The Long View: The spoiled spoils system


The spoiled spoils system

By: Manuel L. Quezon III – @inquirerdotnet

Philippine Daily Inquirer / 04:25 AM June 21, 2023

We like to call it patronage but the Americans more aptly call it the spoils system (“to the victors belong the spoils”) since the time of Andrew Jackson. If ideology is the mental glue of a political party, then the spoils system is the concrete manifestation of party loyalty. You work your way up a party, in the hope that, if and when it wins, the leaders will reward you. Our history of unintended consequences means that among the consequences of so-called democratic reforms has been the elimination of the practical incentives for party loyalty and cohesion that goes beyond a clan.

Among other things, the one-term presidency assists national politicians to simply await the results of a presidential contest to see the winner and stampede their way into an instant, new, majority remarkably identical to the old majority except for the very few unable to jump from the campaigns of those who lost. Electing senators nationally—a necessity—was divorced from electing them through bloc voting, meaning only celebrity and money counts because parties lost all leverage over the selection and election of senators. And decreeing that the barangay is nonpolitical has literally cut off parties at the knees since no one can join and rise through the ranks. Our national parties are, instead, like “manananggal”: all torso and no grassroots, while local and regional parties are walking legs but empty above the waist.

The President’s landslide election in 2022 proved how purely decorative national parties have become, as far as what parties are supposed to do. His party of choice, the Partido Federal ng Pilipinas, wasn’t merely petite, it was microscopic. But in the end, it didn’t matter and doesn’t seem to have mattered, even as nearly half of its membership disappeared in the first wave of coalition cannibalism that consumed the President’s first executive secretary. Lakas-CMD, after a leadership reshuffle, became the heavy lifter in the coalition.

And yet, the President remained above the fray, while his official party remained a political appendix. When there was news, it was about something new, to be known as Kilusan ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP), launched last July. A couple of weeks ago, Leyte Rep. Richard Gomez said in an interview that the new party was the President’s idea, and indeed its name reveals it is aspiring to have Marcos bonafide: the idea of a “kilusan,” or movement, dates to Marcos Sr. who, in turn, borrowed the idea of an “aggrupation” to supersede the existing parties antedating him, from the Kalibapi (Kapisanan ng Paglilingkod sa Bagong Pilipinas) of the Japanese occupation (from which many other Marcos-era political ideas came from). Gomez went as far as saying the truly tiny representation of the Partido Federal in the House was just waiting for the KNP to be formally approved by the Commission on Elections to leave their tiny raft for the giant super ferry this new party promises to be.

But here comes a funny little story. Last Friday, we’re told, the President inducted the first batch of new recruits into the Partido Federal, which was bolstered by another batch inducted by party bigwigs the next day, in the San Miguel neighborhood of the Palace. A look-see at the names mentioned reveals Davao del Norte Gov. Edwin Jubahib, Zamboanga Sibugay Gov. Dulce Anne Hofer, Batanes Gov. Malou Cayco as among the new recruits, and here it looks like the saying all politics is local holds true. Jubahib and Hofer have left PDP-Laban, so they are departures from the Duterte (senior) camp; Jubahib faced rivals from Duterte (Sara’s) Hugpong ng Pagbabago in two polls and Cayco is a refugee from the Liberal Party. There is no reason to think they won’t follow Rufus Rodriguez’s lead if Goma’s expectation proves correct.

We have always been coalition-minded since national elections began in 1935 but the coalitions aren’t of parties but of factions assembled by political impresarios: producers, so to speak, looking for a bankable star. Brought to power by a relatively small clique, it’s easy enough for presidents to reward their insiders; but they are also instantly saddled with that gigantic, permanent, majority that immediately sucks the air—or money, which is the same thing in politics—out of the room. What results is that giddy feeling of activity which disguises the actual lack of any real movement, as our country falling further and further behind in nearly every measure of national success, except perhaps short-term profits, proves.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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