The vehicle for some semblance of democratization has become a family affair to political dynasties and their partylists, and a way for big businesses to protect and promote their special interests.
By MARYA SALAMAT
MANILA – Even the crumbs allotted to marginalized groups are being grabbed by trapos (traditional politicians). This is one of the conclusions s of the election watchdog Kontra Daya’s research into current partylist groups. Based on their research, the partylist system that is supposed to ensure a small percentage of lawmakers come from the country’s poor and marginalized sectors is now a small pond being lorded over by political dynasties and vested groups.
“The party-list system has been bastardized and corrupted, becoming an extension of the political dynasties in many provinces and undermining its original goal of providing representation to marginalized sectors such as workers, farmers, women, youth and indigenous people’s among others,” Kontra Daya said in a statement released last weekend.
Many of the 182 party-list groups allowed to participate in the 2019 elections are led by (1) those with links to political dynasties or officials already elected in other positions; (2) those representing special business interests; and (3) those with questionable advocacy and nominees, the initial findings of Kontra Daya research show.
Partylists of political dynasties
The following partylists have nominees from families of long-entrenched politicians, KontraDaya said. For example, “Probinsyano Ako” is led by nominees related to Ilocos congressman and former Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas. Rudy Ceasar, its first nominee, is Fariñas’ son. Lira Fariñas, its second nominee, is also related to the congressman through Laoag City administrator Jami Fariñas.
Yedda Romualdez, an incumbent Leyte first district representative and part of the Romualdez dynasty in Tacloban, is the first nominee of “Tingog Sirangan” partylist. The “Abono” party-list, meanwhile, remains as the vehicle of the Estrellas and Ortegas of Pangasinan and La Union. Its first nominee is Conrado Estrella III and its second nominee is Vini Nola A. Ortega who is also the wife of La Union governor Pacoy Ortega.
Tricia Nicole Velasco, first nominee of partylist “Ang Mata’y Alagaan”, is the daughter of former Supreme Court Justice Presbiterio Velasco and a member of the Velasco political clan in Marinduque. Her brother is Lord Allan Jay Velasco, a Marinduque congressman. Her mother Lorna Velasco was also a past nominee and representative of the same party-list.
The political clans of Uy and Tuazon in Samar and the Velosos of Leyte are linked to “Ako An Bisaya”. Its first nominee is Ramp Nielsen S. Uy, a former vice-governor of Northern Samar. He ran and lost a congressional seat in 2013. The second nominee is Rodolfo T. Tuazon, Jr. The third nominee is former Leyte Congressman Eduardo Veloso, who was indicted by the Ombudsman for graft in relation to the PDAF (pork barrel) scam.
The Garin and Biron political dynasties of Iloilo are linked to “AAMBIS-OWA”, KontraDaya said. Sharon Garin is its first nominee, and the second nominee is former Iloilo congressman Hernan Biron, Jr. In Northern Samar, the Abayon political clan is fielding Harlin Neil J. Abayon III as the first nominee of “Aangat Tayo”.
The “1 Alliance Advocating Autonomy Party” has the daughter of former speaker Bebot Alvarez, Ana Emelita, as its first nominee. “Adhikain Tinaguyod ng Kooperatiba” has Marjorie Ann Teodoro, wife of Marikina Mayor Marcy Teodoro, as its first nominee.
“Serbisyo sa Bayan” party-list, linked to Quezon City congressman Sonny Belmonte, has end-termer Quezon City councilors Ranulfo Zabala Ludovica and Vicente Eric De Guzman Belmonte Jr. as nominees. “PBA Partylist” is represented by Jericho Nograles of the Nograles dynasty in Davao. Angeles Mayor Ed Pamintuan leads “Abe Kapampangan” nominees.
All in the family
KontraDaya noted with alarm that the vehicle for some semblance of democratization has become a family affair to political dynasties and their partylists. Some of the nominees in the partylist allowed by the Comelec are either spouses or children replacing current nominees, Kontra Daya said.
