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The OFW votes and the party-list system

Dennis Gorecho - Kuwentong Peyups

The votes of the overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), both land-based and sea-based, are now being courted by groups aiming to have political seats through the party-list representation.

Around 173 groups will vie for 59 seats allotted for the party-list in the House of Representatives— trimmed from the 273 organizations that sought to enter the 2022 party-list race during the filing of candidacies

 The Overseas Absentee Voting Act (OAV) was passed in 2003 allowing Filipinos overseas to vote for who they want to be president, vice president, senators, and party-list representatives.

POEA data shows that there are 1,707,660 OFWs in 2020, which is lower than the 2,177,088 in 2019 primarily due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

In terms of 2020 total remittances amounting to $31,417,614,000, the sea-based sector sent home $6,545,002,000, or almost 20 percent, while the land-based sector sent home $24,872,612,000.

Comelec records show that out of the 1,697,215 OFWs who have registered to be OAVs, 1,677,631 are land-based while the remaining 19,584 are seafarers. 

The large numbers of land-based OAVs are in Middle East and Africa (785,470) followed by Asia Pacific (445,607), North and Latin America (303,002), and Europe (143,3542).

The number of registered voters of the sea-based OFWs has been decreasing for the past three elections, putting again into test their impact on their sector’s votes on the party-list system.

Comelec records show that 19,584 seafarers have registered under OAV for the 2022 election, showing a decreasing number of sea-based OAVs from 2016 (49,339) and 2019 (43,033).  

The party-list system was introduced in the 1987 Constitution and Republic Act 7941 (the Party-List Law) to provide a balance for locality-based lawmakers who are almost always elected on the basis of their popularity and the money that they release.

It is a proportional representation system to favor single-issue parties, and to allow underrepresented sectors to represent themselves in the law-making process.

It was originally envisioned to focus on underrepresented community sectors or groups, including labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural, women, youth, and other such sectors as may be defined by law (except the religious sector).

The Constitution allots 20 percent Lower House membership for party-list nominees, maximum at three nominees each, dependent on the votes they gather nationwide.

However, its application changed when the Supreme Court issued a 2013 clarificatory decision noting that the party-list is a system of proportional representation open to various kinds of groups and parties, and not an exercise exclusive to marginalized sectors.

Due to their absence during the election period, there is a specialized mode of voting by which ship officers and ratings manning ships, including offshore workers, service providers and fishermen who are registered overseas voters, may cast their ballots 60 days before the day of elections.

Seafarers may vote at any post, specifically in Philippine embassies, consulates, Foreign Service establishments and other Philippine government agencies maintaining offices abroad, e.g., the Philippine Overseas Labor Offices (POLO).

During the voting period, seafarers may vote through two modes: adopting personal voting or, in case of postal voting, in any post with international seaports as identified and recommended by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

But the strength of the seafarers’ votes is essentially felt through their families residing in the Philippines.

For the seafaring sector, two party-list groups are campaigning for this year’s election.

MARINO Party-list was formed in 2014 and it secured two seats during the 2019 election as it placed seventh in ranking for its 677,378 votes.

On the other hand, ANGKLA wasfounded in 2011 and ran for congressional seat in 2013 and won for 2 consecutive terms. It lost in the 2019 elections after garnering only 179,531 votes.

Several groups have called for the repeal or the amendment of the party-list law as political dynasties have “hijacked” the system for being a system of recycled lists of people already in power.

According to election watchdog Kontra Daya, the party-list system has instead been “weaponized to further marginalize the already marginalized.”

For the 2022 election, KontraDaya flagged at least 70 percent (7 out of 10/120 out of 177) of the party-list groups that are identified with political clans (44) and big businesses (21), as well as for having incumbent local officials (26), connections with the government and military (32), unknown or unclear advocacies and representations (34), and pending court cases and criminal charges, including being implicated in pork barrel scams (19).

As they say, please vote wisely.

Atty. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, e-mail info@sapalovelez.com, or call 0917-5025808 or 0908-8665786.

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