President Benigno Aquino III
Remarks during the Akbayan Congress, May 25, 2012
Responding to public clamor and protests, the Comelec has embarked on a process of cleansing the party-list system of groups that do not qualify under the law. Several incumbent groups have already had their accreditations cancelled. However, no party-list has incited such intense public discussion as Akbayan, President Aquino’s favored party-list group. The call to disqualify Akbayan should be seen as part of a bigger process of addressing long-standing issues in the party-list system. The abuses by some groups have been going on for so long and now Akbayan thinks it can get away with the same. Voters have a stake in cleaning up a system that has become, according to the Comelec Chair, a “big joke” .
We have three questions related to Akbayan. Is Akbayan marginalized and underrepresented? Are Akbayan’s nominees marginalized and underrepresented based on what is required under the law? Can a group claiming to represent the marginalized be an integral member of the reactionary ruling clique?
It would be helpful to analyze the basic documents of Akbayan to answer these questions. But first let us lay down the basis for eligibility of a party-list group based on our understanding of the Party-list Law and the relevant decisions of the Supreme Court.
A party-list group, to be able to participate in the party-list elections, must represent the marginalized and underrepresented sectors of society. Not only that, its nominees must belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors that the group seeks to represent. These sectors as enumerated by the law include “labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, elderly, handicapped, women, youth, veterans, overseas workers, and professionals”.
The party-list system is not exclusive to sectoral groups but may also include political parties. However, the political parties themselves must represent actual marginalized and underrepresented sectors, meaning that they have to be organized along sectoral lines. Moreover, their nominees must also belong to these marginalized and underrepresented sectors. Failure to fulfil this means that the party-list group has no bona fide intention of truly representing the marginalized and underrepresented. This requirement, that of representing and belonging to the marginalized and underrepresented, should be strictly observed especially for political parties to avoid a past situation wherein major political parties like LAKAS and LP also sought posts in the party-list elections.
Much of the current discussion has centered on Akbayan’s status as a party-list group whose leaders and representatives now occupy influential positions in government. With so many Palace appointees coming from the party, questions have arisen over whether Akbayan can still claim marginalization and underrepresentation.
Is Akbayan marginalized and underrepresented?
The answer is NO. Akbayan and its constituents, its members, are now overrepresented in government.
Akbayan’s Constitution explains why so many of its officials are occupying posts in the Aquino regime. Its goals appear no different from the stated goals of the major political parties who also claim to represent the people and who strive to get as many elective and appointive posts in government.
In Article 2, Section 4 of its Constitution, Akbayan aims to “gain political mandate within the institutions of governance both in elective and appointive positions at the national and local levels; and work for the expansion and accumulation of such footholds of power towards catapulting the party into a position of meaningful influence in national governance.” (We shall discuss the merits of this strategy in another post. For now, let us just look at this provision in relation to the party-list system.)
Apparently “successful” in achieving this goal, Akbayan’s expanded and accumulated “footholds of power” now include the Office of Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs, National Anti-Poverty Commission, Commission on Human Rights, National Youth Commission, Presidential Commission on the Urban Poor, a seat in the GSIS board among others.
The problem with Akbayan is that it wants to have its cake and eat it too. It is accumulating and expanding “footholds of power” in government while at the same time claiming that as a party, it is still marginalized and underrepresented.
Akbayan claims that its government appointees are there to represent the marginalized. It says that there is no such thing as the overrepresentation of the marginalized, and that the marginalized deserve full, not just “token representation”. Perhaps in another context this may be true. However, Akbayan is giving “full representation” only to a particular constituency or segment of the marginalized– its membership. And that constituency, as we have pointed out earlier, is already overrepresented in the Aquino government (unless Akbayan claims that its constituents also include the farmers of KMP and the workers of KMU).
Akbayan has the right to exist as a political party, nay a major political party if it so wishes to be called. It can even be said that it has the right to strive to accumulate posts just like any traditional reactionary party, if that is what it believes to be the right strategy for their group. It can even have its name splashed alongside major parties like the ruling LP, with such prominent billing that’s even ahead of other traditional parties like LDP, NP and NPC. But Akbayan is insulting the collective intelligence of the people when, despite so many positions in government coming from the same constituency, it still claims it is marginalized and underrepresented. The party-list system is reserved for the marginalized and underrepresented. Akbayan is neither. It is a party in power, wielding considerable clout and resources.
