the public or a governmental body. Electoral reform groups have called for a law to regulate party practices and finances between elections.
But even the Comelec has not done well in regulating finances and expenses during campaigns. And it appears none has been penalized for overspending or misdeclaration. A recent report said that several senators had overspent in the last elections. What has the Comelec done about it? Come to think of it, what has the Comelec done to check electioneering and premature campaigning?
So where’s the beef? The bill exactly addresses these concerns. The weaknesses of the Comelec are part of these concerns. CER is the electoral reform group calling for the passage of the law. It is also a member of the Pera at Pulitika Working Group–the pioneering campaign finance monitoring project the editorial cited that exposed the overspending of candidates in the last 2007 elections.
In the meantime, a bill seeks to check party finances and expenses between elections by providing state subsidy to political parties in order to-again check the rhetoric- “professionalize parties and make them viable and accountable partners in development and good governance.” The subsidy is invariably called a “political party development fund,” which echoes the euphemisms about the standard pork barrel of congressmen and senators-“countrywide development fund” and “priority assistance development fund.” The connection is all too readily evident!
The worst logic-guilt by association or, in this case, guilt by two similar words.
It seems that for all their good intentions, our lawmakers can’t help but show their true colors. In seeking to reform the political party system, they end up perpetuating its worst features, especially the unseemly side in which politics and public service become tickets to self-entitlement and -enrichment.
Assertions, assertions… Where’s the facts and the argument?
It can’t be otherwise, perhaps. Congress is filled with political families that have been battened through the decades; so it wouldn’t be expected to pass an enabling law to realize the constitutional proviso against political dynasties. Now it is trying to pass a law to enable parties to earn more business from government. Our dirty rotten trapos are relentless. The way they are railroading HB 3655 and its Senate version, we are yet witnessing what’s literally a rags to riches story.
This is pure speculation and irrelevant to the subject matter. Dynasties are one thing, political parties are another. The editorial writer mixes the two. And ended up with a non-editorial.