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Posts Tagged ‘party-list’

The word war between the Anakbayan party-list group and Akbayan regarding the latter’s qualification to run under the party-list system would have been an ordinary event in the never-ending tirade of the Reaffirmists against other Left groups since the split of the Communist Party of the Philippines in 1991. This time, however, the Reaffirmist-led youth groups Anakbayan, League of Filipino Students (LFS), National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP), Student Christian Movement of the Philippines (SCMP) plus its worker coalition Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) took it a step further. They wrote a formal letter to the Commission on Elections “to investigate AKBAYAN party-list and their nominees and if it is determined by the Commission that they are not qualified as party-list groups and nominees, remove and/or cancel the registration of AKBAYAN and deny due course the certificate of nomination filed by the party-list group.

In so doing, these groups have crossed a political line, presumably with the blessing of the CPP leadership. They presume now that they should have the monopoly of Left parliamentary politics. This is in addition to their false assertions that their group has the monopoly of Left mass politics and that armed struggle is the only way to power. It is a step up from the previous threats of physical elimination of specific Akbayan personalities and leaders.

It is to be recalled that in the 1998 national and local elections, the CPP and its organizations in the legal mass movement boycotted the newly-implemented party-list system, calling it a “reformist” institution. However, an outcry among the leaders and ranks of its legal mass movement to participate forced the party to revise its policy and led to the formation and participation of Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Anak ng Bayan, Gabriela Women’s Party, Migrante, and Suara Bangsa Moro in the 2001 party-list elections.

When the party decided to participate in the party-list system, it did so on a grand scale. The strategy of separate sectoral formations was resorted to make use of its wasted votes above the six percent required of the three-seat maximum set by law. Bayan Muna was maintained as both a national political party and a multi-sectoral party-list group, with the objective to make it as the center for their parliamentary work. In the current 2013 party-list elections, more than 10 party-list groups coming from this same political root have applied for party-list accreditation. It does not include Makabayan, which had been reportedly accredited by Comelec as a national political party apart from Bayan Muna.

The current CPP-led attacks against Akbayan are evidently aimed at monopolizing Left parliamentary politics and curtailing its political influence, especially after the latter entered the popular Aquino-led ruling coalition. In the 2013 elections, they ride on the popular call for cleansing of the party-list system of bogus groups, and called for the disqualification of Akbayan. There is a real fear that Akbayan will successfully attain the status of an independent national political party after the elections.

This fear comes from the realization that the CPP-led armed struggle is getting nowhere, without a strong cadre backbone, a broad-based mass base, and effective international support. This is especially acute at this time when there is a real possibility of permanent peace in the Moro rebellion with the signing of a “framework agreement” between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).

The CPP is faced with the strategic dilemma of continuing a politically dead-end course of a protracted armed struggle or pursue the possibilities of the parliamentary arena. The attacks on Akbayan are evidently aimed at preparing the ground for the latter. The applicable Marxist tactical term here is “directing the main blow against the secondary target.”

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for Akbayan, it is now classified in the same league as the Lavaites in the late 1960s–the principal obstacle to be removed so that there is only one Left group standing. Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) for those in the CPP who opt for the parliamentary struggle, the current state of Philippine democracy allows their meaningful participation.

Unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately) Akbayan had already blazed the trail towards meaningful Left participation in the parliamentary struggle. Anak ng Akbayan.

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The proclamation of 29 new party-list representatives, probably with three more later, basically reinforces the same set-up in the House of Representatives. Most of the new ones will be part of or are part of the traditional political leadership in the country, albeit with some sectoral facades.

It is not expected to produce reform legislation, much less the radical reforms contemplated to address the grave crises of the nation. If at all, the increase will make it harder to undertake reform legislation because of the greater number of conservative legislators who need to be convinced of it.

What is new in Congress is the presence of new political forces to include those from the far Right and from the far Left. It is interesting to note the dynamics that will ensue. As early as the first day of the Supreme Court announcement of its decision on the inclusion of 32 new party-list representatives, retired general Jovito Palparan became the target of both human rights advocates and Left condemnation.

Many pending legislations will be affected: charter change, land reform extension, human rights, party-list amendments, and others that are politically cotroversial. Of course, most of these will be overrun by the looming 2010 elections.

The latter–in itself–will be affected greatly, particularly the party-list elections. It is expected that the number of voters in the party-list system will increase significantly, fueled by the possibilities opened by the Supreme Court decision. With no threshold to speak of, a huge number of applicants, in addition to the current long list of registered party-list groups, will try to enter these elections. It is particularly tempting to those who have considerable organized political base. However, this should be tempered by the expected stricter Comelec registration process.

What the whole thing amounts to is that, failing the passage of necessary reform amendments to the 15-year old party-list law, the 2010 party-list elections will be a circus of traditional politics, interspersed with weaker ideological politics and some religious ones.

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The Supreme Court struck down the 2-percent threshold requirement for party-list representation into the House of  Representatives as unconstitutional. The decision is immediate and executory. With this single act, the highest court has thrown into turmoil the politics of the lower House.

The progressive implications are the following: 1) A substantial block can be formed among genuine party-list groups critical for reform measures; 2) More than ever, sectoral groups from marginalized and underrepresented sectors will have the incentive and higher chances of entering Congress; and 3) Premium will be placed on the quality and cohesiveness of the organized constituency of aspiring party-list groups.

