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Palparan polarizes the House

By Amando Doronila
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:32:00 05/01/2009

Filed Under: Congress, Politics

Turmoil heralded the entry of 33 new party-list members into the House of Representatives on Monday as parties of the Left and the Right clashed over the proclamation of retired Maj. Gen. Jovito Palparan as representative fronting for the party-list group Bantay.

His induction triggered an early polarization of the two contending ideological tendencies in Congress, casting doubt on the party-list system as a means to broaden the base of Philippine parliamentary democracy with the diversification of the political tendencies. Following the Supreme Court decision on Monday increasing to 55 the number of party-list seats in the House from 22, there are now 29 party-list representatives in the House, whose membership has increased to 267 from 238.

As a result of the enlargement of the party-list representation, the multi-party system has become even more chaotic and fragmented or atomized, retarding the contraction of the party system into fewer parties around which the proliferating party-list groups could coalesce into more manageable disciplined political parties.

The induction of Palparan as a party-list member of the House provoked an early confrontation between him and leftist party-list representatives. Even before he could warm his seat, the Left-wing Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo announced a plan by Left-wing groups to file a case with the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal to disqualify Palparan on the ground that he is not qualified to represent marginalized social groups. Palparan claims to represent the sector made up of ?victims of communist rebels, Citizens? Armed Forces Geographical Units (CAFGUs) former rebels, security guards, and others of similar occupations??in short, civilian groups organized as vigilantes of law enforcement.

Under fire from the Left, Palparan even took a harder line when he said he would introduce legislation that would arm barangay (village) officials in the fight against crime.

The issue of sectoral representation has remained contentious since the establishment of the party-list system, which was designed to free the party system from the domination of the political elites and dynasties. The Commission on Elections, which is mandated to implement the party-list provision of the 1987 Constitution, defined the party-list system as ?a mechanism of proportional representation of representatives to the House of Representatives from marginalized or underrepresented national, regional and sectoral parties. It is a part of the electoral process that enables small political parties and marginalized and underrepresented sectors to obtain possible representation in the House, which traditionally is dominated by big political parties.?

What marginalized groups can participate in party-list elections is defined by the Comelec. A sectoral party, according to the Comelec, ?is an organized group of citizens whose principal advocacy pertains to labor, fisher folk, peasant, women, urban poor, youth, indigenous cultural communities, overseas workers, veterans, professionals, handicapped and the elderly.?

Although the formation of party-list groups has tended to follow these guidelines, the diversity of party-list groups that have participated in the elections has led to a splinter of parties.

The system has offered an arena to re-intensify the Left-Right divide in Philippine politics, rather than providing them with a venue for parliamentary co-habitation?a path that has been taken by the European parties of the Right and the Left in their historic co-existence during the post-War period.

The revolutionary struggle of the Philippine communist movement following either the Soviet model and the Chinese Maoist model has proved to be unsuccessful, although it has displayed enduring tenacity. The Philippine communist revolution is one of the few surviving communist insurgencies in the world today. It also is a notable example of a failed revolution. The revolution in Cuba, China and Vietnam took power, but in the Philippines, the party has been marginalized despite the continuing existence of widespread poverty and the wide gap in the distribution of wealth between the rich and the poor?the conditions that serve to fuel social ferment.

The Philippine elite designed the party-list system as a conduit into which to rechannel the energy of the revolution and this social experiment has proved to be partially successful, drawing into the arena the participation of aboveground leftists. The entry, however, of the Right-wing groups coming from the historically anti-communist military sector marks a setback for the movement toward ideological reconciliation. The participation of the Left-wing groups in the party-list system is one mark of its limited success as a social and political experiment.

However, the party-list system is less successful as a mechanism to develop a disciplined multiparty system. It has a long way to go before it aggregates the narrowly sectoral interests represented by the multifarious party-list members in the House. Indeed, each party-list representative in the House is a personalized party of one. It is a replica of the representation in the Senate where every senator is a party of one claiming a national constituency.

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