OFW groups land in middle and lower party-list rankings
by RUBEN JEFFREY A. ASUNCION
OFW Journalism Consortium
QUEZON CITY—NINE groups claiming to represent overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in the House of Representatives failed again in the recently held party-list elections, initial results show.
Analysts say this is expected as voters were overwhelmed by the number of groups with the apparent lack of viable political platforms.
“(Running for the party-list elections) seems to be an exercise in futility for these groups. This has been happening in past elections before,” Francisco Aguilar Jr. of the Partidong Pandaigdigang Pilipino said.
The OFW Journalism Consortium spoke to Aguilar four days after an estimated 45 million voters trooped to polling precincts to elect groups under the party-list system aside from other candidates for the presidential, vice-presidential, senatorial, and local seats of government.
The groups that ran include the Alyansa ng OFW, Ahon Pinoy, Action Brotherhood for Active Dreamers (ABROAD), Akbay Pinoy National Organization (APOI), Adhikaing Alay ng Marino sa Sambayanan (ALON), KALAHI Sectoral Party (KALAHI), Pamilyang OFW-SME Network (OPO), Ang Kapisanan ng mga Seaman (AKSI) and United Filipino Seafarers (UFS).
Despite the fact that the migrant worker sector is one of the groups specifically mentioned by the 1995 Party-List Law to be given sectoral representation, no party representing them was able to win in the past four party-list elections (1998, 2001, 2004, and 2007).
Aquilar said in a telephone interview the results of this year’s elections show that the migrant workers’ sector remains fragmented just like before.
With many groups advocating for specific OFW issues, the potential for having a single platform for all Filipino migrant workers has missed us, Aguilar said.
This had been the problem in migrant worker representation even in past party elections, he added.
“It’s difficult to unify these groups since many of them wanted to lead (and push for their respective agenda).”
To note, Aguilar’s group endorsed senatorial candidates Susan Ople and Danilo Lim, and 1Ganap partylist.
The group said its founding chapter did so as they believed “both candidates are seen to be supportive of the cause of OFWs.”
On the other hand, political science professor Jorge Tigno of the University of the Philippines in Diliman believes voters had difficulty in choosing among the 187 sectoral groups contending for representation because of their sheer number.
“Nearly all of them are forgettable since they are numerous, relative to the single choice that has to be made.” Tigno said in reply to questions sent by email.
At the same time, the migrants’ group’s diversity is not correlated with their “perceived political potential,” says Tigno, who had written about the role of Filipino migrants in shaping the country’s political scenery.
FIGURES from the Commission on Elections (Comelec) National Canvass Report as of May 12 show that Ahon Pinoy got the most among the nine with 22,975 votes.
Comelec data also revealed ABROAD received 24,302 votes; Alyansa ng OFW 18,877; ALON, 8.885; APOI, 9,763; and, KALAHI, 6,272 votes. Likewise, data showed OPO garnered 7.915 votes while AKSI and and UFS received 5,500 and 1,000 votes, respectively.
The results contrasts with a March survey by the Pulse Asia group that showed Ahon Pinoy, Alyansa ng OFW, ABROAD, and OPO having greater chances of winning at least one seat in the House. These groups managed to garner at most 1% of votes.
Comments from the OFW group’s nominees and heads were unavailable as of press time.
As provided for by the 1995 Party-list Law or RA 7941, any organization can run for party list representation provided if it can represent a specific national, regional or sector- based constituency. Twenty percent of the total seats in the House will be allocated to these groups.
The law also provides that each party provides a list of five nominees out of which a maximum of three representatives can sit in Congress. The number of seats a winning party can get is based on a proportional system, the formula of which had changed many times since 1998.
In 2009, the Supreme Court ruled the validity of a two-step process for a party to gain a sectoral seat.
The High Tribunal’s ruling said an organization should win at least two percent of the total votes cast to gain a seat. However, it may gain another seat if there will be remaining seats left after the first step.
Based on Comelec estimates, a party must win around 900,000 out of 45 million votes in order to get a seat in the party-list representation.
Aguilar said that the limited number of slots provided for by the Party-List law has also “drove a wedge among the members of the OFW sector.” Because party list groups are only allotted up to three seats in Congress, they are forced to compete with each other so that each can win in the elections.
“This prevents coordination among OFW groups (fighting for the migrant workers’ sector),” Aguilar explains.
