Throwing the baby out with the bathwater

"The party-list system should instead be reformed so that it effectively shuts out politicians of all stripes"


President Rodrigo Duterte wants to change the 1987 Constitution because he wants to scrap the provision on the party-list system as it has been infiltrated by alleged communists, particularly those belonging to the Makabayan bloc.

If we recall, the party-list system was created by the framers of the 1987 Constitution to give proper representation to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors in Philippine society, including farmers, fisherfolk, workers, women, indigenous peoples, OFWs, senior citizens, persons with disabilities, among others.

The basic rationale was that the political system was controlled to a large extent by the economic elite and the powerful clans who have been able to capture political power because of the three Gs—guns, goons and gold.

In short, it was aimed mainly at giving full play to participatory democracy in this country.

Good intentions, however, do not necessarily produce good results. Over the years, the party-list system became a convenient way for various sectors and subsectors to join the fray and try to enter Congress through the backdoor by the simple expedient of putting up party-list groups whose names started with the number “1” or letter “A” as in 1Utak, or ATeacher, because the Comelec listed them ahead of the rest.

Even drunkards got into the picture and put up a party-list group they called Alak. Thankfully, the avowed alcoholics did not make to the august halls of the House of Representatives, maybe because they failed to secure proper accreditation from the Comelec, or if they did, they were roundly repudiated by sober-minded citizens.

Today, apart from the six-member Makabayan bloc consisting of Bayan Muna (broad coalition of various sectors), ACT (teachers), Gabriela (women), and Kabataan (youth), the other party-list groups are represented by those with vested interests, longstanding political dynasties, and has-been politicians eager to enjoy once again the power, privilege and pelf that go with the position of lawmaker.

Many of the party-list representatives now sitting in Congress do not look like they’re from the urban poor, fisherfolk, or indigenous peoples. As far as we can tell, many of them are dyed-in-the wool politicians who have managed to wriggle themselves into the corridors of power because they have the money, and the connections in high places to get them back into power.

The party-list system, in short, has been so thoroughly bastardized because no less than the Supreme Court ruled that the party-list system should not be limited to the marginalized and underrepresented groups but should be open to practically every Filipino.

If the party-list system has become an abomination—it has actually excluded those really belonging to the really marginalized and underrepresented groups from political participation that was the letter and spirit of the constitutional provision—it is because the court of last resort decided to open the floodgates for traditional politicians and the elite to monopolize political power.

If many politicians have made a mockery of the party-list system, what should be done is not to make the party-list groups extinct, but to reform the whole system so that it remains faithful to what the framers of the Constitution had it mind, which was to expand the limits of political participation by marginalized sectors.

To junk the entire party-list system because a handful out of 61 party-list groups at present are alleged to be communists or communist sympathizers is tantamount to throwing the baby out with the bathwater. In other words, the move to junk the party-list system wants to eliminate something good when trying to get rid of something bad.

We believe that the party-list system should instead be reformed so that it effectively shuts out politicians of all stripes, especially those whose integrity, track record and competence are highly suspect.

This should go hand in hand with a renewed effort to ban political dynasties, which is another good provision in our fundamental law.

The framers of the 1987 Constitution saw it fit to include the provision to prohibit political dynasties, no doubt because of the disturbing pattern over the decades of monopoly of political power by big landowners, businessmen and members of their families.

If you want to see the extent of control of Philippine politics by the same political clans, you need not go far. With a click of the mouse in your computer, check out Wikipedia, which has an updated list of the political dynasties in the various regions and provinces.

The takeover of the party-list system by members of the same entrenched political dynasties reflects the clear need for political and electoral reforms in the country so that the State shall “guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service,” as what the Constitution clearly stipulates.

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Topics: President Rodrigo Duterte , 1987 Constitution , Makabayan bloc
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