By BENJIE OLIVEROS
MANILA — Two recent news reports do not bode well for party-list elections. In February, Pulse Asia reported that its January 2010 survey revealed that only three out of 10 Filipinos are aware of the party-list system. Pulse Asia added that it is only in the National Capital Region where party-list awareness is high at 51 percent of voters. Worse, Pulse Asia also reported that awareness regarding the party-list system plunged compared to April 2007 when nearly 6 out of 10 Filipinos knew about it.
In March, media watchdog group the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility reported that only 23 of the 187 party-list groups vying for a seat in the House of Representatives were covered by the three major news programs from the three major networks.
“There was almost no coverage of the party-list process, and very few parties received airtime. There was no discussion of the importance of the party-list elections as an opportunity for the marginalized to receive representation in Congress, or stories on crucial party-list sectors such as those on labor, agricultural workers, women, indigenous peoples,” CMFR said.
Worse, nine out of the 16 in the top 10 most covered party-list groups — as seven are tied in 10th place with 11 seconds of coverage each — are identified with the Arroyo government. Topping the list is 1-UTAK, with a measly one minute and 39 seconds, mainly because of Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes’s refusal to tender his resignation after the Supreme Court ruled that government officials running in the May 2010 elections should be considered resigned. Reyes is the first nominee of 1-UTAK.
Unless these trends are reversed, chances are participation in the party-list elections in the May 2010 elections would also be dismal.
How important is the party-list system?
Let us go back to the purpose of the party-list elections. In a November, 2008 interview with Bulatlat, Dr. Wilfrido Villacorta, a co-sponsor of the 1987 Constitution’s party-list provision together with Christian Monsod, said that their objectives in pushing for a party-list system were the following:
(a) to empower and articulate the interests of the marginalized sectors of Philippine society who don’t have the political base nor the financial resources to be represented in our legislature;
(b) to strengthen the party system and make Philippine politics more issue-oriented;
(c) to consolidate the national consensus and genuine democratization of the electoral process by bringing to the legislature the marginalized and the under-represented groups of our country; and to ensure peace and unity throughout our nation by reinforcing people’s trust in peaceful change
Indeed, the two most important objectives of the party-list system are increasing the representation of the marginalized sectors and transforming the party system in the country to make it more issue-oriented, as party-list groups promote their advocacies, and not their nominees, to gain votes. However, the country is nowhere near these two objectives.
The bigger blame for this sorry state of the party-list system is on the Arroyo government for corrupting it by fielding Malacañang-sponsored party-list groups to pursue its self-serving ends. Second is on the Commission on Election (Comelec) for not fulfilling its task of educating voters on the party-list system, and for making it difficult for genuine representatives of marginalized sectors to gain accreditation while allowing the entry of those identified with the Arroyo government.
Part of the blame goes to the media for not covering party-list groups and not doing its share of informing the public regarding the party-list system.
Part of the blame also goes to party-list groups who have representatives in the Lower House. From a mere 20-25, representatives of party-list groups increased to 50 after the Supreme Court changed the formula in computing representatives with the objective of filling up the 20 percent of seats in the House of Representatives, which are reserved for party-list groups. However, only a handful of these party-list representatives, mainly those belonging to the Left and the opposition, have pushed for meaningful legislation and resolutions, and made use of their privilege speeches to defend and promote the interests, rights, and welfare of the marginalized sectors. Projects benefitting the poor and the marginalized are also sorely lacking.
What have the majority of the party-list representatives been doing? Some are even enmeshed in in-fighting as to who should be the legitimate representative of their group. And there are those — namely, Jun Alcover of ANAD and retired Major General Jovito Palparan of Bantay — who do nothing except conduct a smear campaign against Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Gabriela Women’s Party and Kabataan.
The worst thing that could happen with the expected low participation in the party-list elections is that it would create an opportunity for the Arroyo government to pad votes for Malacañang-sponsored party-list groups. The Arroyo government would surely do so because it has plans of flooding Congress with its loyal minions — by fielding candidates vying for seats in the Lower House as well as fielding nominees for its party-list groups — in order to install Arroyo as House Speaker and later Prime Minister, if and when its charter change maneuver succeeds. At the same time, it is trying to disenfranchise the voters of progressive party-list groups such as Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Gabriela Women’s Party, Kabataan, as well as newly accredited Act and Katribu party-list groups by killing and harassing its officials, organizers, and supporters. These are the most active organizations fulfilling the mandate of party-list groups and yet they are the ones being attacked by the Arroyo administration.
The Arroyo government did these things during the 2004 elections, courtesy of former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano and the Armed Forces of the Philippines. They did it again during the 2007 elections, courtesy of former Comelec Commissioner Lintang Bedol and the AFP. They could do it again in May 2010.
If they succeed, it would debase the party-list system more, and with it, erase any glimmer of hope of making even just a small dent in the political party system in the Philippines. (Bulatlat.com)