By Reihana Mohideen
Results from the first stage of counting indicate that four out of the seven congressional candidates supported by SANLAKAS, a federation of progressive mass organisations, and the Student Advocates for Voter Empowerment (SAVE), will win congressional seats in the May 8 elections in Metro Manila in the Philippines. SAVE is led by the socialist youth organisation KAMALAYAN.
President of SANLAKAS, Renato Constantino Jnr, spoke to Green Left Weekly about the campaign. "For novices in a game dominated by the 'trapos' [traditional politicians] our campaign was very successful. At the worst four out of seven congressional candidates have won. But whether we win four or five seats, we have fared very well.
"SANLAKAS stands to gain in terms of its activist base. In Quezon City we had more campaign headquarters than the number of barangays [small towns]. We set up around two headquarters in every barangay. This means that the number of people that we will be able to recruit, or at least influence, is now very large."
Constantino calculates that SANLAKAS was able to influence over half a million voters in Metro Manila.
"In addition to the congressional districts we also seem to have fared pretty well in some of the local government areas. In Velenzuela, where we didn't stand any congressional candidates, we look like winning both the mayoral and vice-mayoral positions."
"In some areas where we had no official candidates SANLAKAS led the campaign to get 'ghost' voters off the list, thus contributing to the defeat of incumbent trapos and the victory of more popular candidates.
"Our campaign is somewhat historic. We stood against seemingly insurmountable odds and succeeded. For example, in Quezon City where we won, the incumbent candidate was supported by rich and powerful business interests, and by a powerful religious group. Our candidate, who came from the urban poor sector and campaigned for only 15 days, won."
The vice president of SANLAKAS, Michael Defensor, looks set to win in a district in Quezon City. The other three seats are in Makati and Manila. The candidate in Marakina is now trailing the trapo candidate by a margin of just 925 votes.
In an election otherwise dominated by violence and rampant poll irregularities SANLAKAS welcomed these results.
Constantino related how trapos campaigners handed out 100 peso bills in the urban poor areas in the seat of Pasig the night before the elections. Those who accepted the money had their index fingers marked so that they couldn't vote the next day.
Despite this, SANLAKAS vice chairperson Sonny Rivera, who contested Pasig, polled around 46,000 votes compared to 54,000 for the trapos candidate.
The vote in Pasig was split by a third candidate, Noel Medina, a former local councillor and leader of BAYAN who is currently the vice-president of Siglaya (the anti-Stalinist group, known as the "third force", which split from the Communist Party of the Philippines). Medina polled around 35,000 votes.
Constantino said he had received reports that Medina had publicly called on those who didn't vote for him to vote for the incumbent trapo. "Medina was clearly the 'spoiler' in the elections. But we still may not have been able to surmount the cheating on the other side. They [the trapos] could have redoubled their efforts if Medina had not stood", Constantino said.
"Rivera's victory was thwarted by cheating. We have no intention of lodging an electoral protest at this stage, but Rivera has started a 30-day campaign visiting the barangays to thank people and to explain the reasons for his defeat. In this way we can also start to consolidate our gains."
I asked Constantino how SANLAKAS would ensure the accountability of its elected candidates.
"A detailed three-year program and agenda were drawn up by the local community sectors. These documents were signed, in public, by the candidates.
"SANLAKAS gave a guarantee that our candidates will not renege on their commitments. If they did, we said that SANLAKAS would be in the forefront of the campaign to recall them. Our electoral laws give us the scope to do this."
The re-election of President Fidel Ramos's government was predictable, and it looks likely that Gregario "Gringo" Honasan, leader of the last two coup attempts against Cory Aquino, who ran on the same ticket as the Marcos family, will win a senate seat.
Imelda Marcos, who was leading in a congressional district in Leyte, could still be disqualified on the basis of a dispute over her residency.
Meanwhile an electoral commissioner has claimed that all winning senate candidates should be disqualified for violating an electoral law which stipulates where campaign posters can be posted. This has caused a major furore across the country.
Jesus Vistro, a representative of the Public Affairs Department of SANLAKAS told Green Left Weekly, that despite the victory for the progressive anti-trapo forces in Metro Manila, ultimately, "guns, goons and gold prevailed over popular will in this electoral exercise".
As for the future, Constantino said that SANLAKAS "has no illusions" that the elections would bring about basic changes. "But we have managed to expand our forum, from the streets to the halls of Congress. The next step is to consolidate the gains."