Villarin: Money, power won vs sectoral advocacies in 2019 party-list race

Rambo Talabong
Villarin: Money, power won vs sectoral advocacies in 2019 party-list race

Angie de Silva

Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin says the results of the 2019 party-list elections show that 'the party-list terrain has dramatically changed'

MANILA, Philippines – The impact of the 2013 landmark Supreme Court decision on  party list representation in the House of Representatives was fully felt in the May 13 elections where money and power trumped sectoral advocacies, Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin said on Friday, May 31.

Villarin made his personal assessment in a Rappler Talk interview  on Friday, where he noted changes in the party list system as reflected in the results of the 2019 elections. For one, Akbayan lost for the first time since the party-list elections were held in 1998.

“The 2019 elections was really a major shift in terms of the nature and composition of the party list system….Based on my observations, the party-list terrain has dramatically changed,” Villarin said.

He noted that the new party-list groups are dominated by those “not from the sectors but from big business, contractors groups and…political clans at the local level.”

“In a way the competition under the party list system of representation is now mainly about money, power, and influence rather than on sectoral advocacies,” Villarin said.

This shift, he said, began in 2013, when the SC ruled that political parties do not have to represent the marginalized sector to participate in the party-list elections, leaving the House seats up for grabs even for the already powerful.

For Akbayan and other  party-list groups representing marginalized sectors, this meant running against moneyed groups which allegedly introduced a “transactional element” in voting for party-list groups, ranging from alleged vote-buying to pyramid-scheme-type call for investments, Villarin said.

“For us to win at least one seat, you have to spend millions. It was not the norm before, when you rely on your electoral base and your support groups,” Villarin said.

He observed that “there was too much money flowing into the elections” with new groups that “could spend so much even as high as P500 million, outspending a senatorial campaign.”

Based on Rappler’s analysis of winning representatives in the 2019 polls, many of the nominees who will fill the seats allocated to the neophyte party-list winners are either former elected officials, a member of a political or influential clan, or linked to a powerful individual like President Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte factor

What was also different about the  2019 party-list elections, Villarin said, was the “conscious big effort of the [Duterte] administration” to push for its favored  party-list groups.

“In a way, that also spelled the difference,” he said.

Villarin also observed a concerted effort to bring down party-list groups like Akbayan known to be critical of  Duterte and his policies when Akbayan, in fact, conducted a positive campaign anchored on its track record especially in the 17th Congress. (READ: PDP-Laban and its confusing local politics in 2019)

“Perhaps the message could not get through because the veneer of the negativity was too thick for us to penetrate the message to the people and of course the culture that President Duterte has already spawned – meaning fear and that anyone who is not with him is against him, has permeated voters’ consciousness,” Villarin said.

He pushed for a party-list system law that would cement latter as a means for “affirmative action” for sectoral representation instead of as a backdoor of the rich and powerful.  –

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Rambo Talabong

Rambo Talabong covers the House of Representatives and local governments for Rappler. Prior to this, he covered security and crime. He was named Jaime V. Ongpin Fellow in 2019 for his reporting on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs. In 2021, he was selected as a journalism fellow by the Fellowships at Auschwitz for the Study of Professional Ethics.