I write as an old member of Anakbayan, the group that has been pushing the limits of comfort and debate on the party-list system. It’s classic Anakbayan to bring the troops out as noisy and as opinionated as possible—many join this organization precisely for the passion and rage—but underneath it all is a solemn question: What is the meaning of “marginalized”?
Offhand, it’s easy to think of who are marginalized. Even the party-list law is straightforward about who they are: the laborers, peasants, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, elderly, handicapped, women, youth, veterans, overseas workers, and professionals (Section 5, Republic Act 7941). They have something in common, but not all of us seem to understand it fully.
Marginalization is about power. Years back, in Anakbayan, we had stereotypical examples. When a tiller brought his harvest to the landlord or middleman, can he assert what price he will sell it for? Freshly weaned from F. Sionil Jose and other high school readings (and short stories by my favorite teacher in Filipino, Fanny Garcia Talampas), my fellow fresh recruits and I logically answered in the negative: How can he, when the wealthy one wields so much power?
When the story became more convoluted, more murky, we turned to simple views. Power requires two sets of people, groups, or things: one to lord over the other. Power is basically a relation, and as Anakbayan taught me, this is a problem. In some instances, one side always loses simply because that’s how things are.
The beautiful purpose of the party-list exercise is to subvert this reality. Introducing alternative parties to a facetious electoral system will supposedly invigorate it by injecting new faces, new platforms, and focused agendas. The law hopes grandly that these new parties will contribute to “the formulation and enactment of appropriate legislation that will benefit the nation.”
The Supreme Court disallowed major political parties from joining the party-list race for being contrary to this spirit. Then Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban declared: “Logic shows that the system has been opened to those who have never gotten a foothold within it—those who cannot otherwise win in regular elections… Conversely, it would be illogical to open the system to those who have long been within it—those privileged sectors that have long dominated the congressional district elections.” (Ang Bagong Bayani v. Commission on Elections, G.R. No. 147589, June 26, 2001)
In 2010, when the LGBT group Ang Ladlad tried to join the elections, the Supreme Court qualified that important national interests necessarily had to be at stake. (Ang Ladlad was accredited as a party-list group.) Recently, the Comelec weeded out certain party-list groups for having representatives who were too wealthy and constituencies that were too powerful.
I agree, in principle. I take to heart what the Supreme Court has been saying through the past years: The party-list system is for those who are politically and economically marginalized, across the Philippines. This is a solid criterion that should guard us against the frivolity of, say, a party-list group of K-pop fans or rich kids of Instagram.
It was Anakbayan that took me to the marginalized. No one was exempt from doing community work; we were all brought to inner barangays and we had to make friends with the local youth until it felt like second nature. Those from the schools and the middle class, brought up to just fall in with the status quo, were paired with their fellow youth who had neither dreams nor chances of well-paying jobs or increased social stature. And then eventually, it dawned on us that on many points we were all marginalized together.
When we joined a coalition of other youth groups to form Kabataan Party-list, I dreaded the day we would become jaded, world-weary, and no longer critical. It’s a legitimate fear, and one that seems to have hounded all of us since and kept us all faithful to humble roots. So it’s only fair and no surprise that we’re pointing out all other party-list groups who have lost their bearings, all others who have been consumed by the very system we are supposed to revolutionize.
Anakbayan draws its remarkable ferocity from a desire to see change: When something is wrong, or something has to be done, we don’t sit by ourselves. We consciously seek out contradictions because it’s smarter and less boring when there are many views on the table. Then we stretch ourselves to agree until there is a plan.
And while I may be too old for Anakbayan already, for the moment I support this plan to reconfigure the party-list system and reclaim the term “marginalized” for all those who truly are.
Krissy Conti, 28, is enrolled at the University of the Philippines College of Law and is a former UP student regent.