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Silliest electoral system in the world

I’ll bet you’ve never heard of outfits called Kakusa, Buhay, or Alay Buhay. These are groups hastily set up, really fly-by-nighters which however won enough votes in the last elections to designate their congressmen in Congress, yet whose constituencies are really ephemeral.
“Kakusa” refers to “Kapatiran ng mga Nakulong na Walang Sala”, which roughly translates to “Brotherhood of Those Imprisoned without Guilt”. Is our justice system so broken that many of the country’s 75,000 convicts are innocent that they organized a movement powerful enough to get their representative in Congress? 

You don’t need to research that. Kakusa was organized and bankrolled by former Zamboanga del Norte congressman and provincial tycoon Romeo Jalosjos, who was imprisoned for 12 years for statutory rape. A very clever man Jalosjos has proven to be. His conviction bars him from running for any public office. But he has his Kakusa representative in Congress. I’ll bet the 235,000 votes that got Kakusa into Congress came mainly from the Zamboanga area.

“Buhay” on the other hand is the front of “Brother” Mike Velarde, who heads the religious movement El Shaddai that promises worldly prosperity to its adherents. One of its two representatives in Congress is his youngest son Mariano Michael, who with a net worth of P50 million is one the richest congressman. “Alay Buhay” is another front organization, this time of the billionaire William Gatchalian, with its representative his son Weslie, executive vice president of his family’s Metro Alliance Holdings and Equities Corp. I’ll bet most the 164,00 votes that got Alay Buhay to Congress came mainly from Bulacan, where Weslie’s brother Rexlor is congressman and another sibling Sherwin, Valenzuela mayor.

Welcome to the Philippines’ “party-list” system, probably the silliest electoral system in the world. It was mandated by the 1987 Constitution purportedly to allow marginalized sectors to have their good representatives in Congress who would challenge the traditional bad politicians elected by voters in a geographical (“legislative district”) area.

Instead it has been on the one end of the spectrum, a venue for the Communist Party to have their articulate cadres—now numbering five—through its front organizations Anakpawis, Bayan Muna, and Gabriela to become congressmen with all of a regular legislator’s resources, including pork-barrel funds, from the state they hate so much.

Indeed, the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing national parties to compete for party-list slots as long as they organize their sectoral wings —i.e., front organizations—merely follows the template of the national party that the Communist Party is.

Yet on the other end, and ironically, it has been a system for the rich to get into congress without being a politician with a geographically-based constituency.

As a result, except for the communist congressmen, party-list representatives are hardly poor people. Based on their statement of assets and liabilities, the total wealth of the 57 party list representatives in the current 15th Congress totaled P1.3 billion, with their average net wroth at P22 million, hardly that of someone from a marginalized sector.

The richest one, Catalina Bagasina, with a net worth of P150 million, is representative of ALE, which stands for, believe it or not, “Association of Laborers and Employees”. One Homer Mercado reported a net worth of P86 million. Before he was eased out, he represented 1-UTAK, which claims to represent, according to its Facebook account, “pambulikong drayber, operator, at komuter.” One Teodorico Haresco, with a net worth of P93 million, represents “micro-entrepreneurs”. The congressman for “Ang Laban ng Indigong Filipino”, purportedly representing the country’s oppressed indigenous peoples, is Acmad Tomawis, a wealthy congressman with a net worth of P58 million who has been a politician from Marawi City since the Marcos era.

The names chosen by the party-list groups demonstrate how silly the party-list system has been. Out of the 44 party-list groups in the 15th congress, two-thirds have names beginning with 1 (e.g. 1-UTAK and 1-CARE) or A (Aasenso and AA-Kasosyo for example). The names of groups competing for the 2013 elections have become absurd, such as 1-AAMOVER and 1-AALAY. One obviously thought its name assured it will be no. 1 in the list: 1-AAAP, which stands for “1-Alliance Advocating Autonomy Partylist”.

The reason for this is that the ballot had listed the party-list groups alphabetically. Since they could vote only one party-list group, voters who weren’t really keen or informed in this voting simply chose the first names appearing in the ballot—either those starting with A or 1.

The Commission on Election however startled the party-list groups by deciding last month to list them in the ballot form, randomly as determined by a raffle. A group called 1-CARE got the first slot, and stands for ”1st Consumers Alliance for Rural Energy”. It had already pulled a fast one though by being one of the first groups to use a numeral 1 for its name—and therefore in the top slot in the alphabetical listing in the last elections. That trick obviously had worked as it had been getting enough votes in the past two elections to have two representatives.

Christian Monsod, the main sponsor of the party-list system in the 1986 constitutional commission argued that if a local politician who has a constituency of 200,000 residents in his area can be a congressman, then an organization representing 500,000 Filipinos but scattered all over the country should be in the legislature.

That has turned out to be so naïve. It is irrelevant if a group has ID-carrying members of 500,000. What matters in the real world is that a group can have 500,000 people vote for it, and it is the rich who can afford funding a campaign to get that many votes. That requires substantial resources to gather those votes throughout the archipelago, pay off local political leaders in a vote-rich area, or spend millions for posters and TV ads.

Monsod also predicted that smaller groups would “band together, form a coalition and get five percent of the vote and, therefore, have two seats in the Assembly. Those are the dynamics of a party -list system.”

However, the real dynamics of the party list system in the country has turned out to involve these groups striking quid-pro-quo deals with traditional political leaders and parties to get their supporters to vote for them, often for its financial contribution.

The Communist Party had no problem getting its cadres into congress since its muscle the New People’s Army requires politicians especially in rural areas to get their people to vote for its party list groups in exchange for their safe passage in their sorties. The pink group Akbayan piggy-backed on President BS Aquino’s popularity and on the Liberal Party in exchange for being Mr. Aquino’s attack dogs in media and providing the warm-bodies for their demonstrations against the their enemies. A Chinese-Filipino tycoon bankrolled a party-list organization with an athletic-sounding acronym and got politicians in vote-rich areas whom he had been supporting in every election to include his outfit in their “sample ballots.”

What a silly system. But thinking about it, isn’t a system in which incompetents get to be senators just on the basis of “name-recall”—because of their fathers, because they’re actors, or because they hugged the headlines for a time with their stupid mutiny—just as silly?