Best-possible 2016 outcome: Senator Colmenares, 17 Makabayan partylist reps

This could be the best outcome in the 2016 senatorial and congressional races: Neri Colmenares wins a Senate seat, and Makabayan Coalition’s eight partylists get a maximum 17 House seats. Such outcome would represent a quantum leap for program-based New Politics which could only be good to everyone, especially the poor and the marginalized.

17 is the highest possible number of seats that the eight Makabayan partylists could win: 3 for the topnotcher and 2 each for the seven others.

But is it possible? Yes, if Colmenares captures the imagination of voters as a very unique and highly qualified future senator. Yes, if Colmenares could attract the widest possible support from established political parties and other candidates. And yes, if Colmenares would in turn work hard to campaign for all Makabayan partylists.

Colmenares has work cut out for him. He has to introduce himself to voters, and not let opponents do it for him. His life story is waiting to be told, shared, and talked about: a proud son of Negros, a Christian youth activist who served under one of the country’s outstanding bishops, one of the youngest political prisoners under martial law, a victim and witness of torture, human rights lawyer, a constitutionalist and international law expert, a loving partner and father, and an outstanding lawmaker. His life story is the life story of a consistent, principled, and pro-people “fighter” many voters would want to see in the Senate. His life story is the voters’ assurance that he will do what he says he will do – which is to be the fearless champion of nationalism and democracy in the Senate.

Right on his proclamation as the official candidate of the Makabayan coalition, Colmenares surprised the nation by emerging as the first senatorial candidate in this election cycle to get quadruple endorsements on a single day: Former President Joseph Estrada, National People’s Coalition President and Deputy Speaker Giorgidi Aggabao, Senator Grace Poe, and Senator Chiz Escudero. 

Those who followed and looked closely at his proclamation would have heard clearly that Colmenares obtained the endorsements, thanks in large part to his own personal political record and to the Makabayan coalition’s rising political prestige.

On top of the quadruple endorsements, Colmenares’ name has been mentioned for possible inclusion in the senatorial slates of the Vice President and the Davao City Mayor. It is also possible that local and regional parties would also adopt him as their senatorial candidate.

All told, Colmenares could very well become 2016’s common, consensus and cross-party candidate for senator – a remarkable achievement for a “mere” leftist congressman. Moreover, that he will be running directly opposite to and outside the Aquino administration is a badge of honor for Colmenares.

If the alliances, coalitions, endorsements, and adoptions are properly converted to actual support and inclusion during the campaign, Colmenares would expand his reach way beyond the bailiwicks of Makabayan coalition’s partylists.

If Colmenares would manage to unlock and gain these benefits, he should waste no time and spare no effort to campaign not just for his senatorial candidacy and also for all the Makabayan coalition’s partylists: Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Anakpawis, ACT Teachers, Kabataan, Migrante, Piston, and Sulong Katribu. In short, the cooperation and collaboration should benefit each and every member of the Makabayan coalition. As the Makabayan coalition’s principal standard-bearer and chairman, Colmenares has obligations to help raise their public profiles from his perch as senatorial candidate, to negotiate the free and unhampered partylist campaign everywhere, and to get assurances for their safety and security.

Colmenares needs to garner at least 15 million votes to secure a Senate seat. He cannot depend solely on Makabayan coalition’s three-million-strong base. In fact, the reverse is true. He has to enlarge the Makabayan coalition’s base and help increase the number of partylist representatives in Congress. In short, he has to convert the alliances, coalitions, endorsements, and adoptions into votes not just for his candidacy, but also for Makabayan partylists. The ideal outcome of 17 seats just means that a Makabayan partylist would emerge as topnotcher with three seats, and the seven others winning two seats each.

In fact, a Colmenares victory could very well be a watershed moment in partylist history: He could become the first partylist lawmaker to be elected “promoted” to the Senate, and whose election could help raise the number of activist partylist representatives almost three-fold. This sounds a tall order but we should always remember how Bayan Muna confounded critics and naysayers in 2001 and 2004, when it emerged as partylist topnotcher. This is not at all impossible to duplicate given the anti-administration political climate, voters’ hunger for change, and the candidacies offered by Colmenares and the Makabayan coalition.

Surely, there are alternative views. Some wish that Colmenares would run a Quixotic campaign as an independent and reject all manner of collaboration and cooperation – a disservice to himself and to the political movement he belongs to. Others want a calibrated and minimum approach, with sights set low and reposing full trust solely or mainly on the multiplication of partylist votes as the source of 15 million votes needed for a Senate win – but voters could ignore him for playing “safe,” make him look unworthy of the tag “fighter” and be a burden instead of an asset to the Makabayan partylists.

My point is that Colmenares and Makabayan partylists should look at many possible paths to victory, and they should start with the most ideal, especially given their advantages this early in the election season.

Both the Makabayan coalition’s election record and the quadruple endorsements for Colmenares should embolden progressives to aim high, inspire and electrify voters, and capture their imagination as we approach the campaign season.

Makabayan coalition’s maximum offer one activist senator and 17 activist representatives might as well become one of the highlights of a changemaking election, and a new start for progressive politics in the Philippines. A total of 18 activist lawmakers – with no connections to and in fact wish to see the end of political dynasties – ready to rock traditional politics as we know it, and ready to govern for and in behalf of the poor and marginalized.

Colmenares and Makabayan should be able to present this enticing changemaking scenario to the majority yearning for change and to whom they address their platforms: farmers, workers, youth, professionals, entrepreneurs, OFWs, fisherfolk, women, the Bangsamoro, Lumads and other national minorities, and LGBTs. And if they’re electrified and inspired, they could very well do everything to make it happen.

First published in Manila Bulletin with the title “Aiming for big change in congress and country” on 6 October 2015. Slightly edited here for clarity. Featured image from Pinoy Weekly.