Militant partylist bloc retains niche in House

As I write this piece, the Comelec has yet to complete the canvassing and announce the official results of the senatorial and partylist elections in the May 13 midterm elections.

Many protests and questions have been raised over the malfunctioning of vote-counting machines (VCMs) – worse than in the previous elections – and the seven-hour delay in the transmission of election results to the Comelec transparency servers. The oversight committee of the Senate and the House of Representatives has vowed to conduct an investigation and public hearings on the matter.

Whatever may be the outcome of such an investigation, it appears there’s little doubt, if any, that it could hamper President Duterte’s drive to attain a supermajority control of the Senate, as he has in the House.

However, as regards the Duterte government’s declared intention to defeat or obliterate the Makabayan Coalition and its five militant partylist groups now constituting a steadfast bloc in the House – Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party, ACT Teachers, Anakpawis, and Kabataan Partylist – the regime has done some harm. But it’s far from succeeding.

Per the reported unofficial voting returns, there’s a clear statistical basis to conclude that the Makabayan Coalition will retain its hard-won niche in the House of Representatives: Bayan Muna, its lead party since 2001, will regain the maximum three seats allowable under the partylist law, having won more than 1,000,000 votes. Except for Anakpawis, whose many voters particularly in remote rural areas may have been prevented from freely casting their ballots, the two or three other partylists may win at least one seat each.

Since 2004, it has generally been recognized that the partylists that later formed the Makabayan bloc have maintained and diligently exercised their duties and fulfilled their obligations – inside and outside the halls of Congress – as authentic representatives of the “marginalized and underrepresented sectors” as provided for in the 1987 Constitution. I don’t know if many people realize how hard it has been to do so. But it’s crucial that the bloc continues to pursue this commitment, given the reality that the old and new partylists – put up by political dynasties, traditional politicians, and vested-interest groups – have hijacked the system and will dominate the 20% partylist representation (61 seats) in the House.

As pointed out in this space last week, the Duterte government – through the DND/AFP, aided by the DILG/PNP, in stark violation of the Constitutional prohibition on electioneering – openly campaigned against the Makabayan Coalition through black propaganda, red-tagging, and other unfair and foul means.

The military, through AFP deputy chief of staff for civil-military operations Maj. Gen. Antonio Parlade, resorted to hurling cheap, ludicrous attacks. It was Parlade who notoriously parlayed the canard of a “Red October” plot to oust Duterte. He used every occasion leading to the elections to attack and mock Makabayan, calling it as the “Kamatayan bloc.” Without presenting evidence, he claimed that death “is what they bring to communities and sectors they exploit.”

On its part, the DILG issued a memorandum to local government officials warning them against supporting political parties tagged by the military as “front organizations” of the CPP-NPA, indicating dire consequences for those who would not comply. This memo had a chilling effect. For instance, one provincial executive, who had previously been welcoming and accommodating, declined to even meet me when I visited his area. Through texting, he apologetically explained that the DILG memo was “severe” and that he would get “in big trouble” should he be found out to have treated as a friend someone like me, with my “hard-headed” brand of politics.

In provincial areas where our campaigners made their pitch, agents of the state security forces trailed them and tossed leaflets out of moving vehicles. The materials called for “zero votes for Makabayan partylists,” listing the names of the parties and tagging them as “front organizations of the CPP-NPA.”

This happened even in Metro Manila. Up till election day (May 13), some uniformed members of the PNP openly distributed copies of their newsletter, Pulis Serbis Balita, in the vicinity of certain voting precincts in Metro Manila. Billed as the “official newsletter of the Philippine National Police,” its front-page triple-deck headline (in red letters no less) proclaimed, “Kabataan, nanguna sa pagkondena sa legal fronts at political parties na sumusuporta sa CPP-NPA.” The election watchdog Kontra Daya has recorded the police officers’ actions on video.

Bayan Muna consistently led in both the Pulse Asia and SWS surveys as the most-favored partylist candidate, from January to April 2019. On this clear indicator of sustained public preference and support, Parlade growled, “Bayad Muna to be No. 1? Conduct the survey in places where the people have been enlightened and you will get a different result.” He snorted at Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate’s interpretation of the survey results as affirmations of the fact that many people recognize the hard work of Bayan Muna and its Makabayan colleagues. Zarate had stressed that they have been “fighting for higher wages, pensions and benefits, as well as doing all they can to stop power, oil, and water rate hikes,” besides taking clear-cut and uncompromising stands on upholding and defending human rights, democracy and freedom, national independence and sovereignty,

A point to ponder on, however, is why the May surveys, conducted two weeks before the elections, surprisingly showed the ACT-CIS partylist (revived by a group purportedly led by the Tulfo brothers in media) leaping over 15 others to land on top of the most-favored, pushing Bayan Muna into the No. 2 slot. And the unofficial election returns reflect that ranking, with ACT-CIS supposedly winning more than 2.5 million votes.

Comelec records show that ACT-CIS first participated in the 2013 elections, winning a seat by getting 376,947 votes. Competing again in the 2016 elections, it lost. It was able to get only 108,269 votes. This year, all of a sudden, it was able to produce such a big number of votes.

The real challenge for the militant partylist groups, however, is to protect and advance the gains they have made in developing increased awareness among the broad sectors of the national community, so that next time around better choices are available to the electorate and better leaders are selected.

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Published in Philippine Star
May 18, 2019

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