Partisan Politics in the Philippines and

the question of Political Alienation

Anthony Lawrence Borja
PhD candidate in the Public Administration program of
Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s School of International and Public Affairs

Standing before the movements of the public sphere are citizens yearning to voice out their opinions and values. They can do this through means ranging from the ballot to acts of public protest. Between them and the government stands their representatives whose existence and legitimacy relies on them embodying the will of their constituents. In turn, these representatives are organized along clear ideological and policy lines embodied by their respective political parties. This imagery, however, is but a summary of a long standing and mostly Western political tradition. This ideal of political representation through partisan politics is far from the realities of Philippine politics. Scholars on Philippine politics are in general agreement that its longstanding democratization project is characterized by weak political parties and strong personality politics.

Moreover, calls for deepening reform of the political party system have fallen on deaf ears for the basic reason that the status quo feeds on the weakness of political parties (e.g. party switching, personality politics, patron-client relations etc.). In a set of works published more than a decade ago, Aceron and Teehankee in their respective works argued for institutional reforms that could strengthen, or at least lay down the foundations for the development of mass-based political parties. They also emphasized the importance of building strong citizen-party relations.

Nevertheless, are citizens even willing to be active members of political parties? Notwithstanding their already weak relationship with political parties and representatives, are Filipino citizens even willing to be politically active in general? I will illustrate in this essay that majority of Filipinos are not psycho-politically oriented towards partisan politics as a specific case, and political participation in general. From this, I posit that political alienation is the primary psycho-political obstacle facing political party reform. Moreover, I entertain the idea that developing democratic political representation in the Philippines should be tied to other forms of organization outside political parties. To elaborate, this essay will first introduce the notion of political alienation and its practical implications on political participation before moving on to a presentation of related data from the Asia Barometer Surveys.

In understanding the relationship between citizens and political parties, one must first look at the relationship between citizens and politics in general. The concept of political alienation shows both the necessary separation and the dynamics between ordinary citizens, and the public sphere. Public affairs is an objectification of a citizen’s needs and interests. In other words, an alienated citizen sees the satisfaction of private needs and wants (e.g. security, values, etc.) as something shaped, satisfied, or frustrated by public affairs. To be specific, Filipinos are aware that politics affect their everyday lives. Also, contrary to any notions of widespread apathy, Table 1 below shows that Filipino citizens are deeply attached to political affairs. The nature of this attachment, however, is a different issue that we can dissect through the notion of political alienation.

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Anthony Lawrence Borja is a PhD candidate in the Public Administration program of Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SJTU-SIPA). He took his BA and MA in Political Science from De La Salle University, where he also worked as a lecturer in the Political Science Department from 2010-2016. His research publications are in political philosophy, political theory, and comparative politics. The author may be reached at BorjaALA@gmail.com or his Academia and ResearchGate pages. The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Access Bangsamoro, its proponents, or affiliates