POSTSCRIPT / April 9, 2013 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Free-for-all looms for Party-List seats

DESECRATION: Welcome to the super rich, the over-represented and even political parties — and goodbye to the dreams of the truly marginalized sectors to become lawmakers themselves to enact laws to benefit them.

Thus said election lawyer Romulo B. Macalintal reacting to the decision of the Supreme Court that Party-Lists need not be marginalized to qualify for sectoral seats in the House of Representatives.

Finding the arguments of Macalintal cogent and compelling, Postscript is sharing them hereunder.

The SC decision, he said, abandoned the clarion call of former Chief Justice Artemio V. Panganiban in his 2001 decision in the case of Bagong Bayani vs Comelec to prevent the “desecration of the Party-List system by not allowing representation by the super rich and the over-represented”.

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FLOODGATES OPENED: Macalintal said, “Since the enactment of the 1987 Constitution, the Supreme Court had been arduously vigilant in striking down attempts by the powerful to infiltrate the Party-List system.

“However, the new ruling of the Court opened the playing field to them by ruling that a Party-List organization need not represent the marginalized or underrepresented sector.

“In Bagong Bayani, Panganiban said that the Party-List system was ‘enacted for the marginalized who wallow in poverty, destitution and infirmity’.

“But the recent ruling of the Court has now abandoned such doctrine promising to make the PL system ‘honest and transparent, eliminating the need for relatively well-off Party-List representatives to masquerade as wallowing in poverty, destitution and infirmity, even as they attend sessions in the Congress riding in SUVs.’

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SOCIAL JUSTICE: “If the Court knows the existence of such representatives, the remedy is not to abandon the old doctrine, but to see to it that the law is properly implemented.

“The concept of Philippine Party-List system must be viewed under the lens of social justice. Thus, in his sterling ponencia in Bagong Bayani, Panganiban said: ‘The Party-List system is a social justice tool designed not only to give more law to the great masses of our people who have less in life, but also to enable them to become veritable lawmakers themselves, empowered to participate directly in the enactment of laws designed to benefit them. x x x Thus, allowing all individuals and groups, including those which now dominate district elections, to have the same opportunity to participate in Party-List elections would desecrate this lofty objective and mongrelize the social justice mechanism into an atrocious veneer for traditional politics.’

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VESTED GROUPS: “With the new decision, it now appears that participation in the PL system may even be open to special interest clubs as on campuses.

“Moreover, what will now prevent large companies, such as oil firms, from banding together to form their own PL organization to advance their own commercial interests? With the thousands of employees under their payroll, winning seats in the Congress will be a certainty.

“We ask: Is this truly what the Constitution intended for our country?

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RULES SUSPENDED: “What is further surprising is how the Supreme Court practically suspended its rules for the disqualified Party-List groups.

“The Court ruled that the Commission on Elections did not commit grave abuse of discretion in disqualifying them. Under the Rules of Court, the Court should have immediately dismissed the petitions.

“However, the Court suspended its rules by remanding the petitions to the Comelec for further review of the qualifications of the disqualified PL groups following the guidelines laid down in its decision.

“If indeed it believes in its guidelines to qualify a PL group, the Court should have directly resolved this issue without remanding the cases to the Comelec to prevent a ‘circuitous route’ of these cases.

“For sure, any party who might be aggrieved by the Comelec decision will again seek recourse to the Supreme Court.

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LEGISLATIVE JOB: “There might be some gaps in the Party-List law, but it is not for the Supreme Court to plug such gaps, its function not being legislative.

“Thus, it was not correct for the Court to say that it was the intention of the law not to limit the Party-List system to sectoral parties and extend the same even to ‘non-sectoral parties’.

“With due respect, the Constitution is very specific that the Party-List seats are limited to the sectors enumerated under Section 5(2) of Article VI and ‘such other sectors as may be provided for by law.’

“The Constitution and RA 7941 do not speak of ‘non-sectoral parties’ that the majority of the Supreme Court in its decision now allows to run in PL elections.

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POSTPONE PL POLLS?: “Technically, the SC ‘new guidelines’ leave us without any qualified Party-List group. This may necessitate a postponement of the election for PL representatives.

“Since the Court has issued ‘new guidelines’ in determining if an organization may register under the PL system, all existing PL groups, including those already previously qualified by the Comelec, have to undergo the same summary evidentiary hearing to determine their qualifications under these new SC parameters.

“Pending such determination, the PL election may have to be postponed until the Comelec has determined who among the PL groups are qualified to register under the new SC guidelines.

“Since the Court has abandoned the old guidelines under which the ‘qualified’ PL groups were registered, they now have to pass the test of whether they also qualify under the new guidelines.

“It will violate the constitutional provision on equal protection of the law if only those petitioners whose cases were remanded to the Comelec will be reassessed under the new guidelines.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 9, 2013)

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