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Philippine Party-List System: A Failure or a Success? sample essay

The country’s population is about 90 million; about 70 percent of which is in poverty. It is not farfetched to say that majority of the country’s population is underserved and marginalized ― our farmers, fisher folks, the youth and the women among others ―and are in need of government’s attention. In a developing country like the Philippines, decision-making or policy-making must gear towards development of these underserved sectors of the Philippine society. The population elects its legislators ― congressional and party-list representatives, senators and the rest of the elective members of the bureaucracy. But what assurance do the Filipino people get that the underserved are represented in the policy-making body of the country? It is the party-list system. As defined by Republic Act No. 7941 also known as the Philippine Party-list Act, “the party-list system is a mechanism of proportional representation in the election of representatives to the House of Representatives from national, regional and sectoral parties or organizations or coalitions thereof registered with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC).”

The rationale behind the emergence of the Philippine party-list system in the Philippine party politics is to provide representation to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors of the society ― a ‘democratizing agent’ to the elite-oriented Congress. Nonetheless, it attempts to challenge the status quo and truly serve the underserved masses (Rivera, 2007). The emergence of the party-list system is not an event which transpired “out of the blue” rather an attempt to redress an insufficiently undemocratic growing elite party politics in the country. Tracing history backwards, the domination of the elite-oriented party politics can clearly be seen since its beginning up to its continuing ascendancy in the Philippine politics today. When the American rule in the Philippines instigated, they were faced with Filipino armed resistance. To resist such “insurgencies” and to install its complete control over the Philippines, the Americans painstakingly deceived the Filipinos thru the Filipinization it proposed ― a venue for Filipino participation in the realm of governance and politics. To achieve such purpose, they “recruited” the elites to join the Filipinization (Gealogo, 2007). Why the elites?

For one, they have their own interest to protect. They have much and more to lose than to gain if they won’t yield and collaborate with the colonizers. And they do not trust their fellow Filipinos for they themselves have branded their fellowmen as ‘thieves’. Simply put, they try to maintain political power. And political power resides in property: in their wealth. It is interesting to note, they have collaborated not with the Americans only but with all the other colonizers who came to our land and they successfully maintained a stronghold in the political arena ― in the arena of influence and the influential ― and so begins the reign of the elites. Dante Simbulan (2005) sites that “the political parties or factions that developed [today] had one common beginning: the principalia group which . . . was composed of the native ruling elites under the Spaniards [emphasis added].” The elites of today are in fact the elites of the colonial Philippines. Surprisingly, the entire Philippine party system in today’s time is dominated only by less than a hundred to a hundred wealthy families, and they exist as political clans and dynasties (Simbulan, R., 2007).

Does one expect an elite-oriented Congress to legislate against its own interests and genuinely serve the greater masses ― the marginalized and the underrepresented? Prior to the party-list system, minority parties that represent the interest of the same sectors that the party-lists represent today have existed. They tried to forward the interest of the underserved and the marginalized, but eventually, “no working class (or counter elite) political group or party was able to prosper [emphasis added] (Simbulan, D., 2005).” Former minority parties did not thrive. Now that the Philippine Party-list Act provides the establishment of the party-list system, the question is: Will it, too, vanish like the minority parties which used to assume the same role it does today? This paper seeks to assess the efficacy of the party-list system while pointing out loopholes and lapses in the system.

As Section 2 of Republic Act No 7941 or the “Party-list System Act” states, the Party-list System has three basic elements: (1) to include the “marginalized” and “underrepresented” sectors of the country in the legislative processes of the House of Representatives ― democratize the Congress; (2) to pluralize the party system by encouraging multi-parties and (3) to simplify the electoral system. Let us examine the first element of the party-list system by finding out whether it complies with its most basic purpose or not ― that is to democratize the Congress. Based on RA 7941 and the 1987 Constitution, the party-list (originally) has the following basic features: 1. Twenty percent allocation. The party-list representatives constitute 20% of the total number of representatives including those under the party-list.

