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THE 1987 Constitution, dubbed the Cory Constitution as President Corazon Aquino packed it with her handpicked people, has only allowed fake parties to waste taxpayers’ money as it enabled multi-millionaires, the religious sect El Shaddai, Communist Party cadres—five in the current Congress—to get seats in the House of Representatives.
I wrote in my column last Friday that more than half of the representatives udner the party-list system, created by the Constitution purportedly to give voice in the House to marginalized sectors, are multi-millionaires, led by the “Michael Romero, Ph.D.” (as his name appears in Congress) who claimed in his SALN a P7 billion net worth, and Emmeline Aglipay-Villar, property magnate Manuel Villar’s daughter-in-law, who reported a P1.4 billion net worth. (So far no party-list representative has communicated with me or this paper to refute the points I raised in that column.)
A third type of “party-list representatives” are those who represent no marginalized sector but merely a political clan controlling a territory. Such representatives very easily get the required number of votes—a mere 240,000 in the last elections—as they simply piggy-back on the electoral campaigns of their clans for regular seats in Congress or in the local government.
Such local bosses exploiting the party-list system aren’t just in far-away provinces. A good example of a territorial clan exploiting the party-list system is Quezon City 4th District representative Feliciano Belmonte, Jr., the city’s mayor for nine years and former President Aquino’s very loyal House Speaker during his entire term.
Wanting to continue his control of Quezon City politics, Belmonte got members of his immediate and extended family elected to positions in the local government and in Congress. His nephew, Jose Christopher Belmonte, was reelected in the last elections as the representative of the city’s 6th district. His daughter, Josefina (“Joy”), is vice mayor, and two nephews are councilors.
For his clan to get another seat in Congress, Belmonte got his nephew Ricardo (“RJ”) Belmonte to be party-list representative. Representing what?
“SBP,” according to the House’s official directory. SB had stood both for “Sonny Belmonte” (and later Speaker Belmonte) and his slogan “Serbisyong Bayan” when he was city mayor. The SBP that his nephew represents si Serbisyong Bayan Party-list. It doesn’t even pretend to represent any marginalized sector. It declared in the elections that its platform is to bring “consumer prices down.“
Another example of a political clan exploiting the party-list system is the Garin family of Iloilo, whose patriarch Oscar had been Iloilo congressman for three terms.
Its most well-known (infamous?) member now is Janette Garin, a district congressman for nine years. (Janette is also a member of the Veloso clan of Leyte, even more powerful than the Garin family.) After Congress, she was appointed Aquino’s health secretary who undertook an anti-dengue mass vaccination campaign using the defective Dengvaxia vaccine, which has endangered the health and even lives of hundreds of thousands of Filipino youth. Since she reached the three-term limit as congressman, Janette’s husband Oscar, Jr. took over her post.
To have another Garin in the House, Janette’s sister-in-law Sharon is party-list representative of AAMBIS-OWA, acronym for the Visayan “Association of Visayan Workers and OFWs’.
Party-lists controlled by local political bosses include: Abono, by the Estrella and Ortega families of La Union; PBA (“Pwersa ng Bayaning Atleta”) by the clan of former Speaker Prospero Nograles; and ALONA (“Alliance of Organizations Networks and Associations”) by the Suarez family of Quezon, headed by congressman Danilo Suarez.
It is ironic that the party-list system, which the Left, when it was allied with the Cory government, lobbied mightily to be included in the 1987 Constitution as its venue for its “parliamentary struggle”, has become a tool of a sector of the ruling class.
Ironic too, is that the Communist Party has been losing ground in every election . In 2001, its main “parliamentary-struggle’ front Bayan Muna got a spectacular 1.7 million votes, or 11.3 percent of the total, which gave it three seats. In the last elections, Bayan Muna got only half of those votes, 604,566, representing 1.9 percent of votes, entitling it to only one seat.
It could claim though that its other fronts have won substantially, especially Gabriela which obtained 1.3 million votes, giving it two seats. But it’s debatable whether Gabriela got that many votes as the Communist Party’s front or whether it was mostly perceived as championing women’s causes, and therefore supported by female voters, many probably unaware of its communist leadership.
There seemed to be totally no hope that the party-list system, which has become so absurd and such a mockery of our democratic system, would ever be abolished. The party-list representatives had become nearly a formidable force, representing 20 percent of Congress.
Who would want to cross them even for some noble cause?
Only President Duterte it seems, the first president to tell it like it is.
“With a new Constitution, I will insist: no party-list,” he said last year. He said party-lists abused the system, with the rich organizing groups of their own. “They represent what, security guards? That’s a mockery of the law.”
I hope he hasn’t changed his mind.