Congress remains the stronghold of traditional politics, now shored up by the increasing presence of certain elitist Party list groups. This is a long way off the charter-based principle of guaranteeing the marginal sectors’ representation in the lawmaking body.
BY THE CENTER FOR PEOPLE EMPOWERMENT IN GOVERNANCE (CenPEG)
Posted by Bulatlat
Vol. VII, No. 28, August 19-25, 2007
The 14th Congress, which opened last July 23, will be no different from previous congresses: It remains a bastion of conservative politics, and its performance in terms of enacting significant bills is expected to be as dismal as the 13th Congress.
As far as the Party list system is concerned, the recent fraudulent elections retained and brought in groups with parochial and traditional interests giving a limited elbow room for marginal sector-based party lists to play. As a whole, the number of Party list representatives in the new Congress – 23 – again falls short of the constitutionally-enshrined objective of ensuring the marginal sectors’ representation in the House of Representatives. It is just 9.5 percent compared to the 20 percent of seats allowed in the lower chamber, which has been the case since Party list elections began in 1998.
As a whole, only 17 of the 93 Party list groups accredited in the May 14 elections were able to garner seats for a three-year term in the House based on the Panganiban formula. According to reports, only about six of the qualified 17 Party list groups can be said to represent marginal groups, based on constitutional requirements: BM (Bayan Muna or People First), Akbayan, GWP (Gabriela Women’s Party), Batas, Anakpawis, and Anak Mindanao. The rest are affiliated either with well-funded religious-political groups, traditional political parties, or medium-scale business enterprises; they also own TV networks and programs. Some of the latter made it to Congress through alleged fraud, government connections, and aggressive TV publicity in the last elections. At least four of their nominees, namely, Ernesto Pablo and Edgar Valdez of APEC, Rene Velarde of Buhay, and Guillermo Cua of Coop-Natcco are ranked as millionaires in the 13th House.
Still not represented
These Party-list groups made it to the House at the expense of others that take their roots in the parliament of the streets and ran in previous elections to represent marginal sectors. These include Sanlakas, Partido ng Manggagawa, and a few others. While significant marginal classes and sectors, such as labor, peasant, and women have their representation retained in the law-making body, through the likes of Anakpawis and Gabriela, many other sectors remain unrepresented. Among these are the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), seafarers, youth-students, indigenous peoples, and significant Muslim communities aspiring for self-determination and ancestral domain.
The following Party list groups revealed their true political color by taking their oath of office before President Gloria M. Arroyo after being proclaimed as election winners: APEC, Abono, ARC, A Teacher, Buhay, Butil, and Coop-Natcco. At least three of these, APEC, Butil, and Coop-Natcco, joined House Speaker Jose de Venecia’s coalition in the May elections. Including them, the rest of the groups backed De Venecia’s bid for the speakership.
A Teacher party list claims to represent the country’s low-paid educators. However, its nominee, Mariano U. Piamonte, Jr., is the executive director of the Catholic Educators Association of the Philippines (CEAP) which claims to have 1,194 Catholic member-schools all over the country. CEAP, which is connected with the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), groups the owners, incorporators, and administrators of these schools.
Alagad is the electoral wing of the Iglesia ni Cristo (INC), a religious-political group with an influential voting bloc that has been courted by presidential and senatorial aspirants for decades. Although Alagad supported Arroyo in 2004, its nominee, Bro. Rodante Marcoleta, voted for her impeachment in 2005. INC, on the other hand, operates big churches and schools all over the Philippines – as well as in the U.S. and elsewhere.
Another religious-political group, Buhay, is the electoral wing of charismatic group El Shaddai. Among other enterprises, El Shaddai head Bro. Mike Velarde owns and chairs the Amvel Land Development Corporation, a 3,000-unit residential village in Parañaque City. Mike Velarde, whose son Rene is the party list group’s third nominee, also serves as a “spiritual adviser” of the President.
Some 151 credit cooperatives are affiliated with Natcco whose electoral party, Coop-Natcco, is again represented in the new Congress by Cua, a millionaire. Natcco is a direct agent of Western Union Transfer Money, a leading bank for overseas remittances, through the DA5 Consortium of which it is a member.