The SC decision adds 32 party-list representatives to the current 22 to fill up the entire 54 seats available for the party-list system. These comes from 18 party-list groups as additional or new representatives. Based on the current list, this is a mixed blessing insofar as genuine and questionable party-list groups alike qualified for these new seats. In fact, the majority of the new party-list representatives have questionable qualification to represent marginalized and underrepresented sectors.

However, their entry into Congress further complicates the already difficult task of pro-GMA cha-cha advocates of garnering ¾ of the votes for an outright “passage” of constitutional amendments under the controversial interpretation of a “joint vote” by Congress. The ruling raises to 220 the required votes for such a scenario (out of 270 congressmen + 23 senators).

The Supreme Court ruling adds urgency to the amendments of the party-list law, particularly on the tightening of the definition of “marginalized and underrepresented sectors” and on viable restrictions of groups that are only an extension of traditional political powers. Unfortunately, this will be an uphill battle considering the overwhelming number of traditional politicians in the lower House. It does not help that the major parties are banned by the SC decision from participating in the party-list system.

The Supreme Court decision is a mixed blessing.

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The supposedly routine approval on third reading of the Political Party Development bill in the House of Representatives surprisingly led to highly-critical reactions from a party-list representative, minority representatives, a Catholic bishop, the Comelec chairman, an election lawyer, and a newspaper columnist. This particular bill was already passed–with the exact same content–on third reading by the same body in the 13th Congress without such negative reactions.

The reasons given against the bill were varied: that it is unconstitutional, allegedly discriminating against small parties, that it did not include party-list groups, that spending public funds for political parties is wrong and increases corruption, and that Jose de Venecia (one of the authors) is the wrong messenger for political party reforms.

These are serious accusations and deserve serious answers. First, let me state my position as an electoral reform advocate. I stand four-square behind the bill–it is a vital part of the package of political and electoral reforms we had been struggling for more than 15 years already. The package included such laws as the party-list law, the fair elections act, the overseas absentee voting law, the electoral automation law, the continuing registration act, and such pending bills as the anti-political dynasty bill, the local sectoral representation bill, the anti-turncoatism bill and on the amendments to the Omnibus Election Code.

The political party reform bill was drafted in 2002 and endorsed by the major political parties in the first-ever Philippine Political Party Conference, chaired by then-Speaker and Lakas-NUCD chairman Jose de Venecia. Election reform advocates participated in the drafting and endorsed the original bill, and later lobbied with government to pass it.

The unity for the bill started unraveling when GMA announced her candidacy for the 2004 presidential elections. Later, the presidential legitimacy crisis prevented movement on the bill despite GMA’s own endorsement in her 10-point “legacy program” and its inclusion in the Medium-Term Development Program. The current situation opened once more the possibility for passing it because of the urgency to address the requirements of a fair and free 2010 elections.

Cynicism about traditional politics and politicians, the legitimacy crisis, and the valid concern of small parties and party-list groups are new elements that have come up in opposition to the bill. However, it is my opinion that these concerns, despite their being correct, are misplaced and critics are barking on the wrong tree.

One, the bill is not about party-list groups or even the possible transformation of these groups into political parties. It is about developing and strengthening the political party system. Party-list groups can be covered once they registered as political parties.

Two, it does not promote only a two-party system or even the monopoly by major parties. It is designed however to exclude fly-by-night “parties” or those that do not have significant constituencies. The reason is simple. You do not want nuisance groups or even nuisance parties to muddle the system and the electoral process and dissipate public funds. Actual seats in Congress and other measures of party strength such as membership, geographical spread, record in local elections, etc. are a logical criteria for measuring viable political parties.

Three, public subsidy is based on the nature of political parties as public institutions, particularly in a democracy. Strong and healthy political parties are a key element in building a strong and healthy democracy–they are essentially one of the major organized links between the citizens and their government. If they are weak, non-existent or not performing this vital function, the gap between the people and government will widen and lead or contribute greatly to various ills of a dysfunctional democracy such as personality-oriented politics, political corruption, local warlordism, patronage politics, electoral fraud and violence, vote-buying, and dynastic politics.

Public subsidy is meant to provide the minimum resources for party-building, leverage for auditing, transparency, and accountability in the sourcing and expenditures of party and campaign funds, and for enhancing party authority and influence on their candidates and members.

Fourth, the bill provides the rationale for restricting turncoatism and against emasculating political parties and party-raiding by laying down the rules of behavior of political parties and politicians.

Fifth, the campaign finance provisions regulate campaign contributions by requiring bank accounts for these (for independent record and identification of contributors), set realistic limits and regulate campaign expenditures, institute higher and stiffer penalties for violations, and strengthen the role of the Comelec in supervising political parties.

The political party reform bill addresses most of the perceived ills of our political and electoral system. It is a key measure that sets the behavior of political players. To be sure, it has been subjected (and will still be subjected) to various compromises and pressures, possibly leading to weakening of some of its original provisions. However, on the whole, it is a real electoral reform measure in a tough electoral environment, our current best shot at instituting electoral reforms and setting aright what’s wrong with our elections–by setting its sight on the heart of traditional politics.

That Jose de Venecia (and Senator Edgardo Angara in the Senate) are major authors of the bill in fact show the seriousness with which major political parties view this bill and their openness to new rules of the political game. There are, of course,  other authors of differing political persuasions.

Non-passage of the bill essentially means that the current presidentiable-centered, winner-take-all national politics, political dynasties, costly elections, and presidential patronage system will be with us for sometime to come, even after 2010 onwards. The law of the jungle will prevail.

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