Lessons from the party-list fiasco
With the noble intention of giving “genuine power” to the powerless, the framers of the 1987 Constitution instituted the party-list, little knowing that the imported system would be abused and result in further marginalizing the already marginalized and further empowering the already powerful.
Despite such nobility of intention, the Charter was rather scant in defining the system the framers wanted. Other than saying that the party-list shall constitute 20 percent of the total House membership and that for three consecutive terms, one-half of these seats shall be filled by the marginalized sectors, it left almost everything else to Congress under the overarching clause, “as provided by law.”
Pursuant to this clause, Congress enacted Republic Act No. 7941, the Party-List Law. Like the framers, this law laudably wanted “Filipino citizens belonging to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties, and who lack well-defined political constituencies…” to become lawmakers. Regrettably, this laudable desire was hobbled by its textual provisions allowing the election only of parties receiving at least 2 percent of the votes, with none of them getting more than three seats.
Liberally interpreting these provisions at the outset (while I was still an incumbent), the Supreme Court stuck closely to the intent of the law and restricted the party-list only to the “marginalized and underrepresented.”
Though noticing the ambiguities and distortions in these hobbled legalities, it steadfastly refused to void any of them, fearing an aggravation of the distortions and preferring to call on Congress to revise them and to provide the proper remedies.
However, after I had retired, the Court became textual and literal (no longer liberal) in its interpretation. It scuttled the “marginalized and underrepresented” doctrine and allowed the party-list candidates to corner 20 percent of the House membership, thereby enabling political opportunists—the moneyed, the powerful and the dynasties—to invade and bastardize the system.
From this fiasco, several lessons can be learned. I will state them rhetorically. First, should we experiment at all with our Constitution? If we do, should we not cautiously provide safeguards and escape clauses, like giving the experiment an expiry period of, say, 20 years, after which it would automatically end, unless extended by a constitutional amendment?
Second, just because it succeeded in parliamentary Germany, should we have expected the party-list to succeed also in presidential Philippines?
Third, by the same reasoning, just because it succeeded in the United States, Canada and Germany, should we experiment with federalism in our country? Should we not wait for our new Bangsamoro government (which borders on federalism) to be fully functioning before tinkering with our Charter?
Fourth, similarly, should we replace our one Supreme Court with four “highest courts,” to be called “Federal Supreme Court, Federal Constitutional Court, Federal Administrative Court and Federal Electoral Court,” as proposed by the President’s consultative committee, just because such multiple courts succeeded in authoritarian Russia? Are there no other and better solutions to ease the clogged judicial dockets?
Fifth, should Congress have been more prudent and careful in crafting the Party-List Law so its textual provisions would not contradict its laudable aim and intent?
Sixth, when called by the Supreme Court to revise the defective and confusing statute it enacted, should Congress, led by its party-list members who benefited from the benevolent interpretations, have responded promptly and wisely?
Seventh, in the guise of verba legis, should the Supreme Court have interfered in reshaping the party-list? Should it not have waited for Congress to reform the system “as provided by law”? Should it not have just continued with its liberal, not literal, interpretation to prevent a bastardization of an experiment so nobly conceived by the Constitution and so laudably intended by law?
I have more rhetorical questions, but my space is limited. Nonetheless, readers can conjure and circulate their own.
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