POSTSCRIPT / April 28, 2009 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Politicos, vested groups hijack Party-List system

EQUALIZER: It is clear from the confusion that followed the Supreme Court decision allowing 32 more Party-List groups to send congressmen to the House of Representatives that the PL system needs revisiting.

In my view, the Party-List system is an intended equalizer, similar in spirit to the Equal Opportunity concept in the United States seeking to create an environment, such as in the workplace, that is fair, just and humane.

I regard the Party-List system as an attempt to balance and rationalize people’s representation in the legislature by giving seats to “marginalized and underrepresented sectors” that cannot compete with the entrenched political parties and dynasties.

In Article II, Section 26, the 1987 Constitution mandated Congress to pass a law doing away with the dynasties. But the legislature has refused to act for the past two decades. Instead, it has allowed the proliferation and dominance of political clans in the Congress itself.

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HIJACKED: The tragedy staring us in the face is that the Party-List system appears to have been hijacked by the same dynasties and their co-conspirators lording it over the Congress.

Aside from legitimate representatives of marginalized and underrepresented sectors, we have PL congressmen who are actually surrogates of the dynasties, vested interests, political parties and power blocs.

Check each of the 50-plus PL representatives in the chamber and you will see that many of them are not marginalized, underprivileged or neglected, as envisioned in the Constitution.

It seems that the Party-List System Act merely tightened the stranglehold of the dynasties and vested interests on the House of Representatives. (And we poor taxpayers have to cough up billions to maintain the interlopers!)

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THE LAW: To refresh our memory, here is Article VI (The Legislative Department) of the Constitution saying:

“Section 5. (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 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.”

An enabling law (RA 7941 titled “Party-List System Act”) was approved on March 3, 1995, declaring it the policy of the state to “promote proportional representation in the xxx House of Representatives through a party-list system xxx which will enable Filipino citizens belonging to the 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…..” (Emphasis supplied)

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LIST UPDATED: After the SC decision was handed down last week, the Comelec awarded 32 new Party-List seats to petitioner-groups in addition to those already in the House, boosting the total number of PL congressmen to 54.

Among the new Party-List groups were Uni Mad, ABS, Kakusa, Kabataan, Aba-Ako, Senior Citizens, AT, VFP, Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy, Banat, Ang Kasangga, Bantay, Abakada, 1-Utak, and Trade Union Congress of the Philippines.

Given additional House seats were Buhay, Bayan Muna, Cibac, APEC, Advocacy for Teacher Empowerment Through Action, Cooperation and Harmony Towards Education Reforms (A Teacher), Akbayan, Alagad, Coop-Natcco, Butil, ARC, Anakpawis, Amin, Abono, Gabriela, Yacap, Agap, and An Waray.

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OFF TO EGYPT: By flying to Cairo on Friday for no apparent urgent reason, President Gloria Arroyo risks giving the wrong impression that she does not want to face restive workers on May 1, Labor Day. That is bad.

As announced by Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, the President’s trip to Egypt is not a state visit but is only a “working visit” whose general objective is to “promote peace and interfaith dialogue.”

Whether this Friday or any of the other 364 days of the year, Cairo will still be there — like the Great Pyramid — waiting for the working visitor. Any old time, the president of a dominantly Christian country can hold “interfaith dialogue” with Arab leaders. Why on Labor Day?

Why should the President rush out, as if running away from something, and leave subalterns and 5,000 troops to handle workers marching in the streets?

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SYRIA STATE VISIT: The two-day trip to Syria on May 3 — this time a real state visit with full honors — is something else.

A state visit, with the host government footing the basic bill, takes months of preparation and is more difficult to arrange. Once set, it is difficult changing the agreed schedule.

In Damascus, President Arroyo will hold a one-on-one with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, attend a state dinner, address the Syrian People’s Assembly and witness the signing of bilateral agreements.

As she does in other places abroad, she plans to meet a delegation of Filipino workers, part of a 17,000-strong community in Syria.

Before flying home, she will visit the Tartous International Container Terminal some 250 kilometers from Damascus. The TICT is operated by the International Container Terminal Services Inc. of businessman Enrique Razon.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 28, 2009)

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