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  • Writer's pictureTelibert Laoc

Philippine Politics: Wanting True Democratic Representation

Updated: Jan 4



Philippine politics has come up short. It has not provided true democratic representation in society.


The World Economic Forum refers to democratic representation or representative democracy as, “a type of democracy founded on the principle of elected officials representing a group of people.”1


Interrelated conditions acting systemically explain why democratic representation is wanting.  Firstly, the view that politics is corrupt and dirty makes people shy away from or even abhor it.  This psychological barrier contributes to making politics exclusive to those who are already in it or have the stomach for it.  Secondly, the first-past-the-post system is likely to be personal where opponents are “attacked,” “defeated,” or “clobbered.”  To the voters, a candidate has to be tough to withstand the brutality of the campaign and politics.  Many women would not subject themselves to conditions where their reputation could be wantonly assailed.  Thirdly, it is difficult for voters to mindfully choose candidates in 26 to 36 elective positions 2 (with 2.6 candidates per position 3).  The effect is to vote for the popular.


These foundational flaws create other conditions, which together provide a cacophony of effects that preserve the status quo and keep the barriers to political participation up.


1. Women are underrepresented in politics.  Women candidates comprise only 19 percent in the five elections between 2010 and 2022.  Women attribute this to discrimination and stereotyping – limiting them to familial duties.  Political leadership is type-cast masculine and political groups and voters look for those attributes in selecting candidates.


2. Captive elective positions by family parties.  Families comprise 70 percent of members of the current Congress. 4  This does not include members in other elective positions within a province who help cement their control.  These groups are pseudo-political parties in terms of strategies for succession and efficiency in getting members elected. 

3. High cost of participation.  Being a candidate in Philippine elections is reportedly expensive. 5 6 7   This effectively restricts anyone qualified and willing to be a candidate, but does not have the money, from taking part.  Consequently, participating in elections becomes exclusively for the moneyed.  Once elected the cost goes up as patronage treats voters like mendicants.

4. Lack of variety of qualified candidates.  The restrictions on participation, undesirability of politics, and the breakdown of political parties, contribute to a narrowing of talent to bring into politics.  Politics is so corralled that it in itself does not lead to attracting the best and the brightest. 

5. Underrepresented population in Congress.  On average there is one district representative for every 430,000 population.  If the principle of equality of representation by population were to be followed and the ratio of one representative per 250,000 population in the Constitution were to be observed, about 200 more seats would need to be added.



6. Non-functioning political parties.  The sustainability and longevity of a political party have become more challenging.  While there were functioning political parties in the past decades, the recent centrality of the presidency and control, if not subjugation of Congress have disincentivized loyalty to the party.  Among the effects are a loss of an organized opposition, limited entry of new politicians through parties, and perpetuating the status quo.

7. Uncontested elections.  In the 2022 elections, 832 of the positions were unopposed.  This is down from 861 in the 2019 elections, and the reason for the decrease is the entry of a political party, which fielded candidates in all elective positions in Maguindanao.  In the 2019 elections, the province had the most number of unopposed candidacies. 8  Among the reasons that explain why some elections are unopposed and that which is attributed to acts of political groups is staking of electoral jurisdictions, e.g., a district, and agreeing not to contest elections in each other’s areas. 9


8. COMELEC is indifferent to competitive elections.  Even members of the Commission on Elections view uncontested elections as favorable because there will be no violence due to rivalry.  The view is pragmatic, but a poignant statement of the state of the politics and the elections.  The role of the COMELEC has been an administrator of elections and it has yet to take to heart its duty to help ensure that elections are inclusive and competitive.

9. The need for helpful election data.  Data will make for more intelligent electoral stakeholders.  COMELEC's initiatives to publicize election data (here) are minimal and uneven.  Most data need to be more comprehensive and consistent for political groups, the academe, civil society, and media, to analyze and help inform to improve elections and politics.


Notes:

  1. Voters typically cast a vote for a president, a vice president, 12 senators, a mayor, a vice mayor, about six council members, a district representative to Congress, and a party-list representative to Congress.  Voters in the provinces, in addition, would cast votes for a governor, vice governor, and about six members of the provincial council.


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