Against all odds: Voting for ‘progressives’

Bello is number one on my list but I am also aware that the ideal vote, at least for the Senate, is the vote not just for one progressive but for a progressive bloc.   

A  "bloc" is an alliance of like-minded individuals that act in concert.  These individuals need not come from the same group but must share some common ground that enables them to act jointly.    In the context of the Philippine Senate, a "bloc" is a group of legislators that converge on certain issues and vote on these issues in like manner.   

Bloc voting by a majority is, in fact, the way legislation is passed.  In this set-up, a "minority" bloc is significant because it puts pressure on the majority to defend and rationalize its preferences.  By tradition, the majority and minority blocs in the Senate are organized simply around the choice of Senate President.    

The bloc that I am proposing in this piece is a "progressive" one whose basis of unity will either be a common legislative agenda or common positions on particular legislative issues (e.g a common vote against any resolution allowing former dictator Ferdinand Marcos to be buried at the Libingan ng mga Bayani).    

Aside from Bello, I identify the other potential members of this bloc based on the five-way test I presented above.  Two candidates easily come to mind.  One is Risa Hontiveros of Akbayan, best known for her advocacy for the reproductive health law and continuing call for reforms in public health service delivery.  Another is Neri Colmenares of Makabayan who is best known for his opposition to the current administration – from the pork barrel/DAP controversy to the more recent SSS pension increase issue.   

Whatever the common reservations are of Hontiveros (too yellow) and of Colmenares (too red), the fact of the matter is, they too will radicalize discourse in the Senate. They have already shown their capacity for this in their previous stints in the House of Representatives.  

As per recent survey results, Hontiveros has the best chance to land a seat in the Senate.   This is her third time to run and I, too, can see that her perseverance speaks a lot of what she can do if elected Senator.   

Moreover, the organizations that Hontiveros and Colmenares belong to are not fly-by-night organizations and have discernible constituencies that need to be represented in our Senate. These groups deserve a seat at the table because they represent marginalized sections of society and marginalized schools of political thought. For too long, the Senate has been the venue for contestation of warring factions of the same class (the elite), the same gender (male; heterosexual) and the same political thinking (liberal democratic and/or authoritarian populist).   It is high time that we turn that constitutionally mandated concept of "representation" into reality.   

Yes, Akbayan is allied with the ruling coalition that is dominated by traditional politicians but it is allied as well with social movements like trade unions, peasant organizations and women and LGBT groups and this latter alliance signals some struggle with the more traditional, dominant powers in the ruling coalition.   

Yes, Makabayan is also allied with traditional politicians (albeit of the opposition), and yes, Makabayan is "extreme left".  So what?  Even the extreme left needs to be represented in the Senate if indeed representation in our legislature is to be genuine.  Better a Makabayan representative than another entertaining-not-so-intelligent-rich guy – those guys are already overrepresented in the Senate.    

In other words, we do not need to "like" Akbayan or Makabayan. We just need to concede that their constituencies are underrepresented in the Senate and therefore, it makes good political sense to get their representatives elected into the Senate.   

In the same manner, progressives need not "like" each other. They just need to go beyond their tribal instincts and concede that the progressive agenda cannot be advanced if progressives do not cooperate with each other.  

I have yet to study in detail the full list of Senatorial candidates but at first glance, there are some other candidates that could be members of this progressive bloc. They do not come from political dynasties, are not wealthy, and, they stand for particular causes or represent certain sections: Allan Montano for workers and labor unions, Nariman Ambolodto for the Muslims, Cris Paez for the cooperative movement, and, Susan "Toots" Ople for the OFWs.  There is also that fiery, independent-minded candidate to consider:  Leila de Lima.  

I have yet to vet these candidates. Concretely, I have to research on which groups or constituencies are backing them and what their stances are on the Marcos dictatorship and other pressing issues.   Until I have done such further examination, I will view them as potential members of a possible progressive bloc – for consideration.    

I know there is a big possibility that progressives might not win in a contest where money, name recall and gate-keeping machineries are the most decisive factors but if they can take the risk, then, so can I.   In my book, they're already winners.  

A vote for progressives is a vote against conservative, elitist politics. That can never be a "wasted" vote. On the contrary, a vote for progressives is a valuable vote. –


The author teaches political science at Ateneo de Manila University.