When ‘partylist’ and ‘proportional representation’ get a new meaning

Jay A. Carizo

When the Party-List System Act of the Philippines (Republic Act No. 7941) was approved in 1995, sectoral groups, especially the marginalized sectors, found hope of having their voices heard in the halls of Congress. Unfortunately, Robert Ingersoll was right: Hope is the only universal liar who never loses his reputation for veracity. Instead of the voice and power for the marginalized, the party-list became a system that opened more rooms for
political clans and dynasts to strengthen their hold on power.

The first attempt to co-opt the party-list system was done in 1998 during the first party-list elections. National political parties in power like the Lakas-National Union of Christian Democrats (Lakas-NUCD), the Nationalist People’s Coalition (NPC), Liberal Party, Nacionalista Party, Aksyon Demokratiko, Partido ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), and the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) filed their intentions to join the party-list elections. They were accredited by the Commission on Elections and later became a subject of contention in the case of Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW Labor Party vs Comelec [G.R. No. 147589. June 26, 2001]. The court, however, ruled, that the party-list system is not open to all political parties but to those that are marginalized and under-represented.

Because of the ruling, even the extreme Left of the Philippine political spectrum joined the elections which they have been boycotting ever since. Starting in 2001, the national democrats have been fielding groups that now led to the further rise in popularity of Satur Ocampo, Liza Masa, Teddy Casino and Neri Colmenares. Their participation in electoral politics eventually led us to ask: Is the party-list system of representation the “trojan horse” for new politics? (See Arugay, Carizo and Velasco in Political Brief. Volume 12, Number 4. Fourth Quarter 2004.)

The Supreme Court decision in Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW Labor Party vs Comelec, however, did not change the perspective of the electoral commission. Party-list parties and organizations that are not considered marginalized and under-represented were accredited and allowed to join, to some extent with certain monetary consideration. In 2007, for instance, there were reports that for PhP 2 million, a party-list organization will not only be accredited but will also be ensured sufficient votes to have a representation in the House of Representatives. This surfaced as a side story in the “Hello, Garci!” scandal. Speculations can only be made on who gets and benefits from the Php 2 million.

The PhP 2million for a party-list seat died down when the noise on Mikey Arroyo, the son of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo running for a party-list seat, filled the air waves and broadsheets. Mikey sought to represent the Ang Galing Pinoy — the supposed to be party-list organization of security guards and trike drivers. The Comelec said Mikey Arroyo can represent the security guards and the trike drivers but this was overruled by the Supreme Court in 2013.

The party-list controversy continued as the Comelec failed to do its duty to protect the system. For the 2019 elections, the ABS-CBN Investigative and Research group unearthed that political families have fielded 49 party-list nominees for the May elections. If their groups get the required votes, they can occupy 83% of the 59 party-list seats in the House of Representatives.

The party-list system is a proportional system of representation — or popularly known in the electoral jargon as the PR system. This is because the voters elect political parties instead of personalities, and that the number of seats allocated for the winning party is dependent on the proportion of votes acquired by the party during the elwction. In the case of  of the Philippine party-list system, however, the PR system being offered by the Comelec has a different connotation — Perpetual Representation of the political families and clans. This is far from the original intention of the Party-List System Act. This being so, should Republic Act No. 7941 be amended or the law that creates the Comelec?

The author, Mr. Jay A. Carizo specializes in political economy, polling and election campaign. He authored papers on Philippine elections and local governance.

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