For example, Michaelina Antonio, a nominee of “Agbiag Partylist,” is the wife of former Agbiag representative Patricio Antonio. Mary Grace Rodriguez, nominee of “Abante Mindanao,” is the wife of its former representative Maximo Rodriguez. Ako Bicol’s second nominee is Justin Caesar Anthony D. Batocabe, son of the incumbent “Ako Bicol” representative Rodel Batocabe.
Some nominees have already had a stint as district representatives. Tingog Sirangan’s Yedda Romualdez of Leyte, Inang Mahal’s first nominee; former congresswoman Gina de Venecia, wife of former Speaker Jose de Venecia of Pangasinan, and former Cagayan representative Rodolfo B. Albano of LPGMA, are among these types of “partylist” nominees.
Some party-lists directly come from big businesses, Kontra Daya noted. The “Construction Worker’s Solidarity One” is one of the curious groups it cited. Its nominees are led by former DPWH Undersecretary Romeo S. Momo, Sr. who is facing an investigation for alleged anomalous road projects. Other nominees of his group belong to the Gardiola family who owns several construction firms that have been previously implicated in questionable projects according to reports by PCIJ.
“The partylist that claims to represent construction workers is actually a group representing construction firms,” KontraDaya exclaimed.
A similar group, “Sandigan ng mga Manggagawa sa Konstruksyon”, has real estate developer and contractor Enrique Olonan for its first nominee.
ACTS-OFW has two sets of nominees, with one set led by controversial congressman John Bertiz who heads a manpower recruitment agency. Its third nominee, Francisco Aguilar, is the president of another recruitment agency.
“Anakalusugan” has for its second nominee former congressman and DENR secretary Mike Defensor. “Ako Padayon Filipino” has for nominees Adriano Ebcas, Reynaldo Sindo, and Juancho Chong, all high-ranking officials of electric cooperatives in Camiguin, Surigao del Sur and Bukidnon.
“A glaring example of how the party-list system has been used by the rich and powerful is the One Patriotic Coalition of Marginalized Nationals, Inc. or 1 PACMAN,” Kontra Daya wrote. The group’s first nominee, Michael Romero, is the richest member of the House of Representatives with a reported net worth of P7 billion.
Romero is understandably wealthy. He is known as the chief executive officer (CEO) or chair of, among others, the Harbor Centre Port Terminal, Mikro-tech Capital, Manila North Harbor Port, Pacific Inc., and 168 Ferrum Mining.
KontraDaya said that having multi-billionaires as party-list representatives is obviously not the original intent of the party-list law since these billionaires can easily seek congressional seats through regular district representation.
These are just the initial and most obvious conclusions to be drawn from data on the partylist contenders in the coming elections. Kontra Daya plans to release its initial comments on advocacies and nominees of at least 182 party-list groups. But for starters, they are calling on the Comelec to do all it can “to ensure whatever integrity is left in the party-list system will not be further eroded by the entry of more party-list groups and nominees that do not belong to nor truly represent the interests of the marginalized and underrepresented.”
The election watchdog traces the “bastardization of the partylist system” to the Supreme Court decision issued five years ago that allowed partylist nominees who need not belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors they claim to represent. KontraDaya said the SC ruling in Paglaum vs Comelec has paved the way for the corruption of the party-list system.
Since then, Kontra Daya noted, more and more political dynasties and vested interests have joined the elections through their own dubious party-lists. They outweigh the real marginalized in their own weight division in the elections. As a result, they have made it harder for party-list groups genuinely representing marginalized sectors to gain seats in Congress, Kontra Daya concluded.
The partylist groups genuinely serving the marginalized are being edged out, and on top of that they are also being red tagged, their supporters and leaders harassed, and their rights violated. Kontra Daya urged the public to be “extra-vigilant with groups claiming to represent the voiceless but in fact are representing dynastic interests.” They urged the public to support moves calling for the reversal of the SC ruling that they say negated the original intent of the party-list system.