June 14, 2019
In the span of a single week the party-list system in the legislature has oscillated from being hailed as a “pivotal force” in the organization of the 18th Congress to being dismissed as “evil” by no less than the President of the Philippines.
Consider first the party-list’s rise as a force to reckon with in the current efforts to organize the House of Representatives prior to the inaugural session of the 18th Congress on July 22.
At this time when the mainstream political parties are still inchoate and loosely organized, 54 incoming party-list representatives grouped themselves into a multi-member voting bloc. The bloc seeks to become a player in the frenzied race for House speaker and secure maximum advantage for themselves in the forthcoming House organization.
In a system of one man, one vote, party-list representatives collectively become as formidable as a full-fledged political party. Indeed, only PDP-Laban, with 94 members, is bigger than their bloc. The other political party alignments are puny in comparison.
But suddenly from out of the blue, the party-list as a group has also become a vulnerable target. On Wednesday, in far away Cagayan de Oro City, while addressing the city’s new officials, President Rodrigo Duterte began singling out the party-list for attack.
He lamented the entry of rich people into the party-list system, as millionaires sought and gained seats in the House of Representatives, displacing the original goal of providing representation to disadvantaged groups.
“The rich people fund the party-list. They are named after laborers but the people behind it are the millionaires. So they stay in power there,” he said.
On the eve of the opening of the new Congress, this situation is quite unsettling. It could make the work of Congress more difficult and reaching a consensus on vital legislation more problematic.
But the fact is, few people are pleased with the party-list in our political system. The character of the list is so contradictory and unpredictable that it seems only party-list representatives are happy about themselves.
To comprehend what is happening, we think it is useful to take the issue from where it began, in the unprecedented provisions in the 1987 Constitution.
In Section 5 , Article 6, the Constitution provides:
“The party-list representatives shall constitute twenty per centum of the total number of representatives, including those under the party-list. For three consecutive terms after the ratification of the Constitution, one-half of the seats allocated to party-list representatives shall be filled, as provided by law, by selection or election from the labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth and such other sectors as may be provided by law, except the religious sector.”
The religious sector is excluded because of the separation of Church and State mandated by the Constitution.
The Constitution delegated the formulation of the mechanics of the party-list system to the Congress.
On March 3, 1995, the Philippine Congress enacted, and then President Fidel V, Ramos signed into law, Republic Act 7941, “an act providing for the election of party-list representatives through the party-list system and appropriating funds therefor.”
The law prescribed the mechanics of the party-list system and specified as sectors to be included in the party-list: labor, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous, cultural communities, elderly, handicapped, women, youth, veterans, overseas workers and professionals.
It made no mention of representing the so-called “marginalized” sectors. It spoke only about the overriding goal: “The State should develop and guarantee a full, free and open party system in order to attain the broadest possible representation of party, sectoral or group interest in the House of Representatives by enhancing their chances to compete for seats in the legislature, and shall provide the simplest scheme possible.”
The party-list system was first implemented in the 1998 presidential election, following the passage of the Party-list Act. Through the years since then, the party-list became fully part of Congress. With it, representation has grown for various sectors in the legislature, including the Left. But millionaire party-list lawmakers and members of family dynasties also proliferated.
Complaints about the party-list have since mounted. It is time for Congress to review whether what it has created is a boon to our democracy or a Frankenstein that must be stopped before it inflicts serious harm on our legislative processes.
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