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Pitfalls of the Party-List Law (Conclusion)

by Alexander Martin Remollino / Bulatlat Monday, Apr. 02, 2007 at 2:02 AM

The present party-list system has shortcomings that make it impossible to truly represent marginalized sectors, an expert on election laws told Bulatlat in an interview.

As it is, the ironic situation of a House of Representatives needing party-list groups to take the cudgels for marginalized groups is already glaring. However, the present party-list system has yet to succeed in giving adequate representation to underrepresented sectors.

There are shortcomings in the party-list system which has led to this, an expert on election laws told Bulatlat in an interview.

“The (initial) problem with (the party-list law) is that there are no standards for which groups may be accredited for the purposes of the party-list system,” said Judge Cleto Villacorta, a member of the Board of Directors of the research and policy studies institution Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG).

The problem of the lack of clear guidelines for party-list accreditation was resolved following the Supreme Court decisions in two landmark cases in 2001: Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW v. Comelec, et al and Bayan Muna v. Comelec, et al. In particular, in its decision on Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW v. Comelec, et al, the Supreme Court issued the following guidelines with regard to the party-list election:

* The political party, sector, organization or coalition must represent the marginalized and underrepresented groups identified in Section 5 of RA 7941;

* While even major political parties are expressly allowed by RA 7941 and the Constitution to participate in the party-list system, they must comply with the declared statutory policy of enabling “Filipino citizens belonging to marginalized and underrepresented sectors x x x to be elected to the House of Representatives”;

* The religious sector may not be represented in the party-list system;

* A party or an organization must not be disqualified under Section 6 of RA 7941, which enumerates the grounds for disqualification as follows:

(1) It is a religious sect or denomination, organization or association organized for religious purposes;

(2) It advocates violence or unlawful means to seek its goal;

(3) It is a foreign party or organization;

(4) It is receiving support from any foreign government, foreign political party, foundation, organization, whether directly or through any of its officers or members or indirectly through third parties for partisan election purposes;

(5) It violates or fails to comply with laws, rules or regulations relating to elections;

(6) It declares untruthful statements in its petition;

(7) It has ceased to exist for at least one (1) year; or

(8) It fails to participate in the last two (2) preceding elections or fails to obtain at least two per centum (2%) of the votes cast under the party-list system in the two (2) preceding elections for the constituency in which it has registered.

* The party or organization must not be an adjunct of, or a project organized or an entity funded or assisted by, the government;

* The party must not only comply with the requirements of the law; its nominees must likewise do so;

* Not only the candidate party or organization must represent marginalized and underrepresented sectors; so also must its nominees;

* While lacking a well-defined political constituency, the nominee must likewise be able to contribute to the formulation and enactment of appropriate legislation that will benefit the nation as a whole.

“The problem now is no longer the lack of guidelines, but the very process of accreditation,” Villacorta said. “We do not know how the Comelec implements the analysis of applications for party-list participation. We do not know whether they have people on the ground who really investigate, or whether they simply receive documents.”

Beyond the issue of ensuring that the party-list system shall sufficiently give representation to underrepresented sectors, there is also the question of numbers.

The 1987 Constitution limits the number of party-list representatives to 20 percent of the total number of seats in the House of Representatives. There are, at present, 265 seats at stake at the House of Representatives. This means that only 53 party-list representatives can be accommodated.

Even assuming that all party-list seats are filled by representatives from groups truly representing the underrepresented sectors, 20 percent is still just 20 percent. And if all of them become a singular progressive bloc, they could be a considerable force to reckon with but they will still not be strong enough to drastically change policies.

The party-list system’s limitation when it comes to cumulative number of seats available is exacerbated by the cap on the number of representatives that party-list groups may send to Congress.

Villacorta cites the case of Bayan Muna, which recent opinion surveys have shown to have won a number of potential votes equivalent to at least 24 percent – and even up to 28 percent – of the total number of voters.

“Even with that, Bayan Muna is limited to only three seats at the House of Representatives,” Villacorta explained. “What a waste of votes if these cannot all translate into full proportional representation as the case is.”

In an article for CenPEG’s book Fraud: Gloria M. Arroyo and the May 2004 Elections, Villacorta underscored the need for additional legislative measures to complement the existing laws on the party-list system. In his interview with Bulatlat, he said that among these measures would be a law fleshing out more clearly the criteria for accrediting party-list groups, and another one that would remove the cap on the number of representatives that party-list groups may send to Congress. Bulatlat

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