Party-list Representation: A Failed Comelec Experiment

Party-list Representation: A Failed Comelec Experiment

‘She is not even a mother but government official Mocha Uson (left) is the top nominee of Mothers for Change party-list.’ How is that possible? Go ask Comelec. Also in the photo is actor Robin Padilla who is seeking a senatorial seat, also in the May 9 elections.

The party-list system has become one evil.
— Outgoing president Rodrigo Roa Duterte

RIGHT from the start, we knew that party-list representation would end up as a failed experiment by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

It was in 1987 when our constitutionalists framed and provided for party-list representation and the noble goal then was to give marginalized and under-represented sectors a voice in Congress, specifically those 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.

But today we see it as an instrument used by the power-hungry to obtain position, influence (and public funds) with legality as they are given a mandate by our electorate through the exercise of the right to suffrage.

Election watchdog Kontra Daya paints a clear picture of the situation as it claims that some 70 percent of party-list groups have been hijacked by politicians and business interests, effectively shutting out marginalized sectors for whom the system was intended and created.

And this explains how in an earlier Congress, people like former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s son Mikey inexplicably represented security guards, and Davao Occidental governor Cksude Batista’s daughter Claudine—who was bashed online for her lavish wedding in Balesin island—represented surprisingly public utility transport drivers.

Anyari? asked a colleague, who is a lawyer and also a respected member of Freemasonry in the Philippines, in the colloquial version of “what happened?”

Actually, the anomalous scenario we have described can be blamed on the vague wording in the Charter’s provision. Except for saying that the party-list shall constitute 20 percent of the total membership of the House of Representatives, and that for three consecutive terms, one-half of the seats shall be filled by the marginalized sectors, it left everything else to Congress.

And accordingly, Congress passed the Party-List System Act (Republic Act No. 7941) in 1995, which required groups to get at least 2 percent of the total votes cast for the party-list to qualify for a House seat, up to a maximum of three seats—in reality, an easy task for those politicos behind them since they have a voting base at hand and likewise the political machinery and money to back it up.

Then in 2013, a landmark 2013 ruling from the Supreme Court shook up the system when it stated that regional and/or sectoral candidates need not represent the “marginalized or underrepresented,” as long as their members advocate common ideologies or principles “regardless of their economic status as citizens.” And the two-percent parameter was also voided by the High Tribunal.

So with the floodgates now thrown wide open, the country now has 61 party-list representatives out of 304 members of Congress—most of them from moneyed clans and dynasties, who find party-list representation a cheaper and easier backdoor to entrench themselves in government and thus protect their economic, financial and political interests.

And for the 19th Congress, 63 seats have been reserved for party-list representatives out of 316 total seats.

According to Kontra Daya, at least 120 of the 177 groups vying for seats in Congress do not represent the poor and powerless. It noted that 44 of these groups are controlled by political clans, 21 are connected with big business, and 32 with the government or military.

At least 26 groups have fielded incumbent local officials as nominees, 19 groups face criminal charges or have pending court cases, while 34 “have unknown or unclear advocacies and representations.”

Questions have been raised on the poll body’s approval of such aberrant party-list bids by groups like Mothers for Change, whose nominees Overseas Workers Welfare Administration deputy administrator Mocha Uson and former National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) spokesperson Michele Gumabao were criticized online as not even being mothers.

Government-affiliated groups have also been allowed to run, among them Abante Sambayanan, which seeks to represent former communist rebels in the legislature and whose nominee includes NTF-ELCAC informant Jeffrey ‘Ka Eric’ Celiz.

Because of this, Kontra Daya has challenged Comelec: “Explain why dubious groups are allowed to continue hijacking the party-list system, and thus depriving marginalized groups of a voice in the House of Representatives.”

To air our dismay, we believe it’s about time that we hang political charlatans behind these party-list groups because they derail our democratic process by playing their spiteful game within our electoral system while posing as patriots serving the people’s interest. In truth, they certainly have no place in our ballots and we should have done with them altogether.

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