MANILA - Political dynasties kept tight control of the party-list system following the May elections, raising fears it would be even more difficult to overhaul an electoral system originally designed for the poor and the marginalized.
Election watchdog Kontra Daya is banking on “intense public pressure” to force Congress to ban political dynasties as part of a wide-ranging package of reforms.
The post-Edsa constitution prohibits such dynasties, but legislators never came close to passing an enabling law in the last 32 years.
Instead wealthy political clans, who had entrenched themselves in congressional districts, gained foothold in the party-list system, further expanding their influence in the House of Representatives over the years.
“Every time these people are allowed to run for party-list representative, there are legitimate sectors that are deprived of their voice and this is what’s happening now,” election lawyer Emil Marañon III told ABS-CBN News.
Three years ago, legislators introduced a landmark anti-political dynasty provision in the law governing youth elections.
“It’s hard to appreciate a situation where they would end up shooting themselves on the foot,” Kontra Daya convener Danilo Arao told ABS-CBN News.
“However, there have been cases where Congress passed legislation, not because they wanted to, but because they were forced to do so as a result of public pressure.”
Rep. Michael Romero of 1-PACMAN party-list, one of the emerging power brokers in the House, said the chamber could look into proposals that no party-list lawmaker “should be part of a sitting congressman’s family.”
HUSBAND AND WIFE
Such will be the case in the 18th Congress for former Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, who regained his legislative seat in Leyte.
He will replace his wife Yedda, the incumbent district representative, who will remain in Congress representing the family-backed Tingog Sinirangan party-list group.
The Suarez political dynasty of Quezon province will occupy 3 congressional seats.
Minority Leader Danilo Suarez’s wife Aleta will replace him as third district congressman.
Suarez will assume the gubernatorial post to be vacated by his son David, who was elected in the second congressional district.
David Jayjay Suarez’s wife Anna, a sitting congresswoman, will remain as representative of the clan-backed Alona party-list group.
Sen. Manny Pacquiao’s brother is set to represent a party-list group for Filipino workers abroad, further cementing the family’s young political dynasty.
“You will have to get rid of political dynasties,” said former Akbayan Rep. Loretta Ann Rosales, whose group suffered a stunning defeat this year.
“You have to put rules and regulations against the abuse by the political dynasties.”
Akbayan, one of the progressive groups in the House, had never lost since joining the first party-list election in 1998.
Rosales blamed the debacle partly on alleged vote-buying and massive campaign spending by other party-list groups.
She cited the case of ACT-CIS, a group associated with tough-talking media commentators close to President Rodrigo Duterte.
Rosales questioned the group’s supposed community-based, anti-crime advocacy, saying “nobody knew them from Adam” until it spent heavily on TV campaign ads.
ACT-CIS topped the party-list race with 3 seats. One of its incoming congressmen is the wife of radio commentator Raffy Tulfo and sister-in-law of Ramon Tulfo, the president’s “special envoy to China.”
Rosales warned that failing to stop political dynasties from seizing more party-list seats would further marginalize the poor and could trigger unrest.
Among the goals of the party-list system, she said, was to discourage groups from taking up arms and push them instead to pursue reforms by joining the legislature.
“'Pag pinagpatuloy 'yan, ang mga tao, ang mga marginalized, talagang lalong iisipin na 'Tama na. 'Yang binigay na espasyo para sa 'tin, nilamon nila',” she said.
(If that continues, the people, those marginalized will be pushed to further think 'This is enough. The space given for us, they took over.')
“Armed struggle will get stronger.“
The recent campaign for party-list seats saw sustained attacks on left-leaning organizations such as Bayan Muna, particularly by the Duterte Youth, a group of hardline supporters of the president.
In a Facebook post, its leader Ronald Cardema threatened to “wipe out” these groups for allegedly supporting the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
On the eve of the May 13 elections, all 5 nominees of the Duterte Youth, including Cardema’s wife, suddenly withdrew so he could take over.
The Commission on Elections has yet to decide whether to allow Cardema, who is 3 years over the age limit for youth representatives, to serve as substitute.
Cardema was also criticized for alleged electioneering when he actively campaigned for his party-list group while he was chairman of the National Youth Commission.
Marañon warned the commission against allowing Cardema’s last-minute substitution.
“Cardema gave a very bad example of someone who abuses his power, someone who’s actually circumventing the law right under the noses of the Comelec and yet pinayagan (he was allowed),” the election lawyer said.
Rosales said Cardema “clearly” should not be allowed to replace his wife for the congressional seat.
“That Comelec is taking its time thinking whether or not he is qualified is to me a lot of bull,” she said.
Rosales said reforming the country’s “deeply bastardized” party-list system would require a “consensus” to strengthen political parties to focus on programs instead of personalities.
Previous efforts to fix the political party system, including a proposed law against turncoatism, failed in a Congress where party-switching was common and convenient.
Romero, leader of the 55-member party-list bloc, said he would push for reforms within the system but did not provide details.
Last year, Kontra Daya said Romero's 1-PACMAN was “a glaring example of how the party-list system has been used by the rich and powerful.”
Romero is the richest member of the House with a declared net worth of P7.3 billion in 2017.
“We should be looked at kung ano natutulong namin sa bansa (by how we have helped the country). Hindi 'yung ano laman ng aming bulsa (Not by how much is in our pockets),” the lawmaker told ANC’s Early Edition Friday.