The proclamation of Jovito Palparan and of Ma. Lourdes Arroyo as party-list representatives has shocked and amazed those Filipinos who’re still capable of those reactions in this country of wonders.
Palparan is the first nominee, and now the congressman, of a group called Bantay, which he says is a party list group of security guards and of the victims of the New People’s Army, the guerillas of which he sees everywhere, including in the very House of Representatives of which he’s now a part. (He insists that Bayan Muna Representative Satur Ocampo was and still is an NPA guerilla.)
Everyone knows or should know retired Army general Jovito Palparan by now, his name having been prominently featured in the documents and reports of the Melo Commission, UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, Amnesty International, the Asian Human Rights Council, and the Philippines’ own human rights groups.
His name has also fallen frequently from the anguished lips of the survivors of his anti-communist campaigns in Samar, Mindoro and Central Luzon when he was in the active service. He also received special mention from Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo during her 2006 State of the Nation Address, during which she singled him out for praise, for doing such an excellent job in—uh—neutralizing the “enemies of the state.” If Filipinos were shocked by that SONA event they weren’t saying; perhaps shock was overcome by fright, an emotion with which many Filipinos, especially those in the rural areas where the military’s king, are only too familiar.
On the other hand, most Filipinos have probably never heard of Ma. Lourdes Arroyo. But she’s the sister of Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s husband Mike Arroyo. We’re told that she’s the representative of a party list group called Kasangga, which loosely and imperfectly translates into “ally” or “comrade in arms.” Kasangga is the party list of small entrepreneurs, said Ms. Arroyo, who specially mentioned “balut” vendors.
It’s good to know that Filipinos can still be shocked, or amazed, astounded, taken aback and stunned despite their well-known cynicism. But their reaction’s a bit late as far as the party list system is concerned.
Three party list representatives inducted with Palparan and Arroyo were themselves put out by the company they’re being forced to keep, and said they might seek a review of the party list law so as to make sure that only underrepresented and marginalized groups could end up with representatives in Congress.
Leonardo Montemayor of Aba-Ako, supposedly a farmers’ group, Salvador Britanico of the Barangay Association for National Reform, and Jonathan de la Cruz of Abakada-Guro seemed flustered enough over the entry of Palparan and Arroyo into the House of Representatives to agree that a review of the law is in order.
De la Cruz went so far as to say that the party list system has been “prostituted,” and he may be right in that De La Cruz himself, if memory serves, is identified with the Marcos family, even as the Britanico name should be as familiar to Filipinos with memories of the martial law period. Only Montemayor seems to pass as a representative of an underrepresented and marginalized sector, though barely.
The fact is that the party list system has been for years a mockery of the intent of the law creating it (Republic Act 7941), which is to “enable Filipino citizens belonging to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties, and who lack well-defined constituencies but who could contribute to the formulation and enactment of appropriate legislation that will benefit the nation as a whole, to become members of the House of Representatives.”
The traditional politicians, the dynasts and their surrogates very early on realized that the system could be one more entry point into Congress, and they rushed to cobble together groups they could claim represent such “underrepresented and marginalized” groups as religious sects and bus and jeepney operators.
In 2007, as part of an Arroyo government attempt to undermine the leftwing party list groups, the Commission on Elections compounded the mockery by declaring as qualified to run under the party list system several dozen groups of which11 were suspected to have been fielded and funded by Malacanang and its allies, in addition to several others created by sitting and former Congressmen and senators, their allies and relatives. Bantay and Kasangga were among the groups so certified by the Comelec.
Having thus qualified, and given the Supreme Court decision which ordered the filling of all 55 party list seats in Congress, neither Bantay nor Kasangga are likely to be disqualified on the argument that they don’t represent marginalized or underrepresented sectors. It was for the Commission on Elections to have decided which groups qualified as representatives of such sectors.
Such sectors are admittedly numerous, ranging from tribal minority groups to domestics, teachers to call-center agents. The main criterion is implicit in the law, however, and qualification as a party list group indeed depends on whether it is already a player in the country’s politics rather than marginalized in it. The Comelec, however, had been, until 2007, driven by political partisanship more than a real interest in realizing the intent of RA 7941. In short: it’s not the law that’s defective; it’s the Comelec’s interpretation of it.
That makes the disqualification of Palparan and Arroyo on the basis of their being persons of power (or close to power) academic. It’s not only because their qualification had already been determined by the Comelec, but also because, the very body to which some groups are now appealing, the House Electoral Tribunal, is manned by the very same power elite of which they’re a part. I predict short shrift for the petition for the disqualification of Palparan that’s been filed before the HET—and the continuing mockery of the intent of the Party List Law.