Sounding Board

The new party-list decision


If I approached the Supreme Court’s recent decision on the party-list system by way merely of a mechanical exercise in statutory construction, I might conclude that the Court has stripped the party-list system of its soul. The party-list system is not merely a restructuring of the membership of the House of Representatives. It is a peaceful revolutionary measure that introduces social justice into the structure of the House. The constitutional framers intended social justice to be the soul of the system and the latest decision has preserved that soul, although giving it a reading slightly differently from the way the earlier Ang Bagong Bayani decision read it.

The Court’s new decision begins by saying that the party-list system has three component parts: (1) national organizations, (2) regional organizations and (3) sectoral organizations consisting of “labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, and such other sectors as may be provided by law.” This enumeration is lifted out of the text of the Constitution.

When the framers were deliberating on the Constitution, they saw the generally marginalized condition of the third component of the system.  But the framers also saw that the economic sectors were not the only groups suffering marginalization and underrepresentation. They also saw some national and regional parties suffering this disadvantage. Hence what they created was “a party-list system of registered national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations.” But since the original inspiration for the party-list system was the economically disadvantaged sectors, the national and regional parties, when included in the system, must, under the rule of  eiusdem  generis, also have the disadvantage of being “marginalized and underrepresented”—but not necessarily in the sense of being economically disadvantaged.

In the language of the ponencia itself, “The common denominator between sectoral and non-sectoral parties is that they cannot expect to win in legislative district elections but they can garner, in nationwide elections, at least the same number of votes that winning candidates can garner in legislative district elections. The party-list system will be the entry point to membership in the House of Representatives for both these non-traditional parties that could not compete in legislative district elections.”

I do not know if we are only playing with words here, but I find this citation from the ponencia to be a good inclusive definition of the phrase “marginalized and underrepresented.”

But whence did the quality of being “marginalized and underrepresented” come from when nowhere does the phrase appear in the text of the Constitution? It comes from the general concept of social justice under Article II of the Constitution. The current accepted meaning of social justice in jurisprudence is that those who have less in life, either economically or politically, should be given more in law. That is what the party-list system tries to do.

The  ponencia, however, also notes that, while Republic Act No. 7941 mentions “marginalized and underrepresented” in its Declaration of Policy, the body of the law itself does not explicitly require that party-list participants must all be marginalized and underrepresented. But, to my mind, that is because making such an explicit requirement would be a superfluity considering that the party-list system was conceived precisely for the benefit of the marginalized and underrepresented.

The ponencia also says that the phrase marginalized and underrepresented should refer only to those that by nature are economically marginalized. I take this to mean that the requirement of marginalization, understood in the economic sense, remains applicable to the economic sectors. But it does not mean that national and regional parties that are not economically marginalized may not participate even if they are also otherwise marginalized, for example, ideologically. That would be true if the Constitution limited social justice, the soul of the party-list system, to economic social justice, as the 1973 Constitution did. But the 1987 Constitution has expanded the meaning of social justice to include political justice. It can cover not just the economically marginalized but also the politically or ideologically marginalized. In the ponencia’s own language, “The common denominator between sectoral and non-sectoral parties is that they cannot expect to win in legislative district elections.”

When reports came out about the latest Supreme Court decision on the party-list system, the immediate concern of some was that it had stripped the party-list system of its social justice soul. What caused the concern were reports that being “marginalized and underrepresented” was no longer a requirement for participation in the party-list system. Partly true and partly untrue. What I understand from the Supreme Court decision in its entirety is that economic marginalization remains a requirement for the economic sectors because that is the source of their weakness, but not necessarily for the national and regional parties. For these latter parties, what is sufficient is political or ideological marginalization, even if the ponencia prefers to limit the word  marginalization. In this sense, the new decision is a partial departure from the decision in Ang Bagong Bayani. Thus, social justice as the soul of the system remains intact.

More need be said, but I have run out of space.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

More from this Column:

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Short URL: http://opinion.inquirer.net/?p=50731

Tags: party-lists , Philippines , Supreme Court

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94


  • Tens of thousands travel by sea this Holy Week
  • Police: Dad smothered toddler to play video game
  • 7 killed in shooting in China-Vietnam border
  • Chinese trade group to mediate shoe factory strike
  • Malaysia, Australia in deal on black box custody–report
  • Sports

  • Pacquiao shorts in Bradley fight sold for P1.7M in LA auction
  • Ryu pitches Dodgers past Giants
  • Alonso sets the pace in Chinese GP practice
  • Heat seek Three-peat but Spurs, Pacers top seeds
  • Can Spurs get back at Heat? Can they survive West?
  • Lifestyle

  • Levine designs womenswear with help from fiancee
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nobel laureate, dies at 87
  • Ford Mustang turns 50 atop Empire State Building
  • Pro visual artists, lensmen to judge Pagcor’s photo contest
  • ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  • Entertainment

  • EXO postpones release of mini album ‘Overdose’
  • ‘X-men’ filmmaker slams ‘fabricated’ sex attack claims
  • Singer Chris Brown’s bodyguard on trial in DC
  • Whoopi Goldberg debuts as marijuana columnist
  • ‘X-men’ director accused of sex assault on teen boy
  • Business

  • Italy sells luxury state cars on eBay
  • Asian shares mostly up in quiet trade
  • Dollar up in Asia on US jobs data, Ukraine deal
  • Barbie doll has a problem
  • Oil prices mixed ahead of long Easter weekend
  • Technology

  • Netizens pay respects to Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  • Nokia recalls 30,000 chargers for Lumia 2520 tablet
  • Facebook rolls out ‘nearby friends’ feature
  • Netizens seethe over Aquino’s ‘sacrifice’ message
  • Filipinos #PrayForSouthKorea
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 17, 2014
  • A humbler Church
  • Deepest darkness
  • ‘Agnihotra’ for Earth’s health
  • It’s the Holy Week, time to think of others
  • Global Nation

  • DoH denies Filipino nurse no longer positive for MERS virus
  • WHO warns vs spread of MERS-Cov, urges vigilance in taking precautions
  • Last call for nominations to ’14 Presidential Awards
  • San Francisco business coalition slams proposed tax on sugary drinks
  • A ‘time-travel’ production of ‘Les Miserable’ at Stanford
  • Marketplace