Akbayan’s position in government also raises questions about government funding. Unlike other marginalized groups, Akbayan has unique access to government resources, giving them an unfair advantage over other groups. For example, Comelec should look into COA’s report that the National Anti-Poverty Commission, chaired by Akbayan’s Joel Rocamorra, hired 81 contractual personnel and 19 consultants in 2011, who were paid P27.97 million out of the agency’s “maintenance and other operating expenses.” Comelec should ask if these “consultants” are Akbayan members too. And if proven so, wouldn’t that be a clear violation of the party-list law against government funding of groups?
Do we honestly think that the Akbayan officials in government, in the performance of their official functions, while using government resources, do not at the same time promote their party? That is precisely the reason why they wanted to get appointed in government, to advance their party’s interests using government means, resources and influence. Di naman siguro tayo pinanganak kahapon. And it’s in their constitution.
And even granting for the sake of argument that Akbayan was previously (prior to 2010) marginalized and underrepresented, such doesn’t change Akbayan’s present status. Comelec will still have to base its decision on what Akbayan is now, an integral part of the ruling coalition of President Benigno Aquino III.
This brings us to our next point.
Does Akbayan’s alliance/coalition with the reactionary Aquino ruling clique still make the former a party of the marginalized and underrepresented?
How can a group claiming to represent the marginalized be in an alliance with the ruling clique whose interests are in direct contradiction to the marginalized and underrepresented? Akbayan can scream all it wants regarding its so-called track record and history, but its alliance with and unqualified support for a regime that has churned out one anti-people policy after another disproves any claims of being a party of the marginalized and underrepresented.
Representatives of the marginalized and underrepresented should be, as a rule, oppositional to the centers of power. Those who already wield power will always find their interests diametrically opposed to those who do not have power. It is also for this reason those who already wield economic and political power cannot become part of the party-list system, because their interests are different from the marginalized. There will be times when cooperation on issues can take place, but to embrace the ruling clique without qualification, despite its overt actions to undermine the interests of the marginalized, that is simply a betrayal of the marginalized.
To take the side of the Aquino ruling clique– the concrete expression of the rule of the big landlords and big business and foreign interests— is to abandon any pretense at representing the marginalized.
Akbayan is a supporter of the reactionary, anti-people, and anti-national Aquino regime. It has a track record of subservience to this regime. It feigns “disagreement” with Aquino, only when the need arises, such as when their subservience is exposed in public. Has Akbayan at anytime, protested against Aquino? Can their track record boast of anything that would resemble a strong opposition to the anti-people policies of this regime?
When Aquino defended the inclusion of online libel in the Cybercrime Law, all Akbayan could muster was a frown and a sense of extreme “disappointment”, perhaps the same kind that you feel when your team loses a basketball game. Did they protest against Aquino? Nope. They railed against Tito Sotto though, and some of them did a photo ops at the Mabuhay Rotonda. Were they present at the SC rally on Oct 2 and 9? Nope. Did they file a petition vs the Cybercrime Law? Nope. Have they filed amendments to the law? None that we know of.
The truth is, Akbayan has not protested against the Aquino regime on any issue. It contents itself with issuing press statements that “take exception”, “express disappointment” and whatever other cliché they can come up with. Ever seen an Akbayan rally against Oil Deregulation? Ever watched an Akbayan barricade against demolition teams? Ever heard of an Akbayan rally against US military intervention unde Aquino? Or extrajudicial killings of activists and journalists under Aquino? Or a rally against Palparan?
As far as track record goes, Akbayan can pride itself with its record of subservience to the Aquino regime. It has partnered with the Aquino regime in further marginalizing the marginalized and underrepresented. Remember Akbayan’s spirited defense of Aquino’s CCT program? As Aquino himself said during Akbayan’s Congress, “I and Akbayan think alike”.
Ironic. In its constitution, Akbayan says it will endeavor “to position AKBAYAN! in direct opposition to traditional elite rule challenging the socio-political and economic order that traditional politics seek to entrench and perpetuate”. Either Akbayan has violated its own constitution or this constitutional provision is just not meant to be taken seriously.
Do Akbayan’s nominees belong to marginalized sectors the party claims to represent?
