By Leandro Milan
OUR brand of democracy, specifically our electoral system, is a fraud. The rules are designed so that only the rich and powerful get elected.
In an attempt broaden representation in policy-making bodies such as Congress, the framers of the 1987 Constitution introduced the concept of “party-list” representation wherein the so-called marginalized sectors – peasants, urban poor, disabled, cultural minorities – will be allotted seats in the House of Representatives. The pertinent provision states: “The party-list representatives shall constitute twenty per centum of the total number of representatives including those under the party list. For three consecutive terms after the ratification of this Constitution, one-half of the seats allocated to party-list representatives shall be filled, as provided by law, by selection or election from the labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, and such other sectors as may be provided by law, except the religious sector.”
Twenty-five years hence, the party-list system, is alive and well. Problem is what was meant as an avenue for greater people’s representation has become just another traditional political arena for the rich and powerful. Using so-called people’s organizations clothed in fancy and elaborate names, vested interest groups have hijacked the party-list system and turned it into another charade.
The list of groups seeking party-list seats gets stranger and more absurd every election season, prompting Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. to call the party-list system a joke.
Almost every group now wants to be accredited by the Comelec to be eligible to seek congressional seats — health promoters, aviation advocates, athletes and hobbyists, entrepreneurs, former drug users, ex-military renegades, school dropouts, foreign-exchange dealers, LPG marketers.
The election watchdog Kontra Daya, led by Fr. Joe Dizon, is spearheading a campaign to expose bogus party-list groups. One group on its watchlist is Ang Mata’y Alagaan (AMA), which claims to represent blind indigents and people afflicted with all kinds of eye diseases and disorders.
In a petition before the poll body, Kontra Daya says the nominees of AMA belong to the well-connected Velasco family. The group’s first nominee is Lorna Velasco, a nurse and the wife of Supreme Court Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco. Velasco’s daughter, Tricia Nicole, a lawyer, is AMA’s second nominee.
“The Velascos are very powerful politically and economically, considering that they have as head of the family a sitting member of the highest court of this country,” Kontra Daya said. “Clearly, the AMA has no bona fide intention to represent the sector it claims to represent, but rather to represent the interest of the already powerful, well-connected Velascos.”
Kontra Daya also cited 1-AsalPartylist, a group that claims to represent the urban poor but none of its nominees is a slum dweller. In fact, its first nominee, Ryan Tanjucto, lives in posh Corinthian Gardens in Quezon City. The group’s two other nominees are Tanjucto’s wife, Maria Lourdes, and Manila City Councilor Raymundo Yupangco.
Kontra Daya also referred to the Association of Local Athletics Entrepreneurs and Hobbyists Inc. (Ala-Eh), whose first nominee, Elmer Anuran, is a known boxing promoter who runs a boxing gym and oversees Saved by the Bell Promotions.
Earlier, Kontra Daya had asked Comelec to cancel the accreditation of Ang Galing Pinoy party-list group represented in Congress by Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo, the eldest son of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. Ang Galing Pinoy claims to represent security guards, tricycle drivers, farmers and small businessmen.
But Kontra Daya says Ang Galing Pinoy is not a legitimate party-list group representing marginalized or underrepresented sectors but a “tool of the Arroyos and their political allies to remain in power.” (Note: In late October, the Comelec subsequently disqualified Ang Galing Pinoy as a legitimate party-list organization.)
Kontra Daya also questioned the credentials of Ang Galing Pinoy’s nominees for next May’s elections, Charlie Chua and Eder Dizon. According to the watchdog, Chua is a member of the Sangguniang Bayan of Lubao, Pampanga, and a senior partner at Chua and Munsayac Law Firm, while Dizon is a cosmetic surgeon and businessman who owns the Pampanga-based Suncove Corp.
Kontra Daya observes that new groups continue to sprout claiming to represent the urban poor but whose current nominees come from the upper crust of society. Some organizations also claim to represent the sick and the handicapped, but their representatives are neither ill nor handicapped and some of them come from well-known wealthy political families.
Brillantes said he was aware that many party-list representatives in the House are multimillionaires and many of the groups seeking accreditation for next year’s elections have handpicked nominees who are either former government officials or members of powerful political clans. One name readily comes to mind: President Benigno Aquino’s aunt, former Tarlac governor Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco, who is the first nominee of the party-list group Aksyon Magsasaka-Tinig ng Masa.
“That’s why we are doing this [review] to be able to cleanse the list,” Brillantes said.
Two hundred eighty-nine groups have filed applications for accreditation to contest next year’s party-list elections. One hundred sixty-five of them are new groups, and the Comelec’s job is determining their legitimacy to cleanse the party-list system that it concedes is infested by sham organizations.
“Can you imagine if every three years there are 165 new groups applying? By 2019, there will be more than 1,000 of them listed on the ballot… that will make the party-list system of elections absurd,” Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento noted. “So to me, this is the opportunity to screen and process these party-list organizations.”
As of Oct. 24 the Comelec has disqualified 50 organizations for not meeting the standards for party-list groups set by the Constitution and the Party-list System Act. Among them were groups claiming to represent habal-habal (extended-capacity tricycle) operators and drivers, former drug addicts, peace advocates, ex-convicts, and banana farmers.
The Comelec blames the infestation of the party-list system with sham groups on the ambiguities in the law. The Constitution does not clearly define the concepts of marginalized and underrepresented and also does not lay down the qualifications for party-list nominees, Sarmiento said.
Comelec officials cite the need to amend the party-list law. “We appealed that the vagueness in the law be addressed for the guidance of the Comelec since we implement the law,” Sarmiento said.
In the absence of a more rigid law for the accreditation of nominees, the Comelec has tried to remedy the ambiguities in the law by issuing Resolution No. 9366, specifying that only those who belong to marginalized underrepresented sectors can seek party-list representation in Congress.