Building strong political parties and edifices of peace

Published December 26, 2021, 12:05 AM

by Former House Speaker Jose C. De Venecia Jr.


Former Speaker of the House Jose C. De Venecia Jr.

We have spent these last two decades bringing together Asia’s political groupings into the ICAPP; and our national legislatures into the Asian Parliamentary Assembly (APA), both of which have grown rapidly into advanced organizations.

The Asian impulse toward unity is so strong that, in both cases, we have succeeded beyond our expectations.

We are honored and humbled at the same time with our founding and launching here in Manila in September 2000 of the International Conference of Asian Political Parties to serve as a forum for dialogue, understanding, and cooperation on issues and challenges in our Asian region and the international community through the network of political parties.

ICAPP has on its membership some 350 ruling and opposition political parties from 52 countries in Asia, including the major political parties in the Philippines.

We decided to transfer the ICAPP Secretariat from Manila to Seoul, in 2008, as our humble desire to contribute, even in a modest way, to help foster peace and reconciliation in the Korean peninsula through the channel of political parties. For South Korea’s mainstream political parties and North Korea’s Workers Party are members of ICAPP.

Meanwhile, the Asian Parliamentary Assembly now has some 40 member-parliaments and was earlier called the Association of Asian Parliaments for Peace (AAPP), until we proposed in Islamabad in December, 2006 its conversion from AAPP to become the Asian Parliamentary Assembly (APA), in hopes it can be a forerunner of an eventual Asian Parliament, like the European Parliament or African Parliament, which, unfortunately, has not yet come to pass.

We also transferred the APA headquarters from Manila to Tehran to bring APA into an Asia-wide organization, instead of limited to East Asia, and to help bring Iran into the mainstream.

After decades as a politician and political party founder, we have spent these past 11 years just observing the workings of partisan politics in our country.

We are heartened to note that our country had sustained its economic growth and global competitiveness, until the COVID-19 pandemic devastated the global economy. We had also made headway against illegal drugs and political corruption, so that, overall, our country’s outlook is sound.

But we have yet to resolve some basic problems. Far too many of our people still subsist in poverty; and social and income inequality in our country is one the highest in East Asia.

We are saddened that our fragmented political system still hampers our collective ability to focus on national purposes and pursue national goals.

We continue to be governed, not by principled parties, but by self-interested factions. Venality and parochialism still characterize our political culture. And every time a presidential term ends and a new one begins, we seem to start all over again.

We can’t keep playing this game of faction over and over. East Asia and the entire world around us are fast-changing.

Indeed unlike many countries in Asia and in other regions like North America and Europe, we in the Philippines still have much work to do to strengthen political parties in our country.

Our country’s weak party system has reduced political parties into mere vehicles to advance one’s political ambition. It has diminished the important role of political parties in national development and international relations.

Our weak party system has also turned our election campaign into a popularity contest, a competition of name recall, celebrity status, and/or political pedigree, instead of a battle of policies and programs.

The absence of a strong party system has also contributed to perpetuating traditional electoral machineries, like vote-buying and vote-selling, as well as political dynasties in our country.

To start the long-delayed and much-needed process of building a solid party system, perhaps the next Congress may enact a bill providing public funding for political parties that demonstrate broad national support, as a way of reducing their unhealthy dependence on interest groups for election campaign contributions.

It is also a way of levelling the political playing field and dramatically reducing political corruption. Far more inimical is the intrusion into the political system of criminal syndicates that deal in illegal drugs, gambling, or smuggling which reportedly finance candidates for national and key local positions.

Other proposed reforms like reverting to the two-party system are noteworthy but would certainly be a protracted, even acrimonious, exercise as it will entail amending the 1987 Constitution, which enshrines the multi-party system.

Political parties are important instruments to carry out our nation’s socio-economic and political agenda, promote people’s aspirations and participation, build political consensus, and even present alternative solutions to issues and challenges facing our country.

Thus, as part of any thorough-going political reform, we need to build strong political parties in order to institutionalize and stabilize political decision-making. After all, presidents and administrations come and go, but political parties remain.

Political parties can and must also complement the efforts of governments and parliaments in advancing common causes besetting the global community such as combating terrorism and violent extremism, battling climate change and environmental degradation, fighting poverty and diseases, reducing geopolitical tensions and conflicts, among others.