Political families exploit party-list system

VERA Files
Tinig Ng Botante

By Mikha Flores, VERA Files

When the 16th Congress convenes next month, at least five political families will have two members sitting in the House of Representatives—one as a district representative and another as a party-list nominee.

No thanks to how the party-list system has evolved, political clans have found another avenue to expand their turf, a trend that reflects the broader picture of the country’s political system, analysts say.

“One of these trends is the emergence of so-called ‘horizontal dynasties’ where family members occupy elected positions at the same time,” says Dr Nicole Curato, a sociology professor at the University of the Philippines Diliman.

“Rather than setting the exemplar on how ideology-or issue-based parties can be established and claim space in the context of the Philippines’ elite democracy, the party-list system has become a reflection of the weak institutionalization of political parties,” she told Vera Files.

“My main insight here is that we cannot analyze the party list system in isolation. Its weaknesses and loopholes are derivatives of current interrelated issues on campaign financing, political dynasties and political party,” Curato added.

Ramon Casiple, the executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reforms, said that on principle, there should have already been a prohibition against family members sitting both as district representatives and party-list representatives.

Doon pa lang makikita mo na na hindi ka pwede magkaron ng kapangalan kasi ang assumption dito ang kapangalan mo ay kapartido mo (You will see there that you cannot have a namesake because the assumption there is that your namesake is your party-mate),” he said.

“If you are a member of a dynasty, you should automatically be disallowed because you are not politically marginalized,” he added in Pilipino.

But a Supreme Court decision issued ahead of the May 13 elections has dismissed this argument after it ruled that non-marginalized groups and major political parties can in fact take part in party-list elections.

And it comes as no surprise that this year political clans used the party-list system as another door through which their members gained entry into Congress.

From Iloilo, the brother and sister team of Oscar and Sharon Garin will be sitting side by side in Congress. Outgoing Iloilo Vice-Governor Oscar “Richard” Garin Jr. will sit as representative of the first district of Iloilo while Sharon will sit as the first nominee of AAMBIS-OWA, a party-list that got more than 77 percent of their votes from Iloilo province.

Oscar Jr. started as provincial board member from 1992 to 1998 before he became mayor of Guimbal town from 2001 to 2007. He went on to become vice-governor from 2007 to 2013. As first-time congressman, he is replacing his wife, Janette, who will complete this month her third and last term in Congress.

The Garins have been in Congress since 1987. Oscar Sr. was Iloilo’s first district congressman until 1998. He was replaced by his wife, Ninfa, from 1998-2001. Oscar Sr. returned to Congress for another term (2001 to 2004) and then handed over the baton to daughter-in-law Janette, who took over from 2004 to 2013.

Brothers Sherwin and Weslie Gatchalian will also serve alongside each other in the 16th Congress. Sherwin will replace another brother, Rexlon, a second-termer representative of Valenzuela’s first district who ran and won as Valenzuela mayor. Weslie is on his second term as party-list representative of Alay Buhay.

Sherwin last served as Valenzuela congressman from 2001 to 2004.

Jim Hataman-Salliman will return to Congress as representative of Basilan’s lone district. His sister-in-law Sitti Djalia Hataman is also likely to be part of the 16th Congress, being the first nominee of one of two factions of Anak Mindanao Party-list.

(Comelec has yet to resolve which of the two factions will be recognized and allowed to represent the party-list group).

Sitti Hataman is the wife of Mujiv Hataman, the incumbent governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. Mujiv also served as party-list representative of Anak Mindanao from 2003 to 2010.

From up north, Francisco Emmanuel Ortega III is on his third and last term as party-list congressman of Abono, a group that represents farmers in Congress. Ortega III will be joined by his uncle, Victor Francisco, who is also on his third term as representative of La Union’s first district.

The Ortegas have been in Congress since 1934. Francisco Ortega, the clan’s political patriarch, was part of the 10th Philippine Legislature from 1934-35, the first and second congress of the Commonwealth Period and the first to fifth Congress from 1946-1965.

Other relatives have been elected to various local positions from provincial governor down to barangay chairman.

Abono’s first nominee, Conrado M. Estrella III, served as district representative of Pangasinan’s sixth district from 1987 to 1995 and from 2001 to 2010. He is returning to Congress this year as party-list representative of Abono.

Brothers Maximo Jr. and Rufus Rodriguez are both returning to Congress anew. Maximo will serve his second term as party-list representative of Abante Mindanao while Rufus is on his third term as representative of Cagayan de Oro’s second district.

Most of the party-lists associated with political families have formed regional or provincial bailiwicks to ensure at least one seat for their first nominee, one who is likely a member of a political dynasty. These groups have also concentrated their pork barrel spending in their political turfs. (Read: Party-lists bank on ‘bailiwicks’ to win seats).

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true”.)