A BILL aimed at strengthening the country’s political party system has drawn rigorous criticisms zeroing in on a controversial aspect — the channeling of state funds to finance political parties.

Instead of reform, the bill is said to fatten the “pork barrel” of trapo (traditional politics) parties, entrench their hold of power, and further increase corruption.

For electoral reform advocate Ramon Casiple, these concerns are misplaced, clarifying that the public-subsidy feature of House Bill 3655 is based on the nature of political parties as public institutions, particularly in a democracy.

Speaking at a forum last week, the executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER) and chairperson of the Consortium on Electoral Reforms (CER) explained that strong political parties are a key element in building a strong democracy. “They are essentially one of the major organized links between the citizens and their government.”

But if parties are weak, as in the current electoral system, which the political analyst described as revolving only around personalities “who have the money, the connection, the network and are considered as ‘winnable,'” the gap between the people and the government will continue to widen.

“Turncoatism, election overspending, personality-oriented politics, vote-buying, political dynasties — one of the root causes (of these problems) is the country’s weak political party system,” Casiple said.

Also known as “An Act Strengthening the Political Party System, Appropriating Funds Therefor(e), and for Other Purposes,” HB 3655 establishes a state subsidy fund to be used directly and exclusively for “party development” and “campaign expenditures” of accredited national political parties.

Last September 7, the Philippine Daily Inquirer editorial stated that the bill would perpetuate the worst features of traditional politics in the form of the dubious “pork barrel.”

The piece read: “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.'”

CER clarified that while “pork barrel” refers to funds provided for individual legislators, the state subsidy fund in the bill is for political parties, with specific rules mandating how it will be spent.

Casiple pointed out that at present, it is the candidates who have the money and not the parties. “(T)he bill seeks to precisely strengthen the institution of a political party vis-à-vis the power of an individual trapo or a political dynasty.”

Meanwhile, Aurora representative Juan Edgardo Angara, who authored the bill, noted that it has been perceived that only the very rich or the very popular can run for public office. “Ang daming magagaling pero walang pera. Palaging ‘yung mayayaman lang ang tumatakbo, (There are good ones, but they lack resources. Only the rich end up running for public office most of the time).”

“Our hope is that parties with good ideas and some state funding, however minimal, can groom future leaders who need not be household names of members of the elite,” the son of Senator Edgardo Angara.

All national parties, big or small, and even party-list groups, according to the lawmaker, will receive a portion of the subsidy based on their proportional representation in both chambers of Congress.

“The goal is to level the playing field,” he said. “At present, the parties that thrive are those in power or with wealthy backers. Small parties especially those aligned with the opposition, tend to fall by the wayside despite good intentions and ideas.”

Angara also added that a state subsidy could help liberate parties from their dependence on the elite and vested interests.

Authorized commissions

Under the bill, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is the agency authorized to give accreditation to national political parties eligible to receive subsidy from the government. The general criteria are political representation, organizational strength and mobilization capability, and performance and track record.

The state subsidy fund will be distributed to national political parties based on the number of seats obtained in the House of Representatives (50 percent) and the Senate (45 percent). The remaining five percent will be given to Comelec for monitoring purposes, information dissemination, and voter education.

Casiple said that the state subsidy is meant to provide the minimum resources for party-building, and act as leverage for auditing, transparency, and accountability in the sourcing and expenditures of party and campaign funds, and for enhancing party authority and influence on their candidates and members.

The proposed measure also stipulates that the Commission on Audit (COA) will examine the financial reports of the accredited parties on their use of the state subsidy fund. Voluntary contributions too will be accounted for under a separate book of accounts, which will be open to COA for inspection.

As quasi-public officials, more responsibilities are expected and accountability is demanded from political party members, said Angara.


The Inquirer editorial also accused the CER of “railroading” the passage of the bill.

“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,” the editorial read.

In a letter to the Inquirer dated September 10, the group held that no railroading happened.

Explained CER: “(T)he bill was voted in the third reading — the stage where there is no more debate and only voting for or against a bill is done. The complain(t) of some legislators regarding the quorum and that they were not able to vote were made after the voting was already over. The request by others to register their position was accommodated by the House leadership when it decided to send the bill back to the second reading — the stage where discussion, interpellation, and debate are conducted.”

Meanwhile, Congressman Angara commented, “One wonders why no attempt was made to amend it on second reading in the plenary where it stayed for around two months.”

He added that the bill had been filed in previous Congresses (since 2002) and had been debated in many academic and political forums. “It is hard to say that there was a mad rush to approve it.”

The CER also said that aside from the controversial proposed state subsidy fund, the bill has other essential provisions such as providing penalties for turncoatism, requiring parties to set forth their ideologies and method in selecting candidates, limiting donations by persons to parties, and requiring full disclosure how parties spend funds.

Casiple pointed out that they are not just looking at the upcoming 2010 national elections but the development of the country’s political party system in the long run.

If the bill is not passed, Casiple warned that the “current presidentiable-centered, winner-take-all national politics, political dynasties, costly elections, and presidential patronage system” would endure even after 2010. “The law of the jungle will prevail,” he said.

1 Response to Political party reform bill up close



October 7th, 2008 at 11:26 pm

In a sense, even in our Strong Party System where Candidates and Party Elections Campaign Expenses is now have to come from only one source, from donations of individual voters and citizens to a certain limits including candidates and politicians (all at the same amount)the government in a way subsidized the Party and every Individual Candidate..

Contributions are Tax refunded to every donor up to 75% up to a certain amount, maximum of $650 with the eligible donations of $1250, max limit donations per person annually $5400..but here is the Big Subsidy..after the Election campaign or every after the party submitted its annual expense the government refunds 50% of the Total plus $l.75 for every vote cast for the party candidates and that funds go to the party coffers for every expense the party needs not only during elections but also as a going concern..Candidates also get the refunds, but may have to return the donations or turn it over to the party.
Pls. note that candidate under no circumstances can spend more the allowable limit for each individual of his own money, but can take a loan against the future fundraising or funds from the national party.
And even if a particular party is awashed in campaign funds from donations and refunds from government, it can not spend more than the limit as determined as allowed per number of voters…

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