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As I See It

Party-list system is being abused

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The party-list system should not be expanded, as the recent majority decision of the Supreme Court did in effect; it should be diminished and even abolished instead. As anybody with common sense can see, it is being abused. Trapo, or traditional politicians, like former Manila Mayor Lito Atienza are nominees of party-list groups. Election losers are resurrected or come back as nominees of party-list groups. Whole families are nominees of a single party list, as if the system were a family affair. Multimillionaires are nominees of supposedly underrepresented groups. Nonfarmers represent farmers’ groups.

Most party lists that apply for accreditation are not really composed of members of the groups they claim to represent.

Politicians merely concoct a name out of thin air and apply for accreditation with the Commission on Elections and submit the names of their nominees. People who belong to the sector the nominees claim to represent don’t choose their nominees, nor do they ever realize that they are members of the party list.

As an example, I cite the case of Alam, a party list supposedly representing the journalists. I am a journalist, but I and most of my colleagues have never been consulted on its formation nor did we choose “our nominees.” Had we been consulted, we would never have approved of those nominees. But a group of opportunistic, fake journalists chose to take advantage of the laxity in Comelec accreditation, banking on the goodwill that the press has created in society to get approval as a party list.

That is true with many other party lists. The Comelec does not check whether there is really such a group composed of members of the sectors they claim to represent, or if they had really chosen the nominees. It’s like a free-for-all in the party-list system, and the Comelec obviously cannot prevent the abuses.

Will the Supreme Court decision improve the system? On the contrary, it will make it worse. The Court ruled: The party-list system is not limited to marginalized groups, and it must be opened even to regional and national political organizations regardless of size.

Under the six new parameters laid down in the decision, the high court removed the previous Comelec requirement for groups joining the party-list election to belong to a marginalized or underrepresented sector.

“To require all national and regional parties under the party-list system to represent the ‘marginalized and underrepresented’ is to deprive and exclude, by judicial fiat, ideology-based and cause-oriented parties from the party-list system,” said the Court majority.

Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno disagreed with the majority decision.

“I believe that the ponencia may have marginalized the already marginalized and underrepresented of this country,” she said in her dissenting opinion. “In the guise of political plurality, it allows national and regional parties or organizations to invade what should be constitutional and statutorily protected space. (It) fails to appreciate that the party-list system is not about mere political plurality, but plurality with a heart for the poor and disadvantaged.”

Sereno added that the party-list system was “primarily a tool for social justice.” She said Republic Act No. 7941, or the Party-List System Act of 1995, was crafted in line with constitutional provisions that mandate Congress to give highest priority to enacting measures that “reduce social, economic and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good.”

She said social justice was the underlying philosophy of the drafters of the Constitution as shown by the records of their proceedings. She added that the party-list system was intended as “a countervailing means for the weaker segments of our society to overcome the preponderant advantages of the more entrenched and well-established political parties.”

Justice Bienvenido Reyes agreed with Sereno that the party-list system is “a social justice tool.”

“It is not simply a mechanism for electoral reform,” Reyes said in his own dissenting opinion. “To simply regard it as a mere procedure for the already working and existing electoral system is a superficial reading of RA 7941 and the Constitution, from which the law breathed life. The idea is that by promoting the advancement of the underprivileged and allowing them an opportunity to grow, they can rise to become partners of the State in pursuing greater causes.”

To be perfectly clear, the Court ruling said the Comelec was correct in disqualifying the 52 groups based on the old parameters. However, the Court also remanded all the cases to the Comelec for reconsideration of the groups’ qualifications, based on the new standards.

To give you an example of how ridiculous the present situation is, I will pose this question: Who among the squatters and taxpayers whose property has been squatted upon are more disadvantaged? Answer: the squatters. Wrong.

The correct answer is: the small property owners.

The squatters are more than amply represented by the numerous urban poor groups. In fact there is already a law, the UDHA (Urban Development Housing Act), commonly known as the Lina Law, that favors the squatters immensely at the expense of property owners.

On the other hand, there is not a single group representing the oppressed small property owners. The big property owners can take care of themselves, but what about the small ones—the teachers, the clerks and other lowly paid employees who painstakingly paid for their lots in installments for years from their meager salaries, only to be taken over by squatters?


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