Like Coop-Natcco, APEC is an association of electric power cooperatives. One of these, Quezon Electric Cooperative, has Ernesto Pablo as general manager. Considered a millionaire in the 13th Congress, Pablo’s net worth increased by 200 percent while serving his term. By backing De Venecia for House speaker, Pablo now chairs the House committee on cooperative development.
Agap is an association of 52 hog and poultry corporations, mostly farm owners, feed millers, veterinary drug manufacturers, and truckers. It lobbies with government’s agriculture department, finance department, customs, and tariff commission. Agap advocates against the smuggling of farm commodities and the excessive importation of meat and poultry products.
The religious-political, traditional, and parochial affiliations that crown these Party-list groups in the House tend – through a convergence of interests – to reinforce the conservative politics that lords over this chamber. Indeed, 75 percent of the total number of district representatives of the House, or 164 out of 237, comes from the country’s oligarchic clans. Of the total, 91 are with De Venecia’s Lakas-CMD making it the dominant traditional political party. The other members are with Kampi (Mrs. Arroyo’s own party, 41 seats); NPC of Eduardo Cojuangco, Jr. (28); Liberal Party (23); Nacionalista Party (10); LDP (4); PDP-Laban (4); and the rest with other minority parties.
The eclectic opposition bloc of both the traditional and progressive mold has to contend not only with the dominance of the pro-administration and administration parties that has been bolstered by the traditional-leaning Party list groups but also with the absence of several opposition leaders in the new Congress. More to the point, 14 of 32 representatives who last voted for the impeachment of Mrs. Arroyo in the 13th Congress have either ended their terms or lost their seats in the last polls. Two are now in the Senate.
The entry or re-entry of traditional-leaning Party list groups is prescribed by their own parochial interests, and by an agenda determined by their political backers. Aside from bills that are expected to be filed mainly for their parochial or constituency agenda, their political postures can be influenced by the centers of patronage power in Congress – Mrs. Arroyo, De Venecia, Eduardo Cojuangco – as well as by presidential aspirants who by now will be plotting strategic moves to draw support for the 2010 presidential derby. However, so long as their narrow interests are not compromised, they can sometimes be counted upon to take an independent stance on some public-interest national or sectoral bills and issues.
The Party-list system is a long way off the limited proportional representation for the country’s marginal sectors that the crafters of the 1987 Constitution had envisioned. As designed, the Party-list system was supposed to open an arena in governance participation for the broad social movement and people’s struggles that served as the backbone force for the historic ouster of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. These struggles underscored not only a clamor to dismantle the fascist dictatorship but also the need for holistic social, economic, and political reform. Congress was to serve as the forum for translating these democratic demands through political advocacy and legislation.
Congress, of course, remained under the hands of the oligarchs. Today, reactionary politics along with the opportunism of religious fundamentalism set the terms and bad practices to ensure that the system is constrained by the power of elite politics and that the fundamental reforms long sought by the people through their representatives – such as genuine land reform, employment, social justice, national self-determination, and respect for human rights – are accommodated perfunctorily, if not repudiated entirely. “National security” has been used as a pretext to prevent principled and progressive party lists – and millions of their constituents – from further gaining access to the lawmaking body.
The bad practices of the dominant elite validate perceptions that the poor majority’s representation in Congress is anathema to elite-dominated governance. In the early years of the parliament in England, the feuds between the monarchy and commoners led to civil wars. Right at home, the filibusterism of civil libertarians and anti-government opposition in the Senate at the peak of the First Quarter Storm was one of the reasons that led Ferdinand Marcos in 1972 to declare martial law and abolish Congress to be replaced much later by a rubber-stamp Batasang Pambansa.
In the protracted struggle to realize the marginal sectors’ full representation in Congress – in which many lives have been lost – certain reforms need to be addressed during the 14th House: 1) a stricter screening and implementation of the requirement that party list organizations should credibly represent the truly “marginalized and disadvantaged sectors” of society; and 2) a removal of the three-person maximum cap for each winning party list group and a shift to the principle of strict proportionality for winning parties with the minimum vote threshold. Posted by (Bulatlat.com)