OPINION: Party pooper

Manolo Quezon — The Explainer

Posted at Nov 20 2017 04:42 PM

The other day, Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez launched several trial balloons, when he presented six potential candidates for PDP-Laban's senatorial slate in 2019. 

Senate President Koko Pimentel was quick to point out that the official party slate consists of six names he presented back in October.

The names floated in Cebu, Pimentel said, are the Speaker's picks, and no one else's. 

The President, for his part, was non-committal and hands-off. The decision, he said, would rest with the party and ultimately, the electorate.

The problem is that some people in the Palace have endorsed some of the Speaker's picks. 


So, what exactly is going on? Let me suggest three things.

First, the conflicting announcements are part of party intramurals. To understand this, a bit of background is required.

The president of PDP-Laban is the Senate President. The Secretary-General of the party is the Speaker. And the President of the Philippines is the National Chairman of the party. This pecking order is born of tradition and practicality. 

The President of the Philippines, while elected as the candidate of a party, is supposed to put the country ahead of party. Since 1935, no president of the country has been president of the party. Instead, as party chairman, the role of the chief executive is to be above intramurals so as to be the referee. 

As the senior national official of PDP-Laban, then, the Senate President is the head of the party. But as the head of the bigger, and local, chamber, the Speaker is Secretary-General of the party.

This sounds neat but it isn't. You see, in every party, there is always tension between the party originals, and those who join the bandwagon later on. Originals don't like newcomers but newcomers usually have a low opinion of originals.

The Speaker of the House has belonged to different parties. When he ran for the House in 1998, he was as a candidate of Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) which then became Laban ng Makabayang Masang Pilipino (LAMMP). So, he is a newcomer.

The Senate President, for his part, has been a member of PDP-Laban since 1985. So, he is an original.

The President, for his part, is somewhere in between. He says that while he set up his local party, Hugpong sa Tawong Lungsod in 2011, he'd never left PDP-Laban. According to him, what he did in 2015, was "re-join" the party.

No administration, ever, has lost the House of Representatives. Whatever the affiliation of the president of the country is the party affiliation of congressmen so long as that presidency is in office. This is why you have the Senate President and the Speaker quarreling in public over who the party's senatorial candidates will be.

This brings us to the second thing going on, and this is related to the first. The party needs to do well in the Senate in 2019, because every mid-term election is a referendum on the sitting president. This has been the case since the first mid-terms in 1938, and in a country with no political memory, it is one of the hard and fast rules that persist. 

If a president's candidates win in the senatorial mid-terms, it's not only a vote of confidence, it's a good indicator that the president's agenda will continue to move forward. 


For example, Charter Change. If the Speaker can stack the deck with his senatorial candidates, he can rely on future senators, if elected, to help abolish the Senate. If the Senate President fills the senatorial slate, he will have allies to preserve the Senate in some form, in the face of Charter Change.

Which brings us to the third thing going on, and this is related to the first and second. There is institutional tension between the House and the Senate. This is not only because House frankly wants to abolish the Senate, which it does. It's also because while the President, the Senate President, and the Speaker all want federalism, they have different views over what this means.

The President has stated he prefers the French model, which basically means something closer to the 1973 Constitution. 

The Senate President prefers a model that retains the Senate, but elected by regions and not nationally. 

The Speaker probably has his own ideas which reflects the House's desire for a unicameral parliamentary system on the Malaysian model, which would mean a more decorative president and no upper house.

If a week or even a month is an eternity in politics, what more a mid-term election a year and a half away? 

But here is where all sides in the ruling party have the advantage: by putting forward candidates, they are exercising a fundamental power: that of dictating the headlines. It's all the buzz. And the message is, we have lots of possible candidates. Those on the other side don't. 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.