The power of shading
In case you missed it, we have two representations in Congress.
One is for the places we reside in, whether we live in a backward town or in a developed city; and the other is for the sector we feel we belong to or associate ourselves with.
Those are aside from the 24 national representatives we elect in the Senate. They are supposed to craft national laws to our benefit.
And then we have the President to lead us. He is in charge of administration of the country, through the members of his Cabinet who take care of our various concerns — from food to shelter to health; and the Vice President, who in this country is technically a spare in case of the President’s death and/ or incapacity to lead.
Add to that in case of the President’s ouster, as proven twice already.
Not many, however, are aware of Republic Act 7941, the Partylist System law that aims to “promote proportional representation in the election of representatives to the House of Representatives through a partylist system of registered national, regional and sectoral parties or organizations or coalitions thereof, which will enable Filipino citizens belonging to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties and who lack well-defined political constituencies but who could contribute to the formulation and enactment of appropriate legislation that will benefit the nation as a whole, to become members of the House of Representatives.”
The keyword here is “marginalized,” which means “a group of people considered as insignificant or peripheral in society.”
Early partylist groups have bonded to claim representation of the poor, of teachers, fishermen, jeepney and bus drivers and everything and everyone who feel being “marginalized” by the elite representation presently in Congress.
But the law also states: “Towards this end, the State shall develop and guarantee a full, free and open party system in order to attain the broadest possible representation of party, sectoral or group interests in the House of Representatives by enhancing their chances to compete for and win seats in the legislature and shall provide the simplest scheme possible.”
Emphasizing “full, free and open party system in order to attain the broadest possible representation of party, sectoral or group interests in the House of Representatives” gave an opening to just about everyone to use the partylist as backdoor to Congress.
Well-funded partylist groups have better chances of clinching slots in Congress than the genuinely marginalized parties with less resources and connections.
National political parties with members long entrenched in local and national positions have seen partylist groups as avenues for expansion. Some of their old members have made it back to political limelight through the partylist system.
Political dynasties have also used the partylist for backdoor entries of many of their members when other national and local posts have been filled up by their leading family members.
Partylists are breeding and training grounds for their younger members whom they hope would soon rise in national politics.
“We are empowered by our votes.
Dynastic parties have locked claims on congressional positions on single province or regional votes, an easier way to the Batasan than the genuine marginalized sectors who need to pool votes scattered across the country.
These marginalized groups have little guarantee of being able to reach the members of their sectors given their very limited resources and the expanse of the archipelago to cover during a campaign. They rely mostly on existing allied organizations for support, although many of these groups soon become compromised when they receive dole-outs from the more established political parties and their incumbent political leaders. Sadly, that’s how the system works.
These deeply-entrenched elite groups of politicians are killing the spirit of the partylist system and its aim of proportional representation.
No wonder President Duterte once claimed having a desire to abolish the partylist system when he pitched for a constitutional change, which now seems dead. Then, like the traditional politicians that they are, many partylist groups expressed their support to the Chief Executive to soothe the situation.
We are heading back to the polls in May next year with majority of the Filipinos seemingly still unaware of their power to change the country’s political system.
We are empowered by our votes, really.
But we easily give up that power when we make wrong choices.
Let us remember that the next time we shade those boxes.
The House of Representatives is filled with men and women who are supposed to represent their districts and — through the partylists — marginalized sectors in our society as well.
Ideally, these elected officials give people in all parts of the nation a voice in government.
In the 2016 elections, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) proclaimed 46 winning partylist groups, distributing 59 partylist seats among them.
In our partylist system, the number of seats are determined by the proportion to the votes that the parties (not their candidates) receive from voters.
Partylist congressmen occupy 20 percent of the House seats as mandated by the Constitution.
Recently, the people occupying positions as partylist reps have led critics to question the need for this system, taking into account as well the sheer number of groups vying for these coveted seats.
According to record, a total of 115 partylist groups joined the 2016 elections.
For the 2019 polls, 185 organizations are said to have filed applications to participate in the partylist elections. That’s 70 more groups from the last polls!
In 2016, the regional party Ako Bicol got the maximum three seats allowed, having garnered 1,664,975 votes (or 5.143 percent of the total votes cast for the partylist). Second-placer was Gabriela which got two seats.
The partylist system is “meant to better represent marginalized sectors, as well as groups without ‘well-defined constituencies’ in the House of Representatives.”
The sad thing is, most voters don’t even know what the partylist representatives stand for, let alone which marginalized sectors they represent.
In fact, lately some critics have tagged the partylist groups anew as a farce — a way for certain interests to get their foot in the House.
A columnist in another broadsheet wrote on 31 October this year (which, I suppose, was a Halloween topic): “Like Frankenstein’s monster, the partylist system has turned into an abomination, so far removed from what its creators in the 1987 Constitution had envisioned.
“Instead of representing the poor, marginalized groups, the partylist is now the easy electoral vehicle for the rich, the political dynasties, the communists, the religious zealots and anyone else with the money and desire to enter Congress.”
The writer names, as an example, Rep. Mikee Romero, “a multi-billionaire” with “net worth P7.2 billion,” whose 1-Pacman (One Patriotic Coalition of Marginalized Nationals) represents “displaced and marginalized people.”
The article labels the name “absurd and shameless” obviously because it uses the Pambansang Kamao’s nickname for total recall.
I am not sure if people have actually checked what partylist groups have accomplished thus far, aside from author some bills or comment on national issues pertaining to their supposed causes.
If we cared to investigate, we would probably discover certain things about the partylist groups we have at the moment that we may not like.
Those with anti-political dynasty sentiments, for one, would see a horde of “political elites,” again to quote Tiglao, that have ensured “their families are firmly entrenched in power.”
“Instead of representing the poor, marginalized groups, the partylist is now the easy electoral vehicle for the rich.
Those who believe Church and State should never mix, meanwhile, would question how some religious interests are in the House as well, through the partylist system, of course.
Like many things in our country, there is a confusion or lack of clarity that leads to so much wasted time and money. The partylist system, one of those cloaked in deplorable vagueness, has been a bone of contention for many years now.
For the 2010 polls, a news report says, the Comelec ruled that partylist nominees must “belong” to the marginalized sectors they represent “amid accusations some of them are not qualified to represent marginalized sectors.”
However, election watchdog Kontradaya, in a recent report, said that “the situation further worsened due to the Supreme Court’s decision allowing partylist nominees to run even if they do not belong to the sector they claim to represent.”
Kontradaya pointed out that what was supposed to be an opportunity for the marginalized has become a travesty.
Same report goes that this decision coupled with Comelec’s lax rules had allowed the exploitation of the partylist system to benefit vested interests and for political dynasties to flourish.
And since even outside of the partylist system our political wannnabes can run for various positions in their provinces (check your region’s candidates and see what sort family ties they share), we can all look forward to a teleserye type of campaigning this coming election season, possibly mixed generously with family sagas, historical documentaries or, heaven forbid, fictional strengths of credibility.