2. Two percent threshold. A party or organization must obtain at least two percent of the total votes obtained by the party-list system in order to get one seat. 3. Three-seat limit. Section 11 of RA 7941 specifies that a qualified party would be entitled to a maximum of three seats. 4. Proportional representation. The additional seats that the party is entitled to are computed in proportion to its total number of votes. Over the years, there have been debates on these basic features of the party-list system― the structure per se is said to be a “counter-productive” structure and is in contrast to the very purpose of the party-list system. To show this, let us take a look at the 14 years of the party-list system. The first ever party-list election in 1998 was accepted with enthusiasm. A total of 123 parties participated in the election.

The first party-list election was not free of controversies. Right after the election, a certain party-list (PAG-ASA) filed a petition wanting the filling up of the complete 20 percent membership of the party-list to the House of Representatives― they argued it is mandatory. This petition gathered support from nine other organizations which also filed. Eventually, the COMELEC declared all the other 38 organizations in addition to the already declared 14 winners. In declaring the other 38 organizations the COMELEC clearly disregarded the 2 percent threshold and it reasoned out that their decision was based on the following justifications: (1) ‘the marginalized and the underrepresented sectors must be represented in the House of Representatives, (2) the party-list system must represent the broadest sectors of the society and; (3) it would encourage multi-party system.’

However, 12 of the parties which were initially declared by the COMELEC objected to the proclamation of the other 38 organizations arguing that only them (the 14 initially declared winners) are entitled to the seat in the lower house because the other 38 organizations failed to attain the 2 percent vote threshold.

Eventually, the dispute was resolved in the Supreme Court. In an en banc session of the Supreme Court in October 1998 it ruled that the 20 percent seat allocation as prescribed by Section 5 (2) of the Constitution is not mandatory. Furthermore, it ruled that the 2 percent threshold is constitutional thus required to obtain a seat in the House of Representatives. So the COMELEC had to recall the proclamation of the other 38 organizations. Given the basic features of the party-list system, one important question needs to be answered: “How does the party-list system enhance the chances of marginalized or underrepresented parties of winning seats in the House of Representatives?” The COMELEC says that with the three- seat cap for the party-lists, major political parties or the bigger parties which usually dominates the elections will not have the chance to “corner all the seats” in the House of Representatives and “crowd out” minority parties. This, they argue, will encourage the party-lists to win seat in the House of Representatives.

Granted this to be true and the desired or expected consequence to be existent, the party-list is indeed a potential counter-foil to the elite-dominated Congress. However, given this features, particularly the three-seat cap, Felix Muga (2007c) argues―in contrast with what the COMELEC declares―that this features of the party-list system particularly the three-seat cap is a “counter-productive” structure for “it promotes the break-up of a strong party into smaller ones and discourages parties to form bigger coalitions” (Para. 4). To illustrate this, let us consider the events after the 2001 Party-list Elections. After the Supreme Court disqualified some parties during the 2001 Elections, Bayan Muna’s percentage share of total party-list votes reached 26.82 percent (Party-List Canvass Report Number 26 as September 7, 2001). Sadly, they were just given three seats. Consequently, in the 2004 party-list election, Bayan Muna broke up into smaller parties and obtained 6 seats in the House of Representatives.

Note that not only Bayan Muna resorted to this break up; there are also several of other party-lists like the Sanlakas. Thus, Muga further claims that “it [3-seat cap] does not pave the way for smaller parties to win seats in the House of Representatives. Together with the 2% informal threshold in the simplified Comelec Formula or with the first party-rule of the Panganiban Formula, it cannot fill up the available number of party-list seats and causes the Formula used to contradict the principle of proportional representation [emphasis added].” The party-list as defined is a ‘mechanism for proportional representation’ (RA 7941). Thus, for instance, if a party gets 50 percent of the total party-list votes, it shall get the 50 percent of the total number of seats allocated for the party-lists (principle of proportionality).

