After twenty years of dictatorship under the Marcos regime, formal democracy in the Philippines was restored in 1986 through a broad "people power" movement. This democracy, however, proved to favor only the political and economic elite of the country. The moving force behind the anti-dictatorship struggle--concerned citizens and progressive groups--has been relegated to the periphery of decision-making and policy implementation. In response, social movements, trade union groups, and political organizations have emerged to challenge state policies through lobbying and pressure politics.
Despite the dynamism of Philippine movements, formal institutions of democracy remained in the hands of the few and the wealthy. It was within this context that the idea of building an alternative, a citizens' political party, first emerged. Social movement groups wanted to be part of the formal processes of government. Akbayan was thus conceived as an effort to institutionalize people power and thereby deepen Philippine democracy.
Consultations on the party-building project began in 1994. Throughout the country, pro-democracy groups were enjoined to help shape the party concept and strategy. Aspirations of various sectors--labor, peasants, youth, women, gay and lesbians, professionals, overseas Filipino workers, urban poor--were discussed and consolidated into a program of governance, while ad hoc structures were formed in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Four years later, in January 1998, Akbayan was formally established through its Founding National Congress. In May of the same year, the new party tested its strength by participating in the local and party-list elections and won seats in the House of Representatives, and several local government units.
To date, Akbayan is the most vigorous and determined effort from the Philippine progressive community to break the hold of traditional politicians and political parties on Philippine politics.
Program and Political Agenda
Akbayan is envisioned to be a major vehicle for the projection and pursuit of a progressive reform agenda which has, thus far, been bypassed and neglected by the Philippine government.
Akbayan primarily stands for program-based politics. It seeks to transform the dominant practice of personality-and-patronage-based politics. It aims to break the tradition of shady dealings and horse-trading between and among politicians towards more participatory and rational decision-making.
In Akbayan's analysis, public welfare has been undermined for too long by member sof the elite who join government to further vested economic interests. It is Akbayan's hope that through citizens' participation in policy-making, the country's economic environment would become accessible to the general population and not just big corporations. Akabayan also seeks to engage government for better social policies that would include redistributive reforms, delivery of basic services and appropriate safety nets.
Moreover, Akbayan seeks to contribute to the development of a political party system that is based on programs and accountabilities, and not on political opportunism. It envisions a political culture where citizens are genuinely aware, responsive and free.
To pursue its main goal of instituting greater participation in public decision-making, Akbayan seeks to intervene in the following arenas:
Governance. To fully understand the workings of government, particularly at the local executive level, for the maximum benefit of ordinary citizens.
Electoral Exercises. To engage in elections at every possible level possible so as to secure public office in the pursuit of its governance objective, as well as to utilize elections as a means of conscientization.
Advocacy. To contribute to, and help sustain, the broad-based effort to bring the concerns of marginalized sectors into the agenda of both the government and the general public.
Reform. To institute political and electoral reforms with the end in view of making government more accessible, genuinely accountable and truly responsive to the people.