Seares: Why any ban on switching political parties is better left to Congress

News Sense

THE most serious attempt at banning by legislation political turncoatism was made by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago when she filed Senate Bill 1633 in the 14th Congress.

Called the Anti-Political Turncoatism Act of 2007, it didn’t pass in that year or in the succeeding three Congresses. She died in 2016 without seeing the measure become a law.

Fast forward to November last year, when House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who considered the anti-political turncoatism act as a pet measure, predicted its passage before the 17th Congress would adjourn. Her forecast fell flat.

A national concern

The ban on political butterflies is fittingly within the realm of national legislators. It has a high and noble purpose: “To give political stability to the political landscape and ensure the continuity of government policies and programs.” The proposal will prohibit an elective official from changing his party within the first year of his term “to prevent him from taking advantage of the perks and resources of the new administration.”

It is thus a matter of national policy that must uniformly apply to all elective officials of the land. An intensive study, along with a national consensus, calls for congressional action. That is not the concern of a local government like Cebu City, which has more immediate problems to address.

Little value

The proposal of Councilor Renato Osmeña Jr. looks puny in the face of the huge problem in the culture of politics: the lack of party principles, or dearth of loyalty to those precepts, and the ease with which elective officials and candidates shift parties for convenience and advantage.

The local measure will have little practical value. The prohibition is on change of party, not on how a councilor votes. A councilor may get around the prohibition by not formally defecting to the other side. A BOPK councilor who flits to Barug may just vote for crucial administration ordinances and courts party expulsion. That way, he serves the purpose of defection without changing labels in the meantime.

Thus, the proposed penalty--loss of committee leadership or membership--will be easily dodged, with the offender still getting the promised perks from the party he is joining.

Within its power

Does it mean the City Council cannot legally pass such a ban? The power is presumed to be within the Council’s ambit. At least it won’t clash with any national law, in the absence of national regulation, as of this time.

And if there is dissent to the rule, the matter won’t be resolved unless the issue reaches the court in a litigation. The City Council enjoys the presumption of regularity.

Odd for Barug

And it is odd, to say the least. It is a politics-freighted measure since it will affect plans of the administration to recruit converts to its side. BOPK will have the edge in the new Council, 11 against seven, and the Osmeña measure won’t be helping Barug.

Barug understandably will seek to wrest control from BOPK for its big-ticket programs to push through in the legislature. The ban on turncoatism will hurt Barug more at this stage. Did Osmeña take it up with his party before filing his proposal?

Fuzzy areas

The councilors may wait for the national law. There are fuzzy areas that still need to be clarified: Such as the definition and determination of a political party, since there is this practice of local-party candidates running under a national party. Or the period of the ban. The proposed Senate bill limits the prohibition to one year after the election; the City Council’s ban covers the entire term.

How the national legislators eventually decide on those issues will affect the local ordinance.

Besides, there are many problems City Hall should’ve tackled decades ago. Address them now. The matter about turncoatism can wait. Let the political butterflies flit for awhile.


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