A better party-list system

"It's currently broken."



Since its creation under the 1987 Constitution, the party-list system has undergone dramatic changes. As originally envisioned, the party-list system was created in the 1987 Constitution purportedly to give marginalized sectors or groups, including labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural, women, youth, and other such sectors as may be defined by law (except the religious sector), representation in Congress.

In 1995, Republic Act 7541 or the Party-List Act was enacted in order to define and prescribe the broad mechanics of this system representation. Unfortunately, the law, instead of clarifying the mechanics of the system, created ambiguities and controversies which spawned a number of judicial adjudication. Thus, in 2000 the Supreme Court promulgated Veterans Federation Party et al. vs. COMELEC which changed the way how the seats are allocated for the winning parties. Again in 2007, BANAT vs. COMELEC where the Court clarified that the 20-percent allocation of party-list representatives is merely a ceiling; party-list representatives cannot be more than 20 percent of the members of the House of Representatives. The Court also upheld the constitutionality of the three-seat cap as a limitation to the number of seats that a qualified party list organization may occupy. Then in 2013, in Atong Paglaum vs. Comelec, the Supreme Court ruled that political parties do not have to represent the marginalized sectors to be able to participate in the party-list elections. This decision radically digressed from the earlier decision penned by CJ Panganiban in Ang Bagong Bayani to the effect that the party-list system is solely intended for the marginalized, and the “national” and “regional” parties must be national and regional parties for the marginalized. He wrote: “The law crafted to address the peculiar disadvantages of Payatas hovel dwellers cannot be appropriated by the mansion owners of Forbes Park.

The Atong Paglaum ruling effectively reversed the more restrictive interpretation that caused the retroactive disqualification of some of the groups that got the highest number of votes. It gave flesh to the supposed constitutional intention to make the party list law a system of proportional representation open to various kinds of groups and parties, and not merely exclusive to the so-called marginalized sectors. This latest ruling seems to go against the original intent of the party-list system as envisioned by the framers of the Constitution to include sectors and those organizations that do not have well-defined political constituencies and facilitate access to representation of minority or small parties. Sad to say, the fateful decision dislodged the so-called marginalized groups from their exclusive perch and gave way to the invasion of the rich and powerful. Since then, party list is no longer the exclusive domain of the marginalized and the underrepresented.

In the upcoming 2019 elections, the Comelec announced that there are around 134 groups – from the 185 organization which applied-—will vie for 59 seats allotted for the party list at the House of Representatives. For the party list to be truly credible, there is a need for the Comelec to clean up the system by delisting those which give disrepute and which abuse the whole system. But the more effective way is for the electorate to be more discerning by repudiating the pretenders, falsely representing themselves as authentic party-list organizations, and choosing only those which with genuine and credible platforms that would advance the interests of the marginalized and underrepresented—not the power brokers with selfish interests.

The party-list system is currently broken. During the 1986 deliberations on the party-list provisions of the charter, some of the commissioners, particularly Commissioner Wilfrido Villacorta, expressed their apprehension in allowing the participation of traditional political parties in the party-list system. Sad to say, this apprehension proved prophetic considering the present composition of many of our party list groups, many of which are controlled by large parties and/or traditional politicians in order to perpetuate their dominance. The party-list system has been misused and abused with many so-called nominees who are multi-millionaires claiming to represent the underprivileged. It is a backdoor channel used by many to gain power and allow them to dip their hands into the proverbial cookie jar, i.e. the perks and privileges that go with being a member of Congress. Millionaires and political dummies infest the system designed to empower the marginalized. Indeed the party-list system has become a laughing stock, an utter absurdity and a travesty of democracy.

But as in every rule, there are exceptions. There are party-list groups which remain true to their advocacies; those that truly give voice to the under-privileged and under-represented sectors which they represent. Some of these represent women, youth, farmers, laborers other and marginalized sectors. In my view, and this is from limited knowledge and so not complete, the party list groups that belong to this category are: those in the Makabayan coalition (Bayan Muna, AnakPawis, ACT-TEACHERS, Kabataan), Akbayan, Partido Lakas ng Masa, Murang Kuryente, Magdalo, and COOP-NATCCO. Manggagawa should also have been accredited. When I was an OFW, I always voted for Migrante. In other times, I have alternately voted for Bayan Muna or Akbayan. For 2019, however, for reasons I will explain next week, I am endorsing as a commitment to the future of this country the Kabataan Party List currently represented by Sarah Elago.

Yes, the party list system is currently broken. But it should not be abolished. Instead it should be strengthened by ensuring only those that genuinely represent sector and serious governance platforms are allowed to participate in the process. More seats—I say up to 50 percent of the House of Representatives and the Senate should be allotted for such parties, as in the case of the Bangsamoro Parliament. But personality and family-based parties should not be accredited. If we do this, we will reform our politics and have a better country.

Facebook Page: Professor Tony La Viña Twitter: tonylavs


Topics: 1987 Constitution , Party-List Act , Supreme Court , Comelec , House of Representatives , Wilfrido Villacorta
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