MANILA -- Political clans targeting more congressional seats through the party-list backdoor are taking advantage of vote-rich provinces where they wield significant power and influence, election data show.
Traditional political bailiwicks delivered the votes for the likes of Abono, a party-list group identified with the powerful Ortega clan of La Union and the Estrellas in neighboring Pangasinan.
In the 2016 elections, the 2 provinces alone accounted for more than 80 percent of Abono’s total votes, according to Commission on Elections figures collated by ABS-CBN Data Analytics.
La Union delivered 212,369 votes while Pangasinan provided the bigger 394,888 votes for Abono, which secured 2 congressional seats.
Pangasinan, ranked third among provinces with the most number of registered voters at 1.9 million, is again expected to turn up for the group in May.
The Abono example illustrates how clans can make use of their existing political base to capture a party-list system, which was originally conceived to accommodate marginalized sectors.
"Pagsalaula yun sa spirit at intention ng party-list law, which is to provide representation sa mga marginalized and underrepresented," former Bayan Muna Rep. Teodoro Casiño told ABS-CBN News.
(That's a bastardization of the intention and spirit of the party-list law, which is to provide representation to the marginalized and underrepresented.)
"Wala sa hinagap ng mga gumawa ng batas at ng konstitusyon na yung mga political dynasties ang makikinabang dyan."
(Those who crafted the law and the constitution had no inkling that the political dynasties would benefit the most.)
The "bailiwick vote" is one of 3 paths to victory for party-list groups in an election, said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Manila-based Institute for Political and Electoral Reform.
The option was an offshoot of the old strategy of "negotiated" votes where party-list groups approached political clans for support in their areas of influence, he said.
Later, these clans opted to put up their own party-list groups, realizing the inherent advantage of their own vote-rich bailiwicks, Casiple said.
"If they can do it on their own, why not?” he told ABS-CBN News. "Hindi lang theoretical ngayon, in practice, ganun na."
(It's no longer theoretical, it's a practice, that's how it is now.)
Gerardo Eusebio, a veteran campaign strategist, described bailiwicks as a "practical option... that can assure you that you would get, at least, an ample source of your votes."
Other party-list groups still rely heavily on "market votes," said Casiño.
The very nature and representation of the party-list system was the subject of intense debate by the 1986 Constitutional Commission — was it supposed to guarantee congressional seats to marginalized groups?
Other delegates, such as lawyer Christian Monsod, pushed for the "non-sectoral" argument, which eventually won, Casiple wrote in 2003.
It viewed the party-list system as a way to "open the legislature to those who will not ordinarily win in normal district elections and not necessarily coming from marginalized sectors," he said.
As a compromise, the framers allowed the appointment or election of representatives from such groups until the 1995 party-list law was applied in the 1998 elections, he said.
These groups included labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, and youth.
SUPREME COURT RULING
Critics of the party-list law blame the constitution itself for allowing "registered national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations."
A controversial Supreme Court decision in 2013 went by this provision, ruling that party-list elections are not limited to the marginalized.
It reversed a 2001 ruling that described the system as "a social justice tool designed not only to give more law to the great masses of our people who have less in life, but also to enable them to become veritable lawmakers themselves."
The current Supreme Court interpretation means regional groups, despite their entanglements with powerful political clans, can indeed participate in party-list elections.
Party-list representatives comprise 20 percent of the total members in the House of Representatives, or 59 seats in the 2019 elections.
Over the years, the system has been hijacked by political dynasties and special business interests, according to the election advocacy group Kontra Daya.
This year’s elections, it warned in February, were no different with many of the 134 registered party-list groups having "links to political dynasties or officials already elected in other positions."
Like Abono, some of these winning party-list organizations relied heavily on their existing political bailiwicks to deliver the votes.
In 2016, AAMBIS-OWA of the Garins got 226,278 votes from their Iloilo bailiwick alone. The figure accounted for 46 percent of the group’s total votes that year.
MATA, a group identified with the Velasco political clan in Marinduque, secured much of its votes from the province with 25,249.
AANGAT TAYO of the Abayons collected 35,953 votes or 14 percent of its total votes from the family’s Northern Samar bailiwick.
LPGMA, a group associated with the Albanos of Isabela, was elected in 2016 partly on the strength of 218,656 votes from the province alone. The figure represented nearly 50 percent of the entire votes won by the party-list group.
The Antonios of Cagayan’s AGBIAG was the last to win a party-list seat in the last election. The province delivered 121,083 votes or about half of its total votes.
The entry of more votes from clan-controlled provinces will increase the total party-list votes, making it difficult for “authentic” groups with less campaign resources to meet the 2-percent threshold, Loretta Ann Rosales, a former Akbayan representative, warned.
“It strengthens political dynastic rule,” she told ABS-CBN News.
A total of 44.9 million were cast in 2016, including 32.4 million for party-list groups.
Under a 3-stage formula by the Supreme Court, groups garnering 2 percent of the total party-list votes get 1 seat each.
These groups can still secure up to 2 additional seats based on a second-round formula.
If there will still be seats available, they will be distributed to the rest of the groups based on ranking — all to fill 20 percent of the House membership.
Critics say the 3-seat cap in the Philippines’ unusual party-list system goes against the spirit of proportional representation (PR).
A PR system means that the number of a party’s seats should be in proportion to its share of the total votes. So if a group gets, say, 50 percent of the total votes, it secures half of the seats.
In his 2003 paper, Casiple described the Philippine party-list system as an "elite accommodation."
While it provides marginalized sectors a "genuine doorway into the halls of power," he said it was a "small one."