Wretched state of affairs
That the party-list system has become a travesty is an incontestable fact, but to see the scale and extent of the perversion, as detailed in a new ABS-CBN investigative report illustrating how political families have “hijacked” the system, is still a shock.
After the May 2019 elections, some 49 party-list nominees from political families could end up “occupying 83 percent of the 59 party-list seats up for grabs in the 18th Congress,” warned the report.
Former speaker Pantaleon Alvarez’s estranged wife and his daughter, for instance, are running separately as nominees of two party-list groups.
Other high-profile political names who have somehow insinuated themselves as nominees of so-called party-list groups are the Fariñases of Ilocos Norte, the Garins of Iloilo, the Abayons of Northern Samar and the Abayas of Cavite.
How did something so noble become so twisted beyond recognition?
Republic Act No. 7941, or the Party-List System Act enacted in March 1995, promised a novel development in Philippine political life by providing for the election of “Filipino citizens belonging to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties… to become members of the House of Representatives.”
The idea was a much welcome one — that ordinary folk whose concerns and welfare were not adequately addressed by the government could participate in the crafting of laws and policies through the election of their exemplars as lawmakers.
It was the Supreme Court that upended the system when it voted in 2009, to declare the 2-percent threshold unconstitutional and give a seat to any party-list group that wins less than 2 percent of the votes, and one or more additional seats to a group that polls more than 2 percent.
Even more confoundingly, in 2013, it ruled that groups need not represent “any marginalized and underrepresented” sector to be designated as party-list groups; even political parties could participate through its “sectoral wing that can separately register under the party-list system.”
These decisions have had a disastrous effect, as expressed succinctly by former chief justice Artemio V. Panganiban in a series of columns on the subject in this paper: “Because the floodgates to 20 percent of the House membership were opened by the scuttling of the 2-percent threshold, and because the ‘marginalized and underrepresented’ doctrine was overturned… the rich, the powerful and the dynasties now dominate our mongrelized party-list system, to the chagrin of the poor and the powerless.”
Seeing the party-list representation as a “backdoor” to Congress with the voting threshold technically easier for them to meet than outright election in their respective districts, the wealthy and the powerful simply pounced on the mechanism en masse, leading to “a billionaire, a CEO of a big recruitment agency, lawyers and members of the country’s influential political clans” reinventing themselves as party-list representatives, as a previous Inquirer editorial pointed out.
A big winner in the 2016 polls was One Patriotic Coalition of Marginalized Nationals, or 1Pacman, whose advocacy is to create a Department of Sports and supposedly give jobs to the marginalized and the poor.
1Pacman received the third highest number of votes — 1,310,197 — among the party-list groups; elected into office were billionaire Michael “Mikee” Romero and Manny Pacquiao’s business manager Eric Pineda.
The looming May 2019 midterm elections is bringing into focus anew how this dysfunction has only metastasized. A study by the election watchdog Kontra Daya shows that 62 of the 134 party-list groups in contention have links to political dynasties, represent special business interests or have questionable advocacies.
Romero, for one, is back leading 1Pacman. Also among the party-list groups is Duterte Youth, a right-wing organization whose chief advocacy is militant, unswerving support for President Duterte.
Panganiban has the right prescription for this mess: “Either abolish the party-list, which in the first place was just an experiment that has gone berserk, or institute the necessary reforms.”
This wretched state of affairs simply cannot continue, because it comes at a tremendous cost not only to the treasury but also to the body politic, in the profound cynicism and mistrust it builds among ordinary citizens who see yet another reform initiative corrupted by a mercenary ruling class unable to see beyond its grasping, avaricious impulses.
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