"In the absence of an enabling law to cure this uncontrolled habit in Philippine politics, what are we – the electorate – left to do?"
Almost a year and a quarter after the 2016 Presidential Elections, many incumbent local officials have slowly shifted their political allegiance to the ruling party, the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban). This behavior is influenced by the party's stronghold on three of the highest elective positions in the land - the Presidency (Pres. Rodrigo R. Duterte), Senate Presidency (Sen. Koko Pimentel), and House Speakership (Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez). This also comes as no surprise considering the ruling party's vaunted machinery in the fast approaching 2019 Midterm Elections.
Changing of political parties is a normal occurrence in the absence of legislation governing party discipline and turncoatism. This usually happens roughly half a year before and after the election season.
Efforts have been undertaken by several quarters to address this unabated practice of party switching, mostly through legislation.
Minority groups, cause-oriented organizations, and even political parties have been moving for the passage of a Political Party Reform Law to strengthen our political party system and prevent turncoatism particularly during the election season. However, this bill has hardly progressed in both the Lower House and Senate as it is likely to affect most of its members and their penchant for party adventurism.
There have also been propositions for the reimposition of a two-party system to prevent the proliferation of personality-based political parties. Unfortunately, calls for the return to a two-party system have fallen on deaf ears. In reality, political parties today have only served as vehicular platforms for personal ambition rather than being ideological, program-based, and people- driven organizations.
The challenge for reformists is how to switch the convention from a purely legislation-based solution approach to a more behavioral approach, which can be pursued through concerted action in the crusade against party switching. If several concerned individuals and groups were able to bankroll one of the historically poorest Presidential candidates in Rodrigo Duterte to the Presidency, why can't groups of concerned individuals do the same for other national or local candidates? If social media was able to propel unknown candidates into national elective posts, why can't groups of people in the localities come-up with information and communication strategies to topple the traditional practice of patronage in local politics?
It is unfortunate that our electorate has tolerated the party-switching practice by continuously electing those who are in the business of moving from one ruling party to another. In the absence of an enabling law to cure this uncontrolled habit in Philippine politics, what are we – the electorate – left to do?
Maybe the time has come to look into the reasons why politicians switch parties; and two words come to mind as to why politicians often shift parties - money and power. There are existing avenues to counter party switching but they soon may become passé already.
A problem as deeply rooted as political party switching can neither be solved by an individual nor by law alone. The power to counter this problem emanates from us as individuals, as individuals organized into groups, and as groups organized into influential voting blocs.
While there is no existing prohibition on party switching, there is a way to hold accountable those who partake in this practice. The 2019 Midterm Elections is our chance to do just that.