POSTSCRIPT / June 28, 2001 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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SC raps prostitution of party-list system

THANK God, there is a Supreme Court to stop the desecration of the party-list system provided in the Constitution to give marginalized and underrepresented sectors a voice in the legislature.

There was a shameless attempt in the last May elections by major political parties, government-funded groups, organizations of rich businessmen, and prominent individuals to grab congressional seats reserved by law for marginalized and underrepresented sectors.

The tribunal ordered the Commission on Election the other day not to proclaim yet any party-list winner in the last May elections until the poll body has ascertained which of the 154 participating parties satisfied the criteria laid down by the Constitution and RA 7941 (the party-list law).

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IN a 43-page decision penned by Justice Artemio V. Panganiban, the high court ruled that only party-list participants meeting all these requirements are qualified to occupy sectoral seats in the House of Representatives:

  • They must truly represent marginalized or underrepresented sectors.
  • They are not funded or assisted by government funds.
  • Their nominees actually belong to marginalized sectors.

This early, we can see a number of parties and their nominees being disqualified despite their having garnered the minimum number of votes required to win at least one congressional seat.

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THE Constitution (Section 5, Article VI) spoke in general terms of party-list representation:

“(1) The House of Representatives shall be composed of not more than 250 members, unless otherwise fixed by law, who shall be elected from legislative districts xxx and on the basis of a uniform and progressive ratio, and those who, as provided by law, shall be elected through a party-list system of registered national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations.

“(2) The party-list representatives shall constitute 20 per centum of the total number of representatives including those under the party list. For three consecutive terms after the ratification of this Constitution, one-half of the seats allocated to party-list representatives shall be filled, as provided by law, by selection or election from the labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, and such other sectors as may be provided by law, except the religious sector. (underscoring supplied.)

The suit before the Supreme Court was prompted by the participation of groups that are far from marginalized, such as major political parties, business chambers, organizations using public funds; and parties whose nominees are clearly not from marginalized sectors.

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THE charter provisions are not self-executory, interspersed as they are with such clauses as ?in accordance with law? or ?as may be provided by law.? It left to Congress to spell out the details fleshing out the constitutional mandate.

Thus, RA 7941 was enacted laying down this policy: “The State shall promote proportional representation in the election of representatives to the House of Representatives through a party-list system of registered national, regional and sectoral parties or organizations or coalitions thereof, which will enable Filipino citizens belonging to marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties, and who lack well-defined political constituencies but who could contribute to the formulation and enactment of appropriate legislation that will benefit the nation as a whole, to become members of the House of Representatives.”

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WHO are “marginalized and underrepresented?” Section 5 of RA 7941 specifically listed labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, elderly, handicapped, women, youth, veterans, overseas workers, and professionals.

The Supreme Court noted: “While the enumeration is not exclusive, it demonstrates the clear intent of the law that not all sectors can be represented under the party-list system. It is a fundamental principle of statutory construction that words employed in a statute are interpreted in connection with, and their meaning is ascertained by reference to, the words and the phrases with which they are associated or related.”

The court said, however, that “it is not enough for the candidate to claim representation of the marginalized and underrepresented, because representation is easy to claim and to feign.”

It added: “The party-list organization or party must factually and truly represent the marginalized and underrepresented constituencies mentioned in Section 5. Concurrently, the persons nominated by the party-list candidate-organization must be Filipino citizens belonging to marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties.”

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IN the decision, ponente Panganiban struck down the contention of the Solicitor General (representing the Comelec or the state) who submitted that RA 7941 does not limit the participation in the party-list system to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors and that any group that is not disqualified under Section 6 of RA 7941 may participate in the elections.

The Solicitor General told the court that even an organization representing the super rich of Forbes Park or Dasmariñas Village could participate in the party-list elections. Panganiban retorted:

The law crafted to address the peculiar disadvantages of Payatas hovel dwellers cannot be appropriated by the mansion owners of Forbes Park. The interests of these two sectors are manifestly disparate; hence, the OSG’s position to treat them similarly defies reason and common sense.

While the business moguls and the mega-rich are, numerically speaking, a tiny minority, they are neither marginalized nor underrepresented, for the stark reality is that their economic clout engenders political power more awesome than their numerical limitation.

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THE court continued: “It is ironic, therefore, that the marginalized and underrepresented in our midst are the majority who wallow in poverty, destitution and infirmity. It was for them that the party-list system was enacted — to give them not only genuine hope, but genuine power; to give them the opportunity to be elected and to represent the specific concerns of their constituencies; and simply to give them a direct voice in Congress and in the larger affairs of the State.

“In its noblest sense, the party-list system truly empowers the masses and ushers a new hope for genuine change. Verily, it invites those marginalized and underrepresented in the past — the farm hands, the fisher folk, the urban poor, even those in the underground movement — to come out and participate, as indeed many of them came out and participated during the last elections.

“The State cannot now disappoint and frustrate them by disabling and desecrating this social justice vehicle.

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AS for political parties already holding seats in Congress but still fielding party-list candidates, the Supreme Court said Section 11 of RA 7941 left no doubt as to the participation of political parties when it said:

“For purposes of the May 1998 elections, the first five (5) major political parties on the basis of party representation in the House of Representatives at the start of the Tenth Congress of the Philippines shall not be entitled to participate in the party-list system.

It is clear from this section, the court said, that major political parties may not participate in the party-list elections.

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THE court added: “Because the marginalized and underrepresented had not been able to win in the congressional district elections normally dominated by traditional politicians and vested groups, 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives were set aside for the party-list system.

“In arguing that even those sectors who normally controlled 80 percent of the seats in the House could participate in the party-list elections for the remaining 20 percent, the OSG and the Comelec disregard the fundamental difference between the congressional district elections and the party-list elections.

“The purpose of the party-list provision was to open up the system, in order to enhance the chance of sectoral groups and organizations to gain representation in the House of Representatives through the simplest scheme possible. Logic shows that the system has been opened to those who have never gotten a foothold within it — those who cannot otherwise win in regular elections and who therefore need the simplest scheme possible to do so.

“Conversely, it would be illogical to open the system to those who have long been within it — those privileged sectors that have long dominated the congressional district elections.

“Verily, allowing the non-marginalized and overrepresented to vie for the remaining seats under the party-list system would not only dilute, but also prejudice the chance of the marginalized and underrepresented, contrary to the intention of the law to enhance it.

“This Court, therefore, cannot allow the party-list system to be sullied and prostituted by those who are neither marginalized nor underrepresented. It cannot let that flicker of hope be snuffed out.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 28, 2001)

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