Revisiting the party-list law
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - June 17, 2019 - 12:00am

Aside from being a Mayor of Davao City for almost 20 years, President Rodrigo Duterte was at one point in time of his political career served for three years as Congressman. He was a member of the House of Representatives of the 11th Congress. Thus, we all can surmise where President Duterte is coming from on the issue of party-list in Congress and on how it has transformed into its present form of “evil one” as he puts it. 

Being once a Congressman from 1998-2001, the President decried on how the party-list representation from the 11th Congress has become less and less than what our country’s 1987 Constitution intended it to be under the present 17th Congress.

In his usual blunt language at the oath taking of new local government officials in Cagayan de Oro last Thursday, the President denounced the abuse of the party-list system, which, he cited, has deprived the real marginalized groups a voice in Congress.

“This party-list is one evil. Everyone involved there are the rich. The rich people fund the party-list,” President Duterte noted. “They are named after laborers but their nominees are the millionaires so they stay in power there,” the President added.

A quick flashback. For lack of an enabling law to implement this constitutional provision, the late president Corazon Aquino first appointed the party-list representatives to Congress from the ranks of marginalized sectors of society identified from the groups of the youth, women, urban poor, labor, persons with disability, farmers, fisher folks and indigenous people, just to name some. 

It was only in 1995 when the enabling law Republic Act (RA) No. 7941 was signed by former president Fidel Ramos that provided for the election of representatives to the Lower House through a party-list system of registered national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations or coalitions. 

But a subsequent ruling handed down by the Supreme Court (SC) changed the course of history of the party-list representation. When this was first questioned before the 15-man High Tribunal, the SC majority decision interpreted differently the party-list representation.

Revising the rules it laid down 12 years ago, the SC on April 6, 2013 voted to allow 54 party-list groups, including the Ako Bikol that was disqualified by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from participating in the May 2013 elections. Voting 10-2, it ordered the cases remanded to Comelec so the poll body can ascertain the qualifications of each party-list groups based on the revised standards formulated by the High Court.

The SC ruling, penned by associate justice Antonio Carpio, pointed out that RA 7941 does not require national and regional parties or organizations to represent the “marginalized and underrepresented sectors.” The SC cited it is sufficient that the political party consists of citizens who advocate the same ideology or platform, or the same governance principles and policies regardless of their economic status as citizens.” 

The SC reasoned out: “To require all national and regional parties under the party-list system to represent the ‘marginalized and underrepresented’ is to deprive and exclude, by judicial fiat, ideology-based and cause-oriented parties from the party-list system.” 

“It is enough that their principal advocacy pertains to the special interest and concerns of the sector. The sectors that are marginalized and underrepresented include labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, handicapped, veterans and overseas workers. The sectors that lack well-defined political constituencies include professionals, the elderly, women and the youth,” the SC explained. 

In the same ruling, the SC enumerated six “parameters” which the Comelec was instructed to “adhere to” in determining which group may participate not only during the May 2013 elections but in subsequent elections. 

The first parameter of the SC defined three different groups are allowed to participate in the party-list system namely: national parties or organizations; regional parties or organizations; and sectoral parties or organizations. Second, national parties or organizations and regional parties or organizations do not need to organize along sectoral lines and do not need to represent “any marginalized and underrepresented” sector. 

Third, the political parties can participate in party-list elections provided they register under the party-list system and do not field candidates in legislative district elections. Fourth, sectoral parties or organizations may either be “marginalized and underrepresented” or lacking in “well-defined political constituencies.”

Fifth, the SC ruled that the majority of the members of sectoral parties or organization that represent the “marginalized and underrepresented” must belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sector that they represent. Lastly, the SC ruling stated “national, regional and sectoral parties or organizations shall not be disqualified if some of their nominees are disqualified, provided that they have at least one nominee who remains qualified.” 

These parameters modified some of the eight “guidelines for screening party-list participants” set by the SC in the 2001 case involving party-list group Ang Bagong Bayani vs. Comelec. 

This should explain how the party-list representation as it is at present has become into mis-representation.

Noticeably, the presidential diatribes against the party-list system came following the release of the reported 2018 Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN) of the members of the outgoing 17th Congress. Based from last year’s SALN, 1-Pacman Rep. Michael Romero, leader of the party-list coalition bloc of the incoming 18th Congress, continued to be the richest lawmaker at the Lower House.

Romero who was elected as president of the Party-list Coalition Foundation, reported a net worth of around P7.9 billion.

1-Pacman is one of the 51 party-list organizations that Comelec proclaimed as winners in the last May 13 mid-term election. What is 1-Pacman anyway? As I gathered, 1-Pacman is an acronym that stood for One Patriotic Coalition of Marginalized Nationals. Based on its total votes, 1-Pacman earned two seats, the first nominee of whom is Romero and the second nominee is another incumbent party-list Rep. Enrico Pineda, manager of our world boxing champion, Sen.Manny Pacquiao. Now, we know why it is called 1-Pacman. 

Among other things, this gives credence to complaints – as echoed no less by President Duterte – that the powerful and the rich have used the party-list system as backdoor entry to become members of Congress over these past few years now.

Trying to second-guess the President’s thinking, Palace spokesman Salvador Panelo says perhaps the Chief Executive may push for the abolition of party-list system or want their representatives to truly be elected from the marginalized sectors. But one thing for sure, this is about time to revisit the party-list law.

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