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Opinion

Duterte’s ‘hit’ list campaign

COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva - The Philippine Star

Barely a month before we hold the next national and local elections on May 9, there are renewed debates whether or not to abolish or to amend the existing party list representations in our country’s Congress. Towards the homestretch of the 90-day election campaign period, President Rodrigo Duterte has been lashing at how certain entrenched political dynasties and communist “legal fronts” have used the party list system to remain in power and gain control over government policies.

For the past two weeks of his public discourses, President Duterte zeroed in particular on the five party list groups from the “Makabayan bloc” at the House of Representatives. The five left-leaning parties – Bayan Muna, Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), Kabataan, Gabriela and Anakpawis – were accused of “ideological objectives” as their advocacy in Congress that aims the overthrow of the government through armed rebellion.

The party list system took its roots under the country’s 1987 Constitution that provided at least 20% of the Lower House for the marginalized or under-represented sectors of society, including labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural, women, youth, veterans or elders’ groups, and other such sectors (except religious organizations) as may be defined by an enabling law.

Thus, the Party-List System Act, or Republic Act (RA) No. 7941, was approved and signed into law on March 3, 1995 by former president Fidel Ramos. It mandated that “the state shall promote proportional shares of seats at the House of Representatives through a party-list system.” Unlike the regular House members who get elected in their respective congressional districts, party list representatives are elected on nationwide basis.

However, the 2013 Supreme Court (SC) decision clarified that the party-list system is open to various kinds of groups and parties, and not just an exclusive exercise of marginalized sectors. This and other controversial High Court decisions on party list system separately penned by ex-SC justices Artemio Panganiban and Antonio Carpio changed the letter and intent of the original concept of RA 7941.

The late Senator Joker Arroyo assailed these SC rulings as having “overreached itself and engaged in judicial legislation” on the party list system.

President Duterte echoed anew the official lines of the military and police establishments that these five militant party list groups of the “Makabayan bloc” are allegedly “legal fronts” of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).

Although the CPP was legalized by another law signed by Pres. Ramos in 1995, it’s armed component though – the New Peoples’ Army (NPA) – remains classified as national security threat and included in the Anti-Terror Council’s watch list of terrorists groups. Likewise, the dismantling of the NPA remains the target of Duterte’s National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) created in 2018 to stamp out communist rebellion in the countryside.

After attending the meeting of the NTF-ELCAC in Region VII held in Cebu last March 31, President Duterte claimed the CPP-NPA has been “leader-less” because its acknowledged CPP chairman Jose “Joma” Sison is already out of the picture. “Wala na si Joma,” the President quipped amid rumored death of Joma who has been living in political asylum at The Netherlands. In the campaign rally held hours later that night in Lapu-Lapu City for his administration-backed candidates, President Duterte urged Filipino voters not to re-elect these “Makabayan bloc” party list groups.

President Duterte subsequently expanded his call against party list groups to include those run by political dynasties and the moneyed “elite” people. Without giving names, the President deplored these political dynasties and “elites” only seek to perpetuate their powers in Congress by carrying names ostensibly representing legitimate advocacies. The outgoing President warned these party list groups actually represent in Congress these deeply entrenched political dynasties protecting certain business interests and preserving the inequality of wealth in the country.

President Duterte exhorted voters against electing into office these kinds of party list groups.

Based on the latest Pulse Asia Ulat ng Bayan national survey conducted from March 17 to 21, only eight of 177 party-list groups accredited by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to participate in the coming elections would sufficiently get the required two percent of the total votes cast for party list groups. Although given that many choices in the ballot, voters will only pick one party list.

The Pulse Asia survey showed only four of them would earn additional congressional seats, based from SC rulings in the allocation of a maximum number of 63 seats at the Lower House, that the Comelec would count on the votes for party-list groups.

The four are, namely, the ACT-CIS, Ako Bicol, Ang Probinsyano Party List (APPL), and, An Waray. As such, it would enable them to obtain three seats in the Lower House as the maximum number of seats a party-list group can win in the elections. Meanwhile, the same survey results showed Senior Citizens party-list; the militant women’s group Gabriela; 4Ps; and, Ako Ilocano Ako would get two seats while 43 other party list groups would win a single seat each.

Aside from Gabriela, two other “Makabayan bloc” party list groups survived the pre-election mock polls of Pulse Asia, namely Bayan Muna with 1.4 possible seats, and ACT Teachers with a possible 0.5 seat. The Kabataan and Anakpawis failed to get into the winning column in this same party list mock polls.

Thus, each party list group submitted earlier to Comelec their first three nominees in the order who will fill the three seats; or the first two nominees to the two seats, and, the first nominee to fill one seat.

Being included in President Duterte’s “hit list” might obviously spell doom to party list groups of dubious advocacies to get back to the next Congress.

ELECTION

RODRIGO DUTERTE

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