Partylists: More considerations before you vote

Too much at stake in the elections. But some want more: A backdoor entrance to Congress, new "districts". The loser: the real marginalized sectors who the partylist system is supposed to serve. (Image courtesy of: 100araw.com)

Note: The following is an article I wrote for 100araw.com, an initiative of Pinoys from different disciplines to share their thoughts on the upcoming elections. I am re-posting it here.

The partylist system was a milestone for democracy in the Philippines, as it was intended to give marginalized and underrepresented sectors an opportunity to participate in crafting laws, as well as oversight.  While we have seen this for more than a decade, we have also seen the system’s many flaws and limitations.  And we have been witness to how some forces have used these limitations to their advance their self interests.

Given the downside of this system, we voters have two challenges: 1) to continue improving the system itself; and 2) be very discerning in voting for a partylist group, which is the more immediate task at hand.

A closer look at the list of candidates as well as their methods of campaigning is, of course, necessary.

Topping the list of concerns are a number of the candidates, whose membership and status as being marginalized are being questioned.  Rep. Mikey Arroyo is the primary case in point.  The list also includes former energy secretary Angelo Reyes, as well as other groups and representatives who are said to be allied with the current administration.  Arroyo is the nominee of the Ang Galing Pinoy, while Reyes is with 1-Utak.

Are they really qualified to run?  Can we really believe that Mikey is a one of the thousands of “marginalized” tricycle drivers, vendors, and security guards?

Former Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban himself has underscored in his column on the Philippine Daily Inquirer that both partylist and their representatives must belong to marginalized sectors:

Only for the marginalized. Comelec’s job is simple: just follow existing jurisprudence. In Ang Bagong Bayani vs Comelec (June 26, 2001 and June 25, 2003), which I had the honor of writing, the high court clearly ruled that the party-list system was reserved only for those “(1) who belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties; and (2) who lack well-defined constituencies but (3) who could contribute to the formulation and enactment of appropriate legislation that will benefit the nation as a whole.”

Thus, the party-list candidate must show— through its constitution, articles of incorporation, bylaws, history, platform of government and track record—that it represents and seeks to uplift marginalized and underrepresented sectors.

Ang Bagong Bayani likewise plainly held that “not only the candidate party or organization must represent marginalized and underrepresented sectors so must its nominees… who (must also) belong to marginalized and underrepresented sectors.”

Speaking of marginalized sectors, is Firm 24K really a group that represents a marginalized sector?  The group stands for: Friends of Imelda Romualdez Marcos, 24K Association.  Imelda, marginalized?  Does this mean that we can have the Noranians or the Friends for All Seasons of Vilma as partylist groups in 2013?

New “Districts” Created?

Ang Galing Pinoy’s bid for congress also shows another flaw of the system.  The other nominees in the partylist are all elected officials of Pampanga.  Surely, Pampanga’s interests, along with those of other provinces and the security guards they all claim to represent, are important.  But it is apparent that they have, in effect, created another district for Pampanga without following laws on creating new districts.  It’s a clever move, considering that Mikey could not anymore run for representative in his district because he gave way to his mother, President Gloria.

So in the absence of available districts, he in effect able to make a new one with fellow Kabalens.

But Mikey and his group are not alone in trying to  “create” new districts.

Laguna Governor Teresita Lazaro, who is completing her last term as governor, is running another the KLBP or Kababaihang Lingkod Bayan sa Pilipinas.   Former Rep. Salacnib Baterina of Ilocos Sur’s first district is running under APO or Alliance of People’s Organizations.  The current representative of the district, Rep. Ronald Singson, is running for reelection.  Ronald Singson is the son of Luis “Chavit” Singson, who is running for governor.

Former Rep. Miles Roces is making a bid to return to the House of Representatives through the Puwersa ng Bayaning Atleta (PBA).  He is the son-in-law of former DENR Secretary Lito Atienza, who is running for Mayor of Manila.

Dynasties

One also wonders if the partylist system has also been invaded by dynasties and those who wish to create them.  Roces’ case makes one think of that.  I mentioned Angelo Reyes.  His son, Jett, is also running in Taguig.  Maynard Lapid, the son of reelectionist Sen. Lito Lapid, is running under Yes We Can, Inc.

Maria Evangelina Palparan, the wife of now senatorial aspirant Jovito Palparan, is making a bid to take over her husband’s position as partylist representative.

Mother and son Adelaida and Eulogio Magsaysay are nominees under the same partylist, the Alliance of Volunteer Educators (AVE).  Apart from AVE, the Magsaysays, have long been considered a dynasty in Zambales.

There are also allegations that the Adhikain ng mga Dakling Anak Maharlika (ADAM) is a front for the Ampatuan clan of Maguindanao.  Two of its nominees are Zamzamin L. Ampatuan and Bai Puti L. Ampatuan.  Zamzamin has denied this allegation.

Support for Major Political Parties

While the administration has been charged with infiltrating partylists, a number partylists have also partnered with other major political parties.  We have seen this as a trend in the past few months, as more and more partylist groups have come out to openly support presidential candidates.  Akbayan is openly supporting Noynoy Aquino, as its current representative, Risa Hontiveros, is running for Senator under the Liberal Party.  Meanwhile, Gabriela is supporting Manny Villar, as Liza Maza makes her bid for the Senate.  Agham, a group of scientists and inventors, is also open about endorsing Villar.  And the most obvious Villar supporter, AKAP Bata partylist, plays a remixed version of Villar’s jingle.

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism has reported that mutual support between the presidential bets and their partner partylists has allowed the former to circumvent provisions on the airtime of advertisements.

Personally, my greater concern about the unlikely partnership is how it would affect the legislative agenda and oversight role of the representatives should they win or get reelected.  Let us say, for the sake of discussion, that Villar and Agham win, and Agham files a bill that Villar and the administration coalition will not support.  Who’s agenda gets followed then?  Will partylists that partner with major political parties still enjoy independence, most especially if they get funding from the political parties?

Reforms + Voters’ Education

Given the flaws in the system, as well as the Comelec’s inconsistencies on which groups are allowed to run, an informed public is the best weapon against voting for the wrong and invalid partylists.  There is still much room for improvement insofar as voters’ education is concerned.  There is still a great lack of awareness of majority of the population.  Which is why it does not come as a surprise that some partylist groups have been using ridiculous names just to be the first name on the ballot in order to get the immediate attention of an uninformed voter.

Let’s also hope that the next congress make the reforms to improve the system.  Apart from the crafting of laws, we want to make sure that the P70-M annual pork barrel allocated to each congressman goes into good hands.  And we want to make sure that they are not just mere additional hands or votes when the lower house makes important decisions that affect the lives of more than 90 million Filipinos.

Related video — Reporter’s Notebook: The Partylist System in the Philippines

Click here to read the same article on 100araw.com

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