The Comelec has accredited 115 partylist groups for the 2016 elections. This is the second elections since the landmark Supreme Court ruling that opened the partylist system to everyone including the rich and powerful. According to the decision, it was no longer necessary that a nominee should belong to the sector that the group seeks to represent. Even major political parties can now field their sectoral organizations in the partylist race. The SC ruling marked the end of the long-held principle that the partylist system is reserved for the marginalized and underrepresented sectors of society, and that nominees had to belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sector that they wish to represent.
Aside from a very long printed ballot come election day, what else do we expect from the partylist system in 2016?
Even before the SC ruling, the partylist system was already being undermined in favor of the rich and powerful. Efforts to “clean up” the partylist system, while achieving limited success from 2007-2010, suffered a major setback in 2013.
If the 2013 partylist results are an indication, we can predict that the 2016 partylist race will again be skewed in favor of the “over-represented” groups who have long-wielded political power in the country.
The dominance of these groups has been a steady trend over the past three elections, with legitimate partylist groups being eased out of the winner’s circle. For 2013, the top partylist group BUHAY had multi-millionaires and a former Manila mayor as its incoming representatives.
In many cases, the political dynasties of a region delivered the votes for a certain partylist group whose nominees belong to that dynasty. In cases where a one family has both a partylist representative and a regular district representative, we see an increasing concentration of political power in the hands of a few. This runs counter to the original “social justice” intent of the partylist system which supposedly aims to give marginalized groups unable to compete in regular district elections a chance to enter congress through a partylist system. Families not content with a regular congressional seats have now taken to using the partylist system to expand their power and influence and to accommodate relatives possibly competing for limited local positions. It is totally possible that political dynasties use the same local election (dirty) tactics to get votes for their partylist groups.
Abono partylist was the top PL in La Union getting 191,020 votes or an amazing 70.6% of the total. It was also number one in Pangasinan where it got 265,181 votes or 36.7% of the total. Abono got most of its votes from Region I. It is believed that the Ortega and Estrella dynasties delivered votes for the group. Abono’s incumbent representatives are Conrado M. Estrella III, Francisco Emmanuel R. Ortega III. Interestingly, another Ortega won as the congressman of the first district of La Union while another Ortega won as provincial governor.
A check with the website of the House of Representatives will show that during his term, Ortega did not principally author any bill. He was co-author though of 21 House Bills, most of which had little or nothing to do with the agriculture sector his partylist claims to represent. Estrella meanwhile was the principal author of two bills related to curbing smuggling.
Aambis-Owa was top partylist in Iloilo getting 129,788 votes or 20% of the total. The group got most of its votes from Region VI. Aambis-Owa’s top nominee was Rep. Sharon Garin, a multi-millionaire comes from the powerful Garin family in Iloilo. Her brother Richard Garin also won as congressman in the first district of Iloilo.
Partylist Alay Buhay was top PL in Valenzuela getting 70,963 votes or 38% of the city’s total because of the powerful Gatchalian family. Alay Buhay’s top nominee is Wesley Gatchalian, a big businessman. His brother Sherwin Gatchalian also won a congressional seat in Valenzuela. Another brother, Rex won as Mayor of Valenzuela.
AMIN was top partylsit in ARMM getting 111, 136 votes or 32.9% of the total. Their top nominee Sitti is the wife of Mujiv Hataman, who ran and won as governor of ARMM that year.
Ang Mata’y Aalagaan of the Velasco family as expected topped the partylist race in Marinduque. It got 18.81% of the PL votes in the province where another Velasco figured in a bitter battle to secure a congressional seat in the legislative district. His bid for a congressional seat was eventually upheld by the Supreme Court, so that there are on record, two Velosos in the 15th Congress.
Agbiag! Timpuyog Ilocano, whose top nominee is incumbent representative Patricio Antonio, a former district congressman, was the top partylsit in the province of Cagayan, garnering 103,676 votes or 38.5% of the total. Another Antonio, Patricio’s brother Bong, won as provincial governor of Cagayan.
Based on the House website, Rep. Antonio was the principal author of only one bill during his second term; An Act Granting Scholarships for Children Of Small Farmers And Appropriating Funds Therefor.
The Agrarian Development Association of the Singson family topped the partylist race in Ilocos Sur, getting 40.24% of the votes in the province. Though ADA however did not enter the winner’s circle, two other Singsons are poised to get seats in congress via regular congressional districts.
In Zamboanga del Sur, Zamboanga del Norte and Zamboango Sibugay, partylist group Kakusa topped the 2013 race getting 96,250 votes or 18% of the region’s total. Kakusa’s nominees include former Zamboanga congressman and convicted rapist Romeo Jalosjos. The influential family had another Jalosjos winning a congressional seat in Zamboanga del Norte.
Partylist group ABAMIN, whose top nominee Maximo is the brother of Cagayan de Oro representative Rufus Rodriguez, topped the partylist race in Misamis Oriental, getting 176,820 or 52.37% of the PL votes in the province. In Cagayan de Oro City where Rufus is district congressman, ABAMIN got a whopping 62.12% of the partylist votes.
Meanwhile, regional groups like Ako Bikol and An Waray continued their dominance of their respective regions. Questions however remain regarding the big business and political interests behind these groups who, in the first place, already have the means to compete in regular district elections. In the current Congress, Ako Bikol’s Rodel Batocabe was the principal author of five house bills, one of which sought the legislation of the elimination of dengue.
Even before the SC decision, the partylist system had already been overrun by political dynasties and the rich and powerful. Groups whose constituents and nominees come from marginalized and underrepresented groups face a formidable challenge with the influx of the moneyed elite. The grassroots-based partylist groups, those with a well-defined mass base, would be in the best position to at least retain and at most expand their elected leaders. They however have to work harder than ever as the dynasties and powerful interest groups employ the same reactionary formula of guns, goons and gold for the partylist race.
It would also be good to fully examine the legislative record of the different partylist groups that won seats last 2013. Did the majority of the parytlist groups provide an alternative voice inside Congress or where they echoing the positions of the major political parties? What legislation did they file for their supposed underrepresented constituency? Or did they simply vote along the lines of the major political parties? Aside from the Makabayan bloc, composed of 7 partylist representatives from various sectors, who else among the partylist groups have stood up to challenge the status quo?
The 2016 partylist race promises to be one of the most intense ever as the doors have been swung wide open for all vested interests. With the proliferation entry of big vested interests, expect patronage politics, vote-buying and intimidation to once more undermine this electoral contest. ###