Sounding Board

More on the new partylist decision

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The controversial party-list cases have been remanded by the Supreme Court to the Commission on Elections for review. What the Comelec is required to do is to decide two related questions: (1) Which organizations may participate in the party-list system? (2) Who are qualified to represent the party-list organizations?

My column last week was an attempt to answer the first of the above questions. Let me summarize: (a) The inspiration of the system is social justice understood in both the economic and political sense. (b) Participation in the system is not limited to the sectors enumerated by the Constitution or law, i.e., “labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, and such other sectors as may be provided by law.” (c) The enumerated sectors must be economically marginalized because that is what disables them from successfully engaging in the political struggle. (d) The national and regional organizations need not be economically marginalized but they must be politically or ideologically disadvantaged or marginalized.  (e) Traditional political parties, if they wish to participate, must renounce participation in district elections. (f) Segments of political parties, if they wish to participate, must be separately incorporated and must be independent of their original parties.

In all of this, the Comelec must be guided by what the Supreme Court has said about the common denominator of participating organizations, namely: “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.”

And that is the difficult part causing concern, because it involves the evaluation of difficult factual issues. It is relatively easy to determine whether a sectoral party—e.g., of security guards—is economically marginalized and underrepresented and thus does not have much of a chance to win in a district election. But if the security guards of the country band together they might win one of the seats in the 20 percent share of party-list organizations. The same would be the case of other sectoral parties or a combination of them. But how does one measure the strength of nontraditional or regional parties?

The concern of some, however, is that nontraditional national or regional parties might guzzle up all of the 20 percent share of party-list organizations if the nonsectorals happen to have the support of moneyed individuals. Realistically, however, where are these nontraditional parties  who are so vote-rich and so economically affluent as to be able to wipe out the economically marginalized and underrepresented?

The point is that the party-list system was designed for groups that “cannot expect to win in legislative district elections but can garner, in nationwide elections, at least the same number of votes that winning candidates can garner in legislative district elections.” These are the disadvantaged who wish to win but cannot win representation through district elections. They are the beneficiaries of social justice in the 1987 Constitution which favors those who have less in life, either economically or politically.

Pluralism is a characteristic of a democracy. “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. How will these ideology-based and cause-oriented parties, who cannot win in legislative district elections, participate in the electoral process if they are excluded from the party-list system? To exclude them from the party-list system is to prevent them from joining the parliamentary struggle, leaving as their only option the armed struggle.”

Moreover, I repeat my question: Where are the wealthy national or regional organizations capable of burying the sectors under an avalanche of votes?  Will the Comelec be able to uncover them?

I now come to the qualifications of a party-list representative. This is a relatively easier puzzle for the Comelec. A party-list representative, of course, must have the qualifications of a district representative except for the residence requirement because he or she does not represent a district. But one must be a bona fide member of the party or organization which one seeks to represent at least 90 days before the election. In the case of sectoral parties, to be a bona fide party-list representative one must either belong to the sector represented, or have a track record of advocacy for such sector. In other words, to represent a party of farmers, one need not be a farmer but must have a track record of advocacy for farmers.

Ultimately, however, let us remember that the party-list system was meant to be an experiment. Next time we review the Constitution, let us take a good hard look at the results of the experiment.

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