LGBT Representation in Philippine Congress

I attended a forum sponsored by Rainbow Rights which was about LGBTs possible representation in the upcoming National Elections last March 21. The main speaker was Atty. Luie Tito Guia, a renowned election expert. It was attended by different representatives of LGBT groups in the Philippines and this was also one way to strategize on how the LGBT can be represented in Congress as a party list group.

Atty. Guia gave a brief background on the political set up in the Philippines and the history of the party list representation in Congress. The party list system in the Philippines was made possible through the Republic Act 7941 or the Party List System Act.

According to the law, these are the groups or organizations that can be qualified as a party list:

* National political party (Should prove that group is visible in 8-9 regions of the Philippines; can also be regional political party, presence should be in majority of the cities)
* Sectoral political party (labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, elderly, handicapped, women, youth, veterans, ofw, professionals)
* Sectoral Organizations (groups which has similar physical attributes, interests, employments or concerns)

Currently, we are adapting the proportional representation kind of legislature. This means that the number of party list representatives will be proportioned on the number of district representatives elected. By law, 20% of the 260 seats in Philippine Congress are reserved for party list representatives however the pre-requisite of such is that the party list should get more than 2% votes of the total voting population. If it’s lower than 2%, this loses the chance of a party list to be included in Congress. Each party list is entitled to a maximum of 3 seats.

To illustrate, here is the formula:

(.80 ) (.20)
————- = no. of seats for party list representatives

How will the winners be determined?
The party list will be ranked from highest to lowest. The order of names placed in the Certificate of Candidacy will determine who will have the first slot. Those party lists who garnered kmore than 2% of the votes of the total voting population will have the opportunity to have additional slots in proportion to their total number of votes.

BUT, it seems that this is IDEAL since there are some party lists who were able to get seats in Congress but were below 2% of the total voting population; this is just to FILL UP the vacant seats. It was decided by the Supreme Court then. As mentioned by Atty. Guia, having a party list doesn’t mean that the seats are already reserved for the marginalized groups but only an OPPORTUNITY. They would still have to undergo the democratic electoral system and play the game with traditional politics.

The Republic Act 9525 was signed into law by President Gloria Arroyo last March 22,2009 and this means that a budget of 11.3 Billion was already release. This allows COMELEC (Commission of Elections) to automate the upcoming 2010 elections. Atty. Guia gave us a bit of background on how the automated polls will work. He mentioned that there will be 80,000 machines that will be used all over the country and there will be one per precinct. If we will be visualizing it, a precinct wouldn’t mean just the classroom itself. A precinct is composed of 200 voters (of a specific geographical area) so the classroom, if we will be imagining it, is composed of 3-5 precincts (a total of 600-1000 voters). Going back to the machines, there will be one machine per classroom that will be used by 600-1000 voters. There will be pre-printed ballots; the voters would have to shade the box of their chosen candidates. Filled ballots will then be inserted to the scanner after voting hours (they said that voting will be extended until 6 pm so due to the limitation of the scanner); that is the time that the votes will be canvassed. The scanner can print 30 copies of election returns and electronically transmit them to the higher canvassing boards. During canvassing, there will be one IT personnel to take care of the issues of technical difficulties.

Now what’s wrong with this one? Hmm obviously, even though there is already the technology of counting ballots, it’s not real time! There will still be room to cheat since the filled ballots will just remain in the hands of the teachers. There could still be ballot switching, etc… I also hope that they have prepared a back up plan in case the scanners get f*cked up during canvassing of votes.

The quesion of software hacking also was raised because everything right now can be hacked. Atty. Guia said that it will be very hard to hack the system easily during canvassing of votes because people who have intentions to cheat in the elections would do the “more violent” way like abduction or much less “harmful”, bribery. That’s correct but I do hope that the IT people who are involved with maintaining the software for this one would be confined in one place without external communication. The master IT person might be abducted and bribed one day then our elections are all screwed up. It’s not really paranoia but I think that’s how we can safeguard this automation of polls.

Having said all that, where is the LGBT sector in the party list race?

Well, the LGBT doesn’t have any representatives in Congress yet. It was in 1998 when Akbayan consulted the LGBT community on the LGBT Agenda so I think there is an indirect representation already in Congress. Akbayan is the only party list who is pushing for the Anti-Discrimination Bill or House Bill 956. You may download the bill by clicking this link.

In 2006, Ang Ladlad (headed by Ateneo English Professor Danton Remoto) attempted to win an LGBT seat for the 2007 elections but the group was rejected and Remoto was considered a ‘nuissance candidate’. Ang Ladlad filed the group as a National Party and COMELEC rejected them on the ground of lacks national membership. Prof. Remoto sent a letter of appeal to COMELEC as well as his organization for a motion for reconsideration. COMELEC was still cold-hearted and still denied Ang Ladlad.

It is disheartening to know that the COMELEC still doesn’t understand the urgency of LGBTs to be represented in Congress. I think these oldies (or should I say tander cats or mashonders in gay lingo) are still stuck in the traditional way of thinking.

Now how can we go about it? COMELEC’s reason of ‘lack of national membership’ means that Ang Ladlad should have provincial chapters to be considered as a national party. There are lots of LGBT organizations in the whole Philippines but not every group is connected with Ang Ladlad. It is obvious that there are lots of LGBTs in the Philippines (out or closeted) but the question is does every LGBT want to be associated with Ang Ladlad? Probably, Ang Ladlad should file the group as a sectoral organization so that the pre-requisites are much easier. For as long as there is a capability to run a national campaign, that is not a problem. It seems easy but it would take lots of humanpower to achieve this.

I believe that we as LGBTs should be represented in Congress because there is really an urgency. I appreciate (and very thankful) Akbayan for helping us out with the LGBT agenda but with the addition of another group that would primarily deal with LGBT issues in Congress would be helpful in passing bills or laws. If an LGBT party list will have a seat in Congress, there would be an additional vote for the LGBT agenda (together with Akbayan), correct?

I hope that Ang Ladlad will be able to qualify as a party list for the upcoming 2010 elections. So far, that’s the only group I know that is pushing to become one of the party lists in Congress. Well if there is another one, the better! 🙂 If the PBA players were qualified to be one of the party lists candidates, why can’t LGBTs? For the LGBTs to achieve a seat in Congress, I believe that we need to be unified.

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