There’s the Rub

What the right hand gives

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The Chief Justice herself, Ma. Lourdes Sereno, was aghast. She and Associate Justice Bienvenido Reyes were the only two justices who voted against the Supreme Court ruling that party-list groups need not represent the poor and marginalized.

“I believe,” she said, “the (majority decision) may have further marginalized the already marginalized and underrepresented of this country. 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 organizations.”

I share her sentiments completely.

Arturo Brion defends the majority decision by saying the Supreme Court may not go beyond the law or Constitution and create policy. And the law was clear: The party-list system is not just meant to benefit the poor and the disadvantaged. It is meant to benefit a whole bunch of groups independently of their economic status.

Christian Monsod, former Comelec chair, Constitutional Commission delegate, and principal author of the party-list system confirms it. “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.”

This is the part where I part ways with Christian.

The fact that it is the law and that the Supreme Court merely went by what it says doesn’t make things right. If that is the law, then the law itself is the problem. It serves little purpose. It does little good.

At the very least that is so because requiring the party-list system to exclusively represent the poor and marginalized does not in fact exclude arbitrarily or by fiat the ideological and cause-oriented groups from political life. They can always, and should always, join the other mainstream parties and contest elections in that light. That is where they should be. That is where they belong. That in fact is what all political parties should be: They should be ideological. They should be cause-oriented.

What is the law saying by exempting the ideology-based and cause-oriented groups from having to represent the poor and marginalized in the party-list system? It’s okay for the mainstream parties to not be ideological and cause-oriented because we can make up for it by throwing the ones that are so in the grab bag called party-list? It’s okay for the mainstream parties to not even be real parties, to be merely a loose association, or country club, or college fraternity, of politicians who instantly gravitate around the candidate who has just become president, because we can consign the real ones to the party-list anyway?

The point is not, to allow the principled to run as party-list even if they do not represent the destitute. The point is to compel the mainstream parties to be principled. Such as by banning “turncoatism,” or at least setting limits to it—you may not leave your party for, say, 10 years. The point is to summon public opprobrium for the balimbing, the incorrigible opportunist, the practitioner of the “politics of prostitution.”

You’re ideological, you’re cause-oriented, don’t be like the jokes Sixto Brilliantes struck out of the party-list roster. Be like Ang Kapatiran. Be a mainstream party and show up the other mainstream parties for what they are, a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

At the very most, that is so because the only justification for a party-list system really is to give a voice to the voiceless. Otherwise, it is just a redundancy. Otherwise, it’s just a superfluity. Over the years I’ve had a lot of arguments with people who are violently opposed to the party-list system. Doesn’t it just add another layer to the bureaucracy? Doesn’t it just add to a drain on resources that could go to better uses? Doesn’t it just open up a new way of exploiting the poor even more, the rich and powerful who can always buy law and lawyers por kilo, being perfectly capable of twisting it for their own ends? My reply to this has always been: No, where it is obeyed at least in spirit if not in its letter, it can do good. It can give voice to the voiceless.

We lack that, we need that. We are by no means a real democracy, if by that is meant that power lies with the people. We are by no means a representative democracy, if by that is meant the people are still heard from, long after they voted for their manok, or horse, or whatever betting animal they construe their candidates to be. The party-list system helps rectify that, by giving the poor representation, by giving the marginalized a voice, by giving the majority of the people of this country, who are poor and marginalized, a continuing presence in public affairs, an ability to influence policy, a power to shape their destiny.

As it is, the party-list system is already being perverted even in its strict interpretation as being only for the poor. You have a Mikey Arroyo representing security guards. You have businessmen and recruiters representing their employees and OFWs. You have those shady, shadowy, groups identified by Kontra Daya parading themselves as havens for the destitute and desperate. And we want to make things worse by diluting the party-list system still further and admitting all comers? Who’s to say Norberto Gonzales’ group is not ideological? Patriotism, as Samuel Johnson said, is the last refuge of scoundrels. Who’s to say Gloria Arroyo and company are not cause-oriented? They believe fervently in the cause of enriching themselves.

What the right hand gives, the left takes away.

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