In Section 2 of its Constitution, Akbayan describes itself as a “mass-based, democratic and pluralist party”. In its objectives, Akbayan says it aims to “maintain the closest possible cooperation and launch joint undertakings with the working class, peasants’ and other toilers’ mass, and other social movements including those of overseas Filipinos (OF).
Its organizational structures mentions representatives coming from, “but not limited to, the following mass movement formation: labor, peasant, women, and youth. All designated representatives shall be considered as officers of the party unit concerned.”
Akbayan’s National Council also includes representatives consisting of “two (2) each from labor and peasants, and one (1) each from the youth; women; lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders (LGBT); fisher folk; urban poor; and overseas Filipinos (OFs)”.
The Supreme Court and the Comelec have been very definite in stating that nominees must not only be advocates of the marginalized and underrepresented because advocacy is easy to feign. Nominees must belong to the marginalized and underrepresented.
Now, do any of the nominees of Akbayan- Walden Bello, and Palace appointees Undersecretary Barry Gutierrez, and Commissioner Angelina Ludovice-Katoh presently belong to any of the marginalized sectors Akbayan claims to represent in its constitution? Do they satisfy the requirements of “belonging” to these marginalized sectors?
It appears that Mr. Bello does not belong to any of the sectors Akbayan claims to represent (labor, peasant, youth, women etc), unless of course he will say that he represents “overseas Filipinos”. However, the term overseas Filipinos may not be in accord with the law as it may include any Filipino living overseas, even those who are not marginalized. It is precisely why under the party-list law, the term used is “migrant workers”.
Mr. Gutierrez, a lawyer and Palace appointee working for the Presidential Adviser on Political Affairs, also does not belong to any of the marginalized sectors Akbayan claims to represent. He is neither a laborer, peasant, youth, woman, LGBT, fisherfolk, urban poor nor “overseas Filipino”. He cannot invoke “professionals” as the sector he represents because this is not expressly stated in Akbayan’s constitution.
While it can be argued that Ms. Katoh is a women’s rights activist who worked for a development NGO in Mindanao, her current position as a Palace appointee does not makes marginalized and underrepresented. In fact in her Certificate of Acceptance (nomination), she wrote as her occupation, “Commissioner PCUP”. At the time of her being a nominee, her current work as a presidential appointee mandates her to promote government programs such as the Conditional Cash Transfer, which in our view, is not consistent with the interests of the marginalized sectors she claims to represent. Ms. Katoh can argue that she is a woman, and therefore marginalized (same argument used by Leah Navarro of Black and White). But if that were the case, ANY woman, even Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, can claim marginalization and run in the party-list system. Comelec must draw the line somewhere, and in this case, it has to draw a line on the basis of Ms. Katoh’s position in government.
A party-list group whose nominees do not belong to the marginalized sectors they claim to represent, has no bona fide intention of representing those sectors. The Supreme Court in Ang Bagong Bayani vs Comelec has sufficiently elaborated this point.
- Akbayan cannot claim marginalization and underrepresentation based on its current status within the Aquino regime: due to its numerous Palace appointees, access to government resources, and so-called “meaningful influence” within government. Its particular constituency, its members, are now quite overrepresented in government. Akbayan can still exist as a political party, in fact as a major political party, but it is no longer eligible to participate in a party-list system reserved for the marginalized and underrepresented.
- Akbayan’s nominees apparently do not belong to the marginalized sectors that the group claims to represent. This is clearly evident from Bello who does not belong to any of the enumerated sectors of Akbayan, and that even his tenuous claim of belonging to “overseas Filipinos” may not be in accordance with the law. Gutierrez also does not belong to any of the sectors Akbayan claims to represent, on top of the fact that his being a Palace appointee makes him anything but marginalized and underrepresented. Similarly, while Katoh may claim “belonging” to the marginalized sectors, her current position in government, in our opinion, would also make her ineligible.
- Akbayan’s all-out, unqualified alliance with the reactionary ruling clique is in itself a betrayal of the interests of the marginalized and underrepresented.
Whatever happens to the Comelec’s decision on its accreditation, Akbayan has already exposed itself as a party in power no longer eligible for the partylist system and in direct contempt of the interest of the marginalized. Its continuing insistence on participating in the party-list system shows that it’s desire for political power far outweighs its adherence to laws, jurisprudence and plain delicadeza. Voters are now adequately forewarned. ###