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'Supermajority' coalitions in Congress among systemic problems arising from PH's weak political party system: analysts

By NICK GARCIA Published Jul 28, 2022 3:08 pm Updated Jul 28, 2022 3:26 pm

The 19th Congress under the term of President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. just elected its leaders: his staunch ally Juan Miguel Zubiri as senate president and his cousin Martin Romualdez as house speaker.

Their becoming leaders also marked the formation of "supermajority" coalitions in both chambers. This lends credence to the so-called strength in numbers, giving Marcos Jr. leverage over the lawmakers supportive of him, and, by the same token, the supermajority lawmakers enjoying certain privileges of their own alongside like-minded allies.

Analysts note that it's the same old story: There are, and there will always be, supermajority coalitions in every administration because the Philippines has a weak political party system.

To date, the country has a multi-party system, with members of respective parties often coming and going. Since one party cannot consolidate power alone and for long, it's compelled to forge alliances with others.

"Turncoatism is endemic among our politicians," Maria Ela Atienza of the University of the Philippines Diliman's Department of Political Science told PhilSTAR L!fe. "They don't stick to a particular party program, unless they're progressive sectors," she added, noting that lawmakers, and even local officials, would pledge allegiance to the sitting president even though they didn't originally campaign for him.

Edmund Tayao, executive director of the Local Government Development Foundation, told PhilSTAR L!fe that what has prevailed since then are political personalities, and the problem has already become "systemic."

"The only thing that's different now, perhaps, is the president won by a majority vote," Tayao said. Marcos Jr. got over 31.1 million votes last May 9, over half of his closest rival Leni Robredo's 14.8 million and higher than the other bets' combined 21.8 million votes.

"But how that impacts a supermajority coalition directly, we don't know," he noted, as scenarios remain "very hypothetical" at this point.

In securing the support of a supermajority coalition, Atienza and Tayao said the general assumption is that the president's pet policies will have higher chances of being passed into law.

It, however, is not still a zero-sum game. Atienza noted that even though Duterte remained popular and maintained high survey rankings until the end of his term, his dream of having a federal government, for one, wasn't realized.

"If lawmakers believe a certain legislation isn't popular for people, they won't push it even though a popular president is pushing it," she said. In fact, of the 75 bills Duterte certified as urgent in his term, only 36 were enacted into law.

Still, a popular sitting president has a definite impact toward lawmakers supportive of him. Case in point, the 18th Congress in May 2020 denied ABS-CBN a new franchise at Duterte's behest. Last June, or over two years since the media giant went off air, Duterte even admitted to using his "presidential powers" to make Congress do his bidding.

For Tayao, Marcos Jr.'s 19 priority bills he mentioned in his first State of the Nation Address last July 25 have a fighting chance, including the divisive proposal of making Reserve Officers' Training Corps or ROTC mandatory anew in senior high school.

"There's no reason why legislators will not consider them," he said.

As for other legislations, one of the speculations previously raised was whether the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG) will be abolished under Marcos Jr.'s term. The PCGG was established to recover the ill-gotten wealth of the Marcoses and their cronies in accordance with Executive Order No. 1 series of 1986, and as ordered by anti-graft court Sandiganbayan in Civil Case No. 0141.

The PCGG has so far retrieved some P171 billion from the Marcoses. It's still running after over P125 billion worth of Marcos assets.

Marcos Jr. cannot abolish the PCGG by way of a mere executive order since it's a statutory creation in 1986 under the so-called Freedom Constitution. Only the Congress may abolish it through a passage of a law ordering so.

Atienza also noted that what's "interesting" in the 19th Congress is even though members of the supermajority align themselves with Marcos Jr., they're not pledging allegiance to his rather obscure party Partido Federal ng Pilipinas. Instead, they're mostly flocking to Lakas-Christian Muslim Democrats, seen as the leading party of the House of Representatives. There, deputy speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo is president emerita; Romualdez is national president; and vice president Sara Duterte-Carpio is chairperson.

The lack of a strong political party system also makes checks and balances far-fetched. There are only two minority lawmakers in Sen. Risa Hontiveros and Sen. Koko Pimentel. Sibling senators Alan Peter and Pia Cayetano, meanwhile, labeled themselves as "independent" lawmakers, even as they have pre-existing political affiliations.

Atienza also highlighted the ever-prevalent issue of political dynasties, as well as the lack of genuine representation among party-list groups.

"Reklamo tayo nang reklamo na paulit-ulit na lang," Tayao noted. "E kasalanan din naman natin, ayaw nating pag-isipan ang pagbabago ng sistema."

"Huwag na nila hintayin pa ang susunod na election," Atienza said of the Filipino electorate.