Partylist blues

Apparently, it’s time to update the old saying. If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again—but this time as a party-list group. Politics. It’s certainly more fun in the Philippines.

Take Magdalo Para sa Pilipino (please—as some of our readers might be tempted to add).

Formed by failed putschists and their allies, headed by one of two former coup plotters whom the people in their pluralist wisdom reelected to the Senate, the Magdalo group is dedicated to representing the interests of “retired and former members of the [Armed Forces of the Philippines], the urban poor and the youth, which are marginalized and underrepresented groups.”

It takes a generous leap of faith to link all these three major sectoral groupings in a politically meaningful way, but it was another issue altogether that caught the attention of the Commission on Elections, which disqualified the group in 2010, and the Supreme Court, which upheld the disqualification in 2012. Can a gathering of former soldiers who plotted against the government be trusted to join the electoral process? The Court ruled that the group, should the members wish to register it again, ought to renounce the use of force or any illegal means.

Magdalo has dutifully done so, affirming that it did “not advocate the use of force or violence or other unlawful means to achieve its goals.” Having been allowed to run, it has now won at least one seat in Congress.

The former labor attaché and ambassador Roy Señeres (indeed, he is known by the shorthand most overseas Filipinos use to refer to the Philippine ambassador in residence, “Amba”) may be said to have followed the same try-again-as-a-party-list formula. Having ran unsuccessfully for the Senate before, he is set to take a seat in Congress, as first nominee of the OFW Family Club Inc. (His son Christian also ran for the Senate this year.)

Despite its name, which rather sounds like that of a warehouse discount store, the OFW Family Club is a decade-old organization dedicated to helping overseas Filipino workers, by fighting for their benefits and funding scholarships for their children. Unfortunately, the group is also facing accusations that its second nominee used to work for Smartmatic, raising conflict-of-interest or unfair-advantage questions. Talk about fighting benefits.

These first-time party-list winners were joined by more familiar names: Buhay Hayaang Yumabong (Buhay), Advocacy for Teacher Empowerment Through Action Cooperation and Harmony Toward Education Reforms (a group that seems to have been named by a Chinese communist bureaucrat but which is better known by the more convenient A-Teacher), 1st Consumers Alliance for Rural Energy (1-Care), Abono Party List (Abono), Cooperative Natcco Network Party (Coop-Natcco), the Agricultural Sector Alliance of the Philippines (ASAP—but not the weekend variety show) and the Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption (Cibac). The political appeal of at least two groups that made it in the first cut—three, if Magdalo, which started as a regional party, is included—was regionalist: the Ako Bicol Political Party and An Waray won at least one seat each.

The robust ideological parties with limited national popularity which the Supreme Court, in its recent and dramatic overhaul of the party-list system, included as among those deliberately favored by the constitutional provision on party-list groups, did well as expected. Bayan Muna, Gabriela, and rival Akbayan Citizens Action Party were returned to Congress again, in an unbroken string of party-list victories.

Which leaves us with: More of the same. It is good to note that farmers and teachers continue to enjoy representation at the highest levels of government, but many of the winners in the Comelec’s first list leave us unimpressed.