Nothing perhaps demonstrates more clearly the bankruptcy of our political life than the sight of former Pampanga Representative Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo re-entering Congress wearing another hat – that of party-list representative of a group of security guards. The early evening news has vividly captured this remarkable moment. We follow the son of Ex-President, now Congresswoman Gloria Arroyo, glide into the hall with an air of indifference, dressed in a nicely-cut suit, accompanied by a retinue of hesitant followers, possibly his own security, wanting to be left alone.
Let us not even speak here of hiya or delicadeza, values that seem to have eluded the family. Let us just focus on the legal points that the Commission on Elections cited to justify allowing Mikey to occupy a party-list seat as the first nominee of “Ang galing Pinoy” (AGP). This organization claims to represent the constituency of security guards, unorganized taxi, jeepney, and bus drivers, vendors, and jobless individuals. Despite the huge mass it is supposed to represent, the group won only one seat in the recent election and gave it to lucky Mikey. If this were a real party, one would have to ask where the group’s boundless masochism is coming from.
I myself didn’t know there was such a party until months before the 2010 election, when tarpaulin banners and posters bearing the party’s name began to plaster all the trees in my province, Pampanga. The link to the Arroyos and the Pinedas became clear when the latter’s own campaign materials prominently carried the words “Ang galing Pinoy.” Mrs. Arroyo was running for congressman in Mikey’s district, and Mrs. Baby Pineda was running for governor of the province. Mikey Arroyo was subsequently declared as the partylist group’s first nominee, with Dennis Pineda, former mayor of Lubao and son of the new governor, as the second nominee. Residents did not have to guess who was funding AGP.
Four Comelec commissioners affirmed Mikey’s right to take his seat as AGP’s party-list representative – namely, Nicodemo Ferrer, Lucenito Tagle, Elias Yusoph, and Armando Velasco. Two dissented from the majority decision: Rene Sarmiento and Gregorio Larrazabal, the same commissioners who contributed the most to restore the institution’s credibility. In dismissing the petition seeking Mikey’s disqualification, the majority resolution stated: ‘The nominee himself need not be marginalized so long as he is a bona fide member of the party organization whose members are marginalized and underrepresented.”
The commissioners have chosen the easiest criterion to satisfy in order to justify their decision: party membership. Mikey Arroyo will have no problem producing a document attesting to his membership in the organization. Does that make him a bona fide member? What, in the first place, does it mean to be a bona fide party list organization? Is it enough that one submits a name, a program, a list of officers and members, to merit recognition as a party list group? If AGP is indeed a party list group of security guards, drivers and jobless people, how is it organized, and how do the members enact their affiliation with the group and their participation in its decisions? When, how, and by whom were Mikey Arroyo and Dennis Pineda chosen as the party’s first and second nominees? What, if any, is the history of these two nominees’ past engagement in the affairs of the group and in the issues of significance to the sectors they are supposed to represent?
I am amazed that the same Comelec commissioners who subjected “Ang Ladlad” – a party-list group firmly moored in a social movement with a long history – to the most stringent scrutiny would be so cavalier in their treatment of AGP, an organization that seems to pay little heed to the quality of its nominees. I invite them to reflect on what they have just done. Allowing a professional politician, who was very much an active member of the dominant political party, to buy his way into the ranks of the underrepresented in Congress is, to say the least, the height of insensitivity. It makes a joke of the constitutional provision seeking to give the marginalized a voice in the legislature.
We may jeer at Mikey Arroyo for being a cynical brat who insists on having his own place in Congress after his mother took away his seat. Maybe he cannot help himself. But it is not a laughing matter when our institutions, unable to rise above personal gratitude, knowingly assign to the powerful the few offices of the state that were meant for the powerless. It is an incitement to rebellion.
The party list law may have become more and more ambiguous in its meanings since the concept was first introduced into our constitution. But the spirit that governs it remains lucid and simple: on the premise that our traditional legislators are not always mindful of the concerns of the poor and marginalized in our society, one-fifth of the seats in Congress are to be reserved for the latter. That is not just a provision in law. That is an ethical injunction that the rest of us, who are more articulate and perhaps better represented, are supposed to understand and honor by the exercise of self-restraint. What the framers of our constitution were saying is loud and clear: Let the unmediated authentic voices of the underrepresented be heard.
To be fair, that is a message addressed not only to the Mikey Arroyos of this world, but to all those who have the indecent habit of speaking for others.