The seafarers’ votes and the party-list system

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

Around 134 groups vie for 59 seats allotted for the party-list in the House of Representatives.

Party-list representation utilizes the tendency for proportional representation systems to favor single-issue parties, and applies that tendency to allow underrepresented sectors to represent themselves in the law-making process.

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

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

Philippine Overseas Employment Administration’s (POEA) 2017 data showed that out of the 1,992,746 deployed OFWs, 1,614,674 were land-based while 378,072 were sea-based. In terms of remittances, the sea-based sector sent home US$6,139,512 while the land-based sector gave US$22,803,603,000.

Due to their absence during the election period, seafarers, who are registered overseas voters, may cast their ballots  60 days before the day of election through two specialized modes: personal voting or, in case of postal voting, in any post with international seaports as identified and recommended by the Department of Foreign Affairs.

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

In personal voting, seafarers voting shall be conducted in the designated posts.

In postal voting, ballots for seafarers shall be distributed proportionately among posts with identified international seaports. These ballots shall be in the custody of the post for the entire voting period.  The seafarer shall personally claim the mailing packet at the post, accomplish the official ballot contained in a mailing packet; and submit the accomplished ballot which shall then be disposed in accordance with the procedures on postal voting.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) records show that seafarers who registered to be OAVs number 43,033 as of this ear. This is less than 2016’s 49,339. The most seafaring OAVs are from Europe (22,433), followed by North and Latin America (10,468), Asia-Pacific (7,662), and the Middle East and Africa (2,470).

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

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

MARINO party-list was formed in 2014 by seafarers and stakeholders from the maritime community, mostly in Mindanao. They are pursuing advocacies that aim to make significant and meaningful changes and reforms in the maritime industry.

On the other hand, ANGKLA was founded in 2011 and won two consecutive terms in 2013 and 2016.

A news report noted that ANGKLA prioritizes business matters; MARINO appeals for seafarers (but backed by big-time business).

Several groups have called for the repeal or the amendment of the party-list law as political dynasties have “hijacked” the system, supposed to be a platform for representation of marginalized sectors. The rosters of party-list representatives in previous Congresses had been hit for being recycled lists of people already in power.

A study noted that at least 49 party-list nominees in the upcoming midterm elections are part of political dynasties or families that have more than one member elected to a public post. If their parties garner enough votes, the nominees could occupy 83 percent of the 59 party-list seats in the House of Representatives.

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(Atty. Dennis Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.)/PN

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