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Opinion

Backdoor

FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno - The Philippine Star

Among the many flaws of the 1987 Constitution is the party-list system.

The party-list system we have is not the equivalent of the proportional representation system in several European governments. Proportional representation awards mainstream political parties additional seats according to their share of the popular vote. It is meant as a remedial mechanism to favor parties whose share of the seats might be significantly less than their share of the vote.

By contrast, our party-list system is badly conceived as a mechanism to enlarge representation for the “marginalized” sectors of our society. It is an example of the wooly-mindedness of bleeding heart liberals.

The party-list system was originally intended as a mechanism of representation in a parliamentary format of government. At the last minute, by the switch of one vote, the constitutional commission appointed by President Cory Aquino abandoned the parliamentary format that would have made things awkward for the sitting president.

When the switch back to the presidential system happened, no one bothered to extract the provision for a party-list system. Because of this, we are forced to live with this ill-suited mechanism that presupposes the elected district representatives do not represent the “marginalized.”

The groups that benefitted from the party-list system worked very hard to expand its share of seats over time, like a creeping invasion threatening to displace mainline district representation. Today, about a fifth of seats at the House of Representatives are occupied by the party-lists. By inflating the number of seats, we have also inflated operational costs of legislation.

It is bad enough that we have a multi-party system (another feature of the 1987 Constitution they forgot to extract when the commission shifted back to the presidential form). The large share of party-lists increases the number of “parties” in the chamber exponentially.

The only way the Lower House may be governed is by means of constant transactional politics to keep volatile coalitions intact. This is the reason why coups happen so frequently in that chamber. The effect of multi-party politics in the chamber ensures it can only be led by the most “trapo” of political players.

Things were made more untenable when the Supreme Court ruled the sitting party-list representatives do not have to belong to the “marginalized” sectors they are supposed to represent. That opened this convenient backdoor to legislative representation even wider.

Today, anyone may claim to represent a “sector” and organize a party-list group to grab a seat in Congress. Being elected at-large, the party-list groups vying for a congressional seat fill the entire back page of our very large ballot. Instead of educating the voters on the causes they espouse, the party-list groups advertise their numbers on the ballot to help their followers find them.

This would be so funny if it were not so tragic. The son of a former president won a seat representing security guards. Today Joey Lina is seeking a seat as nominee of the Comadrona (midwife) party-list. To be fair, he did author a law requiring each barangay to have a midwife in his previous life as a legislator.

Zealots

The National Democrats were the first to realize the opportunities presented by gaming this flaw in the representation system.

In the first election cycles, they used their organized base among the trade unions, radical youth groups and communities under the sway of armed guerrilla units to amass the votes needed to win party-list seats. They further enlarged the votes they control by trading their command votes with traditional politicians in exchange for endorsement of their party-list groups.

So efficient were they in amassing votes, they began multiplying the number of party-list choices. The law allowed for a maximum of three seats per party-list group. Redundant party-list groups allowed them to use their command votes efficiently.

Groups like Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Kabataan and ACT provided the leftists ample congressional seats and multiple accesses to the gravy train. Soon, however, conventional politicians and local dynasts caught on to this racket and began gaming the system as well to increase their legislative footprint – and therefore political leverage.

In all the years the Left controlled so many party-list seats, they never had the votes in the chamber to pass any significant legislation in furtherance of their avowed goals. They merely enjoyed the perks of office, including wearing outlandish costumes during the annual State of the Nation event.

Their seats at the House provided nothing more than a convenient propaganda platform to amplify their hate campaigns. For them, the frequent press conferences were more important that doing disciplined legislative work in the committees. They loved being designated “progressives” even if their advocacies are fully regressive.

With the entry of the local dynasts into the party-list game, coupled with the thinning constituencies of the Left, the left-wing party-list groups have been losing seats the past few election cycles. Akbayan and Anakpawis did not win seats in the last elections.

The trend is likely to continue. For local dynasts, it makes much sense to exploit this anomaly in representation to gain more electoral foothold.

A party-list group needs about 250,000 votes to gain a seat. For dynastic families that control whole provinces, this is an easy hurdle to surmount. In addition to controlling the district seat, they now use the party list to get more family members elected.

This electoral cycle, we have seen celebrities such as Nora Aunor and Karla Estrada joining party-list groups. The Leftists are losing their once guaranteed seats in this backdoor “representation.”

NORA AUNOR
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