Akbayan loses House seat for first time since 1998 polls

MANILA, Philippines – For the first time since the 1998 elections, party-list group Akbayan will not be gaining a seat in Congress, official results from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) showed on Wednesday, May 22.

Akbayan was not mentioned among the 51 parties that the Comelec proclaimed as winners in the 2019 elections. This means the group failed to get enough votes to assure it of one seat in the House of Representatives.

The stunning defeat for Akbayan is a first in its history as one of the longest serving party-list organizations in Congress.

Since 1998, Akbayan had managed to get at least one of its candidates elected into Congress in every election year. It's an uncommon feat for a party-list group, one that only another group – Butil party, which represents farmers – shared with Akbayan.

Its former representatives include former human rights commission chairperson Loretta Rosales, Senator Risa Hontiveros, professor and book author Walden Bello, Vice President Leni Robredo's spokesperson Barry Gutierrez, and newly elected Dinagat Islands Governor Kaka Bag-ao.

For the 2019 midterm polls, Akbayan fielded its current House representative Tom Villarin as its first nominee. Other proposed party representatives were former National Youth Commission chairperson Gio Tingson, and Catigbian Municipal Councilor Doris Obena.

Staunch opposition

Akbayan's defeat means less opposition voice in the Duterte-controlled House of Representatives.

In the 17th Congress, Villarin, who hails from Mindanao, spoke out against the constitutionality and extension of martial law in the southern island region. He also called out the increasing militarization of government agencies, hitting the military takeover of the Bureau of Customs and questioning the use of the President's intelligence funds.

As part of the "Magnificent 7" independent minority bloc in the House, Villarin was among lawmakers who stood against the government's anti-drug campaign and its push to restore the death penalty, among others.

Villarin also authored a bill seeking to provide compensation to victims of the 2017 Marawi siege, many of whom remain displaced until today.

Slow fall

Preelection surveys documented the gradual decline of support for the party.

The only time Akbayan was included among top party-list groups assured of one seat in the House was in Pulse Asia’s March 2019 survey, with 2.17% voters' preference.

This dropped to 1.18% in the pollster's April 2019 survey. By Pulse Asia's May 2019 survey, Akbayan no longer figured among parties that had a statistical chance of gaining one seat. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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