We, the Mikey
By Patricia Evangelista
Philippine Daily Inquirer
MANILA, Philippines—The president’s son Mikey Macapagal Arroyo describes himself in his House of Representatives’ biography as an actor-slash-businessman. His thespian turn before the camera includes the role of driver and bodyguard “Eric” in Regal Films’ 2005 “Sablay Ka Na Pasaway Ka Pa” opposite “Raven,” played by a pre-Hayden Kho Katrina Halili.
Perhaps it is his on-screen experience that makes the two-term Pampanga congressman comfortable with his party-list nomination in the May elections. “Ang Galing Pinoy” is a party-list group that “seeks to represent the needs of security guards and truck drivers.”
Presidential spokesman Gary Olivar defended Mikey’s nomination, claiming that a nominee does not necessarily have to be in the same line of work that his party-list minority is representing, instead he must possess skills that would enable him to perform effectively in Congress. His logic assumes anyone can represent anyone, forgetting that residential certificates are demanded of congressmen representing districts, and that Mikey himself had to give up his seat to his mother—because Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo cannot run anywhere else except in the second district of Pampanga.
The same demand exists in the party-list system, only this time it is not geography but minority. The concept of minority in the Constitution is not a function of numbers; it is defined by power. A minority is an individual who survives at the edge of a democracy—without voice or lobby or three meals a day or a mother in gold-and-white heels receiving guests in the Malacañang dining room. Women are considered minorities. Children are considered minorities. Farmers, senior citizens, even the 80 million impoverished are considered minorities under Republic Act 7941. No matter if Bayani Fernando says there are many homosexuals in Congress—the point is that these homosexuals in Congress will never publicly represent homosexuals, much less defend gay marriage. In the Philippines 2010, a minority is one who does not fulfill the standard checklist of the heterosexual, employed, educated or well-connected literate male over the age of 30.
The party-list rule ensures minorities are not isolated into silence by the tyranny of a moneyed elite, those with the millions necessary to spend on the campaign jingles, the celebrity endorsements, the gas to travel from handshake to handshake. Even presidential candidates Manny Villar and Joseph Estrada, both of whom are competing for the title of champion of the poor, are elite in their own right—Erap with his celebrity, Villar with his money—and cannot legitimately claim they have no vested interests other than that of the starving slums.
Representation does not require, as Olivar claims, simply the existence of an individual competent in legislation—although Mikey’s competence as a legislator is in itself a matter of debate, as Solita Monsod can testify after he fell under grilling in a GMA7 interview. Representation demands that the representative represent: that the person as an individual is a personification of the ambitions, grievances, and unique experiences of a single oppressed group and at the same time capable of articulating all the demands and injustices of that group. It cannot be one or the other.
It is that principle of direct representation that requires youth party-list representatives cannot be older than 30 years old—the understanding that the only voice that can truly speak for an individual is his own voice—to filter that voice with that of a traditional politician dilutes the cause. It is why it is important that Danton Remoto is gay, that Liza Maza is a woman, and, to the misfortune of this nation, that Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan is a long-time defender of the right to hunt down members of the Communist Party of the Philippines. After all, his Bantay Partylist has sworn to stand for the minority group of anti-communists, ROTC diehards, and the civilian volunteers who people the nation’s private armies. Whether his own discriminatory ideology should be allowed representation at all is a completely different debate.
It is the same problem with former energy secretary Angelo Reyes now claiming to be representing tricycle drivers, whose office used to be the site of picketing transport groups. Dermatologist Manuel Calayan now represents the media and showbiz—though why media and showbiz consider themselves a minority is beyond any rational thought. The law admits majorities can tyrannize minorities, that even with a district representative, the interests of the third district of Bohol as a whole may not consider the concerns of its fishermen. The party list lets a cause win, instead of a personality. Most importantly, the party list recognizes a minority on the same footing as any legislator—without the need to become one of the ruling majority.
The candidacy of a president’s son is the greatest perversion of all this. This is what Olivar and Mikey say when they claim that he is a legitimate representation of security guards and truck drivers, that his “expertise” is enough: They are saying that to deserve representation, minorities must still bow to the same majority oppressing them, that they must be educated, connected, and wealthy, that they must, in fact, be Mikey Arroyo. It is odd that truck drivers and security men do not have a single articulate voice to demand higher pay and shorter hours—perhaps because they were never asked. Odder still that according to Inquirer correspondent Tonette Orejas, Ang Galing Pinoy has long been on admin tarps long before Mikey announced he was “invited” by the party.
The problem with Mikey is not only who he is, it is what he is not. It is ridiculous to assume a man who declared a net worth of P99.2 million in 2008 can effectively and passionately defend the needs of men paid P8,000 a month (minus taxes and benefits) who work 12 to 24-hour shifts standing in front of lobby doors.
The Comelec itself is confused in its statements, claiming one moment a proven advocacy is needed for qualification, the next saying it is not. Yet there are enough Arroyos to represent Arroyos in Congress, enough dynasties to represent dynasties, enough wealthy to represent the wealthy, enough useless actors to represent useless actors—which is not a judgment on actors in Congress, it is only a judgment on the useless few. Every Mikey Arroyo who sits in a party-list seat deprives another party-list group that does not have the means to stamp “Ang Galing Pinoy” on tarps across the country. His candidacy is the savaging of a principle meant to protect, and the fact this is not against the law does not make it any less an offense against democracy.