Saturday, April 20, 2013

Pissing on the party-list

April 17, 2013
The Manila Times

What is painfully true about the party-list system is that what it stands for, what it is truly about, is clear to most all of us, and yet—and yet—we decide to read between the lines, we demand that words like marginalized, and underrepresented, mean more than they should. We also mess with the idea of representation.

Mikey Arroyo, former congressman, now running under party list.

Because in whose crazy head does it make sense that Mikey Arroyo, former congressman, could stand as security guard representative in Congress? In what world can someone like convicted rapist Romeo Jalosjos run as representative of those who have been falsely accused? This is a former congressman who was convicted on two counts of statutory rape and six counts of acts of lasciviousness.

And remember Jovito Palparan, he of Oplan Bantay Laya fame? He is responsible for the disappeared activists and extra-judicial killings from 2004-2010. He who says he is innocent of the murders and disappearances, even as he is in hiding and on the run, refusing to prove his innocence.

In whose crazy head does it make sense that these three men are running as party-list representatives? In whose head does it make sense that those serving time in Muntinlupa on a false conviction must warrant congressional representation? In whose head would Palparan’ Bantay—“a union of pro-democracy advocates committed to save the Philippine Republic against communist terrorism”—be a valid party-list organization that deserves a seat in Congress?

In whose stupid head?

Welcome the decision of the Supreme Court to overturn the Comelec’s disqualification of 52 organizations wanting to run for party-list seats.

Welcome a Supreme Court for which it makes absolute sense that someone like Palparan, someone like Jalosjos, someone like Mikey Arroyo, might vie for a party-list seat.

Welcome a Supreme Court that has effectively put these three men in Congress.

Because that is what it has done, and right there is the Supreme Court’s and Comelec’s—the party-list system’s – crisis. These guys are shoo-ins and that’s not because they are worthy of those Congress seats; it’s because they are in a position to already get these seats, they are already part of the political machinery that will ascertain for them these wins.

The Supreme Court’s new guidelines for the party-list elections has effectively allowed for every rich mainstream powerful politician and political party to take on seats in Congress, as if those halls weren’t already full with the cohorts and every-other-tuta of political dynasties and MalacaƱang itself.

But of course we’re in denial, and we’d rather spin this with a dash of democracy, some Constitutional gobbledygook, too. Louie Guia of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections asserts that “This new ruling is more in line with the 1987 Constitution. If the intent of the Constitution was for the party-list system to be sectoral representation, it should have said so. Instead, the Constitution says the party-list system is for proportional representation. “

Which of course begs the question: how in the world would an anti-communist organization like Bantay be about proportional representation? Palparan, as its representative already holds power, member of the military as he is. And no matter that he is in hiding, Palparan trained his people well, with the likes of Col. Ricardo Visaya who has been able to place towns in Legazpi City in Bicol under close AFP watch. Certainly Col. Visaya is already doing what Bantay promises to do?

Certainly, the Visayas and Palparans should not be given a congressional seat to continue doing what they do: that is, sow fear in communities and make everyone collateral damage in the task of red baiting?

Certainly an organization like this, which is nothing but advocacy, one that can only be premised on the violence of Palparan, cannot be about proportional representation?

And what of Jalosjos? Convicted of the rape of an 11-year-old girl, how can he even be allowed to represent the cause of the falsely accused who are doing their time in jail? How can he be representative of innocence, when he’s been convicted of his crime? And what exactly is an organization like this one supposed to be doing in Congress, when it seeks to do nothing but support the cause of those who are innocent-but-jailed? And how, pray tell, would Jalosjos’ presence—questionable as it is—mean proportional representation?

And then we ask: proportional to what exactly? Because if the goal is to try and create a balance between the powerful political families that riddle our local governments and our Congress, then why would Jalosjos, Palparan and Arroyo be about creating proportion?

Justice Marvic Leonen meanwhile asserts that this will make the party-list system more inclusive, as it allows those with advocacies and causes to vie for a Congress seat. Well, I am all of inclusivity, but why allow the powerful and moneyed, those groups that already have the support of say, PNoy’s Liberal Party, to make a mockery of the party-list and its task of creating proportion by engaging the marginalized and underrepresented in the task of lawmaking?

Also there is this: how does allowing these causes and advocacies create proportion? Causes and advocacies are such because they are generally taken on by those who have the time and money for them. They are also already generally the moneyed class, the ones who are already represented by the larger political parties.

In effect, Leonen is saying that by virtue of inclusivity, party-list organizations need not be about a sector that has yet to have representation. He is saying that every cause, including the task of ridding this side of the world of communists, deserves a seat in Congress. He is saying that this cause that has killed and disappeared members of left organizations, deserves a seat in Congress.

He is saying that this is but equal to organizations that actually have a constituency, one that is made up of the members of the particular sector each organization seeks to represent. He is saying that it doesn’t matter anymore whether these organizations are for and of the marginalized and underrepresented sectors, because every Tom, Dick, Harry, every Arroyo, Jalosjos, Palparan, can find a cause and run for party-list.    

This of course includes, oh I don’t know, business owners who decide to band together and protect their interests. Interests that are already mostly protected by this political system, if not interests that ultimately oppress those who are truly economically and politically marginalized. And no, this is not about whether or not a sector is “poor.” It’s to insist that a sector has to be underrepresented in government and mainstream society, and the needs of its members silenced by the big shot machinery of the moneyed and powerful.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was Treasurer of ACT Teachers Party-list when the organization first ran (and won) for Congress in 2010. The time I spent as a member of this organization was time spent reckoning with the little that I knew of the plight of our public school teachers, hailed as important, but never appreciated enough. The time spent was crucial to my sense of why the party-list system can work: here, there is a chance at change from within, there is a possibility of working for the protection of a sector that would otherwise be considered irrelevant, or unimportant, or just not worth listening to.

The party-list, to me, was always a beautiful thing, because it allowed for the likes of Satur Ocampo and Liza Masa and the late Ka Bel, to be in Congress, to engage in its travesties, and ultimately to reveal to us an alternative to the existing system, and the possibilities that navigating the system bring. It shows us how engaging with government through the party-list system need not mean selling out to, and becoming mere puppets of, the larger political parties.

But here we are, 15 years since the 1998 elections when we first worked with the party-list system, and here is government and the Supreme Court pissing on it.

We, meanwhile, refuse to engage in this discussion. Maybe we think it small compared to say, the issues of political dynasties and faulty PCOS machines. Maybe we think the way Retired Justice now Vicente Mendoza thinks, where he asserts that if existing party-list organizations of the past nine years have yet to gain political strength, then this means they are “weak and not chosen by the people to represent them.”

On the contrary, the fact that these party-list organizations with constituency and membership, have yet to go beyond Congress, is telling of the real condition of our national politics. You do not become a large political party, you do not gain political strength, when you are truly and really an organization that is about representing the marginalized and underrepresented. You create alliances, yes, but you do not sell out to the President’s political party. Neither do you merely watch as the Supreme Court messes with the Constitution in order to put the powerful in the party-list.

That’s pissing on what it means. That’s pissing—bright yellow—on what the party-list stands for.