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The party list evil lives on

The 1987 Constitution mandates that underrepresented community sectors like labor, peasants, youth and the urban poor must be represented in the House of Representatives. So, Congress enacted in 1995 Republic Act No. 7941, enabling people belonging to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors to become members of the House of Representatives.

But among the party list representatives in the 17th Congress are 1-Pacman’s Mikee Romero, whose net worth is P7.9 billion; Manila Teachers’ Virgilio Lacson, who has P793 million; Agri’s Delphine Lee, P254 million; and Angkla’s Jesulito Manalo, P124 million.  There are also the scions of powerful political dynasties like Abono’s Conrado Estrella III of Pangasinan, LPGMA’s Rodolfo Albano III of Isabela, Abono’s Vini Nola Ortega of La Union, SBP’s Ricardo Belmonte of Quezon City and PBA’s Jericho Nograles of Davao City.

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Sons and daughters of leaders of influential groups also represent party lists in Congress. Buhay’s Mariano Michael Velarde Jr. is the son of El Shaddai leader Mike Velarde. TUCP’s Raymond Democrito Mendoza is the son of Democrito Mendoza, founder of the country’s largest labor union. And Mata’s Tricia Nicole Velasco Catera is the daughter of retired Supreme Court justice Presbitero Velasco. Then there is Buhay’s Lito Atienza, three-term mayor of Manila and President Arroyo’s strongman.

The situation led Comelec Chair Sheriff Abas to say: “The party list system has become a joke. Those who join are billionaires while the marginalized get ousted.” He said the Comelec was, however, limited to implementing the law.

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He can correct the situation by enforcing the law. Take the case of Ronald Cardema’s petition for substitution as nominee of the party list Duterte Youth. The law says a youth sector nominee must not be more than 30 years old on Election Day. Cardema is 34. Yet the Comelec has not disqualified Cardema.

“The party list system has become one evil… They are named after laborers, but their nominees are millionaires,” said President Duterte. Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the President was simply “expressing an idea and that’s for the Comelec to respond to it.” The Comelec has demonstrated many times a willingness to fulfill the wishes of the President.

In 2010, the Comelec, then dominated by President Arroyo’s appointees, allowed her son Mikey to represent the party list of tricycle drivers and security guards even if he had no connection with them, in violation of RA 7941.  When a disqualification complaint was filed with the Supreme Court against Mikey, the Supreme Court, also dominated by Arroyo appointees and headed by her appointed Chief Justice Renato Corona, dismissed the complaint.

In 2013, the Court, still dominated by Arroyo appointees, ruled that party lists need not represent any “marginalized” sector. The Court usurped the function of Congress by changing the law. The ruling enabled the rich and members of political dynasties to use the party list system to get elected to the House of Representatives.

The Comelec is now dominated by appointees of President Duterte. If he finds rich people representing party lists “evil,” he can direct the Comelec, as President Arroyo did, to observe RA 7941 by disallowing rich people from representing party lists. In the event they invoke the Supreme Court ruling that removed the concept of “marginalized sectors” from the law, then President Duterte can pressure the Supreme Court, as President Arroyo did, to restore the concept in the law.

With authoritarian Rodrigo Duterte as president and his appointees now dominating the Court, it should have complied with the President’s wish as it had shown in the past. All His Highness had to do was say he wanted Ferdinand Marcos buried in Libingan ng mga Bayani, martial law imposed in Mindanao and Chief Justice Sereno ousted from the Court—and his appointees to the Court obliged.

But the Court has not done away with the system the President considers evil, maybe because the members of the Court sense he would be happy to have the rich like Mikee Romero and his political allies like Caesar Fariñas represent party lists in Congress, because they are staunch supporters of his legislative agenda.

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Oscar P. Lagman Jr. is a retired corporate executive, business consultant and management professor. He has been a keen observer of Philippine politics since his college days in the 1950s.

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TAGS: 1987 Constitution, Inquirer Commentary, Oscar P. Lagman Jr., party-list system
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