With migrant workers having no representation again in Congress, Aguilar believes they can only influence policy making through lobbying. However, they should be careful in engaging lest they “are at the mercy of those being lobbied.”
THE nine organizations had been running on various platforms and pushing for diverse programs.
Ahon Pinoy said it encourages OFWs to enter into small business and also plans to “introduce bills that will create jobs and other opportunities here for returning OFWs and for their families and dependents in the Philippines.”
During the campaign period, the Malabon city-based ABROAD organization proposed a “Work Abroad Pay Later” scheme.
The Alyansa ng OFW group primarily planned to “formulate better and more effective plans” in the reintegration of OFW. It also claims to seek strengthening Republic Act 8042 or the Migrant Workers Act of 1995 while proposing an OFW Investment Incentives Law. The group also conceptualized a Filipino Community Resource Center.
For its part, APOI primarily aimed to amend several laws, claiming to make them “more responsive to the needs of the current situation. To push this “legislative advocacy” for migrants, APOI wanted to strategically align itself with groups engaged with the Philippine government.
The Pamilyang OFW-SME (OPO) group advocates a thrust on entrepreneurship. It pushed for providing “information, opportunities and benefits” services to OFW and entrepreneur families. The Mandaluyong-City based OPO trains and subsidizes OFWs on home-based, aquaculture and agricultural businesses. This is aside from offering counseling services to OFWs.
AKSI proposed to institute a retirement plan, health care and accident insurance system for seafarers.
In addition, it also planned centralizing the processing of documents in a one-stop shop center, and encourage seafarer to save part of their earnings by establishing a “seafarers’ thrift bank and loan center.”
In terms of maritime education, AKSI also pushed the government to provide study grants for maritime instructors, and set up livelihood program. Formed in 1994, the UFS does not explicitly explain its platform for the elections.
Instead, one of its members pointed out in the website the group will monitor maritime issues. One of these is Executive Order 566, regulating review centers and similar institutions including those catering to marine officer candidates, making walk-in exams for cadets more convenient to apply for, streamlining the cadetship system among all vessels registered at POEA, systematizing internal promotion and regulating use of disability benefits.
UFS also pushes for the following: computerization of TESDA’s Assessment and Certification Ratings; the adoption of the International Maritime Organization’s Code of Practice for the Investigation of Maritime Casualties; and, the disclosure of the European Maritime Safety Agency’s report on the state of Philippine maritime education.
As posted in its Facebook account, KALAHI vows to review the RA8042, consolidate all efforts of government in training, certifying, deploying and reintegrating Filipino seafarer, pass laws “mobilizing” OFW remittances for economic use, and “supporting all progressive legislation toward the attainment of a strong republic.”
According to its website, ALON is also pushing for changes in laws governing the country’s maritime sector. It also said it wants young people to appreciate Filipinos’ navigating skills.
DESPITE the OFW groups’ claims they will push and fight for OFW welfare, some analysts still think these proposals and plans lack depth given the many issues needing detailed and achievable responses.
Political analyst Ramon Casiple observes that the platforms of the OFW sectoral groups are “motherhood” statements which groups like them normally make during elections. He notes that some of these organizations, such as ABROAD, take on the role of job recruiters and not as legislators.
“The groups should be crafting laws, and not providing jobs to OFWs,” Casiple told the OFW Journalism Consortium in an interview weeks before the elections.
Other critics such as the Kontra Daya consortium had pointed out that three of the groups representing Filipino migrant workers have ties with the Arroyo administration. Ahon Pinoy’s first nominee is Dante Francis Ang II, son of Dante Ang who is chairperson of the Commission on Filipinos Overseas.
Two other nominees of Ahon, Emerito Remulla and Pedro Cuerpo, have links with political clans, the election monitoring group also showed.
The group also claimed the KALAHI party was among those mentioned in a 2006 Malacanang memorandum eliciting support for “pro-government” parties in time for the 2007 party list polls.
In addition, it had two former government officials as nominees: former acting environment secretary Eleazar Quinto and Apostol Poe Gratela, who had served in the POEA governing board.
The election watchdog added APOI’s first nominee for the party-list elections is former Department of Interior and Local Government undersecretary and civil defense administrator Melchor Rosales
Casiple suggests the COMELEC should have taken a hard look at the nominees’ qualifications, since they would be the key to a party’s ability to represent migrant workers in Congress.
“The nominees should be assessed on their track record and if they have connections with the government,” the director of IPER added. OFW Journalism Consortium