Because they can
SKETCHES - Ana Marie Pamintuan (The Philippine Star) - May 27, 2019 - 12:00am

Look at your official receipts in this country for anything: utilities, fuel, medicine, food.

There’s a value-added tax slapped not only on every commodity or service, but even at various layers of some of the bills. The VAT is on top of other charges and fees collected by the government, plus the withholding tax on personal income.

Add up all the money that you give to the government, and then consider where your taxes go.

Apart from basic services as well as roads and other infrastructure that we need, our taxes go to the personnel, maintenance and operating expenses of all three branches of government – including 24 senators and 297 members of the House of Representatives, with 20 percent of them representing party-list groups.

So there should be more public outrage about what has happened to the party-list. It’s a constitutional experiment for marginalized representation that has sadly, badly gone awry. The party-list has become a prime example of many of the ills plaguing our political system, our feudal democracy and our society in general.

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You don’t even know where the reforms should emanate. Blame lies heaviest on the Supreme Court, which has ruled that a party-list organization need not represent a marginalized sector but merely advocate a marginalized cause. The nominee also need not be marginalized, or even belong to the sector that he or she seeks to represent.

All that a person needs is to register an organization, claim to champion any (or all) causes, get the required number of votes, and the person is all set.

Party-list representatives have the same voting power as regular congressmen. So the biggest political parties and religious groups have party-list representation. Where is the marginalization?

Three of the contenders for the House speaker’s post faced the initial gathering last week of the Party-List Coalition Foundation Inc., a grouping of most of the 61 party-list organizations. (Among those excluded are the left-leaning groups under the Makabayan bloc.)

This is an indication of the clout of the party-list – that is if the coalition can transform itself into a solid bloc. Those pushing for this type of coalition are being described in some quarters as a super bloc.

During the meeting, the coalition welcomed the new party-list congressmen and elected the richest among them, 1-PACMAN’s Mikee Romero (declared net worth as of 2016: P7.291 billion), as leader. Romero later said in an interview that the coalition would be voting as a bloc in the selection of the next House speaker.

This has apparently not yet cascaded down to all the coalition members, including their spokesperson Niña Taduran of ACT-CIS, the group that garnered the largest number of votes in this year’s party-list race. She told The Chiefs on One News last Friday on the station where she used to work, Cignal TV, that there was still no consensus on voting as a bloc in the speakership contest, and no one was being pressured to go along with a bloc vote.

Taduran admitted to us that she experienced “culture shock” at being in the company of so many wealthy party-list lawmakers.

She is the marginalized member of the coalition, she told us, laughing. More seriously, she said that if she could have her way, she would prefer to see the party-list system return to the original intent of the framers of the Constitution, which is to give a voice in Congress to marginalized sectors.

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But which institution can make this possible? The Supreme Court ruling was based on its interpretation of the party-list law, and it’s up to Congress to pass remedial legislation. This, however, is like asking Congress to pass laws regulating dynasty building or election campaign finance.

The Makabayan bloc is prepared to refile proposals in the incoming Congress to return the party-list to its marginalized roots, according to ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio. But he told The Chiefs that the growing sentiment is simply for the abolition of the party-list.

This sentiment has been reinforced by the entry of Ronald Cardema, the controversial former chairman of the National Youth Commission, as eleventh-hour substitute for five nominees of the Duterte Youth. The 33-year-old Cardema attended the party-list coalition gathering last week. For those opposing his qualification to sit as congressman, it’s like a case of breaking and entering – with the toothless Commission on Elections (Comelec) abetting the crime.

A 33-year-old is certainly younger than me, but it’s a stretch to describe the person as youth. Jesus Christ died at 33 and he was no youth. Cardema says he’s also representing professionals – a sector where there is no specific age limit for the nominee. Opponents says Duterte Youth is not registered as a multisectoral group so it can’t represent two sectors.

You can’t blame Cardema; he’s doing what he’s doing for the simple reason that he can. There are at least 10 complaints filed with the Comelec to stop him. But the poll body’s treatment of this issue gives little reason to hope that it will stop Cardema from taking a House seat.

The House has developed such an unsavory reputation that one of its deputy speakers found it necessary to deny that the chamber is a den of snakes (and crocodiles). The depths to which the party-list system has sunk, from the lofty intent specified in the Constitution, is aggravating that unsavory image.

Taxpayers are being taken for fools, and the institutions that can prevent it are instead conspiring to allow it.

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