Political parties in the Philippines

‘Anti-balimbing’: Congress urged to pass decades-old bill vs party switching

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‘Anti-balimbing’: Congress urged to pass decades-old bill vs party switching

ELECTORAL REFORMS. Dr. Julio Teehankee, chief of party of pro-democracy coalition PARTICIPATE, delivers a presentation during an event the group hosted on March 27, 2023.

Dwight de Leon/Rappler

Pro-democracy coalition PARTICIPATE calls for the passage of a bill that seeks to bar political butterflies from joining the succeeding election

MANILA, Philippines – A pro-democracy coalition urged Congress to approve a decades-old measure that would penalize “balimbing” politicians or political turncoats who switch parties before and after elections.

PARTICIPATE, a non-partisan group of academic institutions and sectoral organizations, stressed the need to restrict politicians from shifting from one political party to another, to form better choices of candidates for voters, and ensure genuine representation in elective offices.

Dr. Julio Teehankee, chief of party of PARTICIPATE, said that based on his study, about 32% of congressmen after the 1986 EDSA uprising had switched parties, which according to him, is one of the highest rates in the world.

“We wonder why our party system is not institutionalized, it’s weak, we are not programmatic, we are not policy-based – because of that. It’s so easy to switch parties,” he said in the coalition’s presentation on Monday, March 27.

Languishing in Congress

Proposals seeking to strengthen the political party system were introduced in the House as early as 2002, in the 12th Congress.

A measure on the matter even hurdled the House in the 13th, 14th, and 15th Congress, but the Senate sat on the bill.

Currently, the 19th Congress has two similar bills that seek to go after political turncoats: House Bill 488 filed by Deputy Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and HB 6086 filed by constitutional amendments panel chairman Rufus Rodriguez.

Both proposals want to introduce the following sanctions against political party-switching:

  • Disqualification from seeking an elective post in the succeeding election
  • Disqualification from appointment to a public or government office for three years after the expiration of the current term
  • Disqualification from assuming any executive or administrative post in the new political party
  • Refund of amounts received from one’s former political party, plus a 25% surcharge

Other key provisions of the bill include:

  • Exemption from donor’s tax of voluntary contributions from any person, subject to a certain cap
  • Creation of a state subsidy fund to subsidize qualified candidates and political parties
  • Institutionalization of an internal democratic process in selecting candidates

Both measures have yet to hurdle the suffrage committee. There’s also no counterpart bill in the Senate.

‘Appealing to self-interests’

While the measure appears disadvantageous to lawmakers as it restricts their ability to make key decisions, Teehankee said prospects of its passage rely on appealing to self-interests among politicians.

“You have to appeal to their self-interests, their political interests. It will benefit them,” he said.

“Like for example, Lakas-CMD is now the growing political party in the House. It will definitely benefit them if you lock in, bawal na kayong tumalon (you are not allowed to jump to other parties),” Teehankee added.

Lakas-CMD currently has 68 members in the House of Representatives, making it the most dominant party in Congress with House Speaker Martin Romualdez as its president. Former president Arroyo is the party’s chairperson emeritus. 

Teehankee also pointed out that the once-ruling Liberal Party under the Aquino administration became “a victim of its own failure” to pass electoral reforms, noting how its members quickly jumped ship to PDP-Laban after then-Davao City mayor Rodrigo Duterte won the 2016 presidential election. 

‘Anti-balimbing’: Congress urged to pass decades-old bill vs party switching

If officials would ultimately approve this measure this time around, he hopes that political parties would be strengthened in terms of their programs and ideologies.

“Eventually, this will hopefully stop the hemorrhaging of our parties,” he said. “If this is established, hopefully they can concentrate more on platforms, programs, and ideologies rather than personality-centric politics.” – Dwight de Leon and Lance Arevada/Rappler.com 

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