Party switching banned in proposed new Constitution

Party switching or political turncoatism will be banned in the proposed new charter being drafted by the Consultative Committee (ConCom) tasked by President Rodrigo R. Duterte to review the 1987 Constitution.

De La Salle University professor and chair of the ConCom subcommitee on political reforms and leveling the political field, Julio Cabral Teehankee, said on Thursday that his committee approved in principle last week self-executory provisions that will prohibit politicians from switching party affiliation.

The ConCom is expected to vote on the wording of the provisions in an en banc session on May 2.

“Political parties in a functioning democracy are the only agents for legitimately and legally contesting power and holding power and if we do not have functioning political parties, what we will have are more of the same personality, candidate-centered and patronage-based party system,” Teehankee said in a briefing at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City.

He said that among the subcommittee’s proposed provisions is to “prohibit elected members of a political party from changing parties during their term.”

”It is also meant to prohibit candidates and party officials from changing parties two years before and two years after an election,” he added.

Teehankee said the reason behind this two-year cap is that party switching would usually take place during these periods.

“There are two types of party switching in the Philippines — one is, when you file your candidacy, usually, a politician will go for a presidential candidate who has the most chance of winning or go with the administration party during the mid-term election. A second time is after the election if their own candidate loses the election, they will jump immediately to the party (of the winning presidential candidate),” Teehankee said.

Under the ConCom proposed provisions, “you will really have a difficult time switching parties. If you are going to switch parties, you have to sit out an entire term of office,” he added.

Another proposed provision “prohibits political parties from accepting ‘transferees’ within the prohibited periods and makes any violation a ground for cancellation of the party’s registration.”

If a political party violates these provisions, Teehankee said a member of a political party elected to public office will lose the post to which they have been elected; will be barred from appointment to any post and from running in the next election; and will be required to return any party funds they used for their campaign.

Teehankee said that there is a long history of party switching problems in the Philippines that proliferated after the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution.

One of the first records of turncoatism took place when most of the members of party Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL) jumped ship to the Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP) in 1988.

The most recent took place when several members of the Liberal Party (LP) transferred to the ruling Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) under President Rodrigo Duterte after he won the 2016 presidential elections.

“If you sum it all up, 70 to 75 percent of politicians have switched parties since 1987. In all the rosters of the Philippine legislature since 1987, you see the same names but only the party affiliations change,” Teehankee said, referring to previous studies he has conducted.

Since 2003, both chambers of Congress have tried to pass bills banning party switching but they have unfortunately “received Mona Lisa treatment, which meant ‘it just lie there, and they die there’,” Teehankee said.

The ban on party switching, and institutionalizing and strengthening political parties will constitute a proposed new article in the Constitution to be called “Political Rights, Suffrage, and Political Parties”.

“Currently, we only have the article on Suffrage and the Article IX-C in Comelec (Commission on Elections) which declares that the Philippines will involve a free and open party system. That is the only provision on political parties,” Teehankee said. PNA