Binay’s new party and chaleco politics

Dean Julio C. Teehankee

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Vice President Binay opted for the easier and pragmatic way to build his political machinery

My loyalty to my party ends where my loyalty to my country begins. – Manuel Luis Quezon 

The sudden decision of Vice President Jejomar Binay to build a new political party in pursuit of his presidential ambitions in 2016 came as no surprise for most political observers. The reason cited by the frontleading candidate for 2016 is that the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino – Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) – his party for almost three decades – has become dysfunctional. Of course, the real reason lies not only in the dysfunctionality of the PDP-Laban but also that of the entire party system in the Philippines.

In bolting the PDP-Laban and establishing a new party by June 12, 2014, Binay is anticipating the droves of local and national politicians who will switch party affiliations in support of his 2016 presidenial campaign. After all, party switching has been a constant element of clientelistic politics in the Philippines.

Chaleco politics

Political “turncoatism” or the practice of party switching has been an integral aspect of party politics in the Philippines. Since the inception of Filipino political parties during the American colonial period, Filipino politicians have found it easy to justify party desertion or even the setting of one’s own faction, if not a new political party altogether. Our political history is replete with instances that illustrate this point. 

Through the years, analysts and commentators have colorfully labeled this tendency as the “politics of butterflies,” the politics of “ins” and “out,” and the politics of the “balimbings.” Currently, it is best to describe the practice of turncoatism as “chaleco” politics in honor of the ubiquitous colorful shirt vests that politicos wear during electoral campaigns. It is also a play on the words “sali ako” (let me join). 

Presidential bandwagon

Party-switching has fueled the rise of monolithic parties that have dominated several administrations in the past decades – from the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) under Ferdinand Marcos, to the  Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) during the term of Corazon Aquino, followed by the Lakas-NUCD-UMDP founded by Fidel Ramos, the  Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino (LAMMP) of Joseph Estrada, and, most recently, the Liberal Party (LP) under Benigno Aquino III.

These parties, however, were largely built around vast networks of well-entrenched political clans and dynasties that constantly switch their affiliation from one administration party to another in order to gain access to state resources and patronage.

Yuko Kasuya, a Japanese political scientist at Keio University, in her 2009 book “Presidential Bandwagon: Parties and Party System in the Philippines” explained that the introduction of a single term limit for the office of the presidency has destabilized the legislative party system since legislative candidates tend to affiliate with the most viable presidential candidates by switching parties. Aspiring presidential candidates think they have a higher chance of winning without an incumbent running for reelection. 

The absence of a reelectionist incumbent coupled with weak party loyalties serve as incentives for potential presidential aspirants to launch new parties and entice legislative candidates to switch parties with the promise of access to patronage.

Unlike in the pre-Marcos era in which there were only two viable candidates who used two-party labels, NP and LP, the post-Marcos era saw an increase in the number of viable presidential candidates and new parties resulting in the wide fluctuation in the set of parties from one election to another. 

Party-switching in the House

Widely practiced in the Philippines, party switching often occurs twice in an election cycle: (1) pre-election party switching – when candidates file their nomination papers and raise campaign funds; and, (2) post-election party switching – when elected officials affiliate themselves with the winning party to gain access to patronage. 

Since 1987, an average of 33.5% of all lower house representatives elected to Congress has switched parties in pursuit of resources allocated through clientelistic networks. Tellingly, 60.2% of these party switchers usually jumped into the party of the sitting president thereby producing monolithic (albeit short-lived) political behemoths. Among the party switchers in the house from 1987 to 2010, 97.4% switched to the LDP in 1987, 88% to Lakas NUCD in 1992, 93.5% to LAMMP in 1998, 49.4% to Kampi in 2004, and 50.9% to the Liberal Party in 2010.

Remember Mitra and De Venecia

Bagging the support of chaleco politicians, however, is no guarantee of victory.

In 1992, Speaker Ramon Mitra Jr. had the most organized party machinery in the LDP. On the eve of the 1992 elections, the LDP boasted that it had the support of 150 out of 200 congressmen, 50 out of 73 governors, 35 out of 60 city mayors, 1,100 out of 1,532 municipal mayors and 70 percent of barangay officials. Mitra placed fourth in a field of seven candidates. 

Similarly, Speaker Jose De Venecia Jr. in 1998 had the advantage of money and machinery built around the administration party, Lakas NUCD-UMDP, whose membership included majority of the congressmen, governors, mayors and local officials in the country. De Venecia had the advantage of having a well-financed party machinery in the form of the monolithic administration party Lakas NUCD-UMDP, and the endorsement of President Fidel Ramos which translated into access to government resources. However, like Mitra in 1992, he was very unpopular and suffered from a negative trapo image.

It would serve Binay well to learn from the lessons of Mitra and De Venecia.

However, one major difference for the Binay campaign is that he is running as a populist. In this regard, he is borrowing from Erap Estrada’s successful playbook. In 1998, Estrada’s popularity was formidable; his support from the masa was solid. His popularity compensated for the relative handicap of his LAMMP coalition vis-à-vis the administration Lakas party. 

It remains to be seen if Binay’s masa appeal can trump PNoy’s presidential endorsement.

Second death of PDP-Laban

The PDP-Laban was forged in the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship. In its earlier incarnation it was a promising progressive political party rooted in social democratic ideology and organized by a cadre of seasoned activists. It was the first electoral party to require ideological training before accepting members. It was the de facto political party of Corazon Aquino during the 1986 Snap Presidential Election and was the majority party in the early part of the Cory administration.

It suffered its first major setback in 1991 when presidential relative Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr. dissolved the party to form the LDP. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Binay fought hard to keep the party alive. 

Binay’s presidential campaign would have revived the moribund party and would have been given it a chance to serve as an administration party. Alas, VP Binay opted for the easier and pragmatic way to build his political machinery. Will the party resurrect from its second death? –


Julio C. Teehankee is currently Dean of the College of Liberal Arts at De La Salle University. He is a political scientist who has specialized in the theory and practice of party politics and elections. He is also the Executive Secretary of the Asian Political and International Studies Association (APISA).

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