RA 7941 requires a vote threshold. The two (2) percent vote threshold means that the party which obtained at least 2 percent of the party-list votes will be allotted the seat. Mathematically, this can be represented by total number of votes of all parties divided by the total number of available seats (Hare Quota). In the 2007 Party-list election, the total number of party-list votes reached 8,416,421; the 20 percent seat allocation for that particular Party-List Election translated to 55 seats. Therefore, following the above-mentioned formula, we arrive at “8,416,421 divided by 55 seats, equals 153,025” (Hare Quota).

Following the principle of proportionality, we now compute the ideal seat for BUHAY party-list, the top-notch party-list group in the 2007 Party-List Election. BUHAY attained a total number of votes of 1,169,234; we divide it with the Hare Quota for the 2007 Party-list Election computed earlier which is 153,025 (1,169,234/153,025). Thus, the ideal seat for BUHAY is 7.64.

However, the ideal seat is not the actual seat given to the winning party-list groups. Muga (2005) came up with the idea of “seat allocation error” to illustrate the difference between the ideal seat and the actual seat given (ideal seat – actual seat given). BUHAY party-list’s ideal seat is 7.64, but it was granted with only 3 seats. Thus, the “seat allocation error” is 4.64 seats. They were deprived of 4 more seats in the Congress and were only given 3. Muga also provided a formula in computing the disenfranchised votes which can be expressed as: Degree of Negation X Hare Quota = Number of votes disenfranchised

To a certain extent, the basic features ― the three-seat cap, the 2 percent vote threshold and the First Party Rule ― of the party-list system’s structure caused the negation of proportional representation. This structure is indeed “counter-productive” on the part of the party-lists and most of all, the entire marginalized sector they represent. The party-list system seeks to democratize the Congress. Ironically, the structure itself does not provide any clear means for a genuine “democratization” of the Congress. Given this restrictions, ‘no party can really grow in the Congress.’ In the latter part of this paper, performance of the party-lists (in terms of legislation) shall be assessed and we will found out if the current party-list structure has something to do with the party-lists’ performance. Also, major concerns of the party-list system are issues on accreditation, membership and legislation. The accreditation process employed by the Commission on Elections is very loose ― there is lack of prohibition against party-lists with links to the government (irrespective whether direct or indirect), lack of strict imposition of prohibition on party-lists receiving foreign support, lack of strictness in following the rules set by the law on who shall become the party-list’s nominee among others.

To illustrate this, let us consider the party-list Aksyon Sambayanan or AKSA. It is very clear in the Supreme Court ruling that a party-list shall be disqualified if “It is receiving foreign 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” (Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW Labor Party vs. COMELEC, G.R. No. 147589, June 26, 2001, En Banc). Despite that, after known to be supported by Socialist International, AKSA still was accredited, allowed to join the election and was given seat in the House of Representatives (Manalansan, 2007). It may be safe to say that the Supreme Court ruling has not been proven insurmountable because such lapses occur. Also is the nominee Catalina Bagasina ― a provincial board member and a business woman ― of the Pilipino Association for Country or Urban Poor Youth Advancement Welfare (Pacyaw).

The Ang Galing Pinoy party-list is a group representing the security guards. Its representative to the Congress is the former first son―the son of the former President now Pampanga Representative Gloria Arroyo― Rep. Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo. What is troubling about this is that Rep. Arroyo is not and has never been a security guard. In short, he doesn’t belong to the sector he represents. Logically, how can he truly understand the plight of the security guards if he himself is not one of them? The Supreme Court ruling states that “not only the candidate party or organization must represent marginalized and underrepresented sectors, so also must its nominees. The nominees must be Filipino citizen ‘who belong to marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties [he/she represents]’” (Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW Labor Party vs. COMELEC, G.R. No. 147589, June 26, 2001, En Banc, para. 8). Surprisingly, Ang Galing Pinoy which is in clear defiance to this rule is still in position in Congress. Still surprisingly, there are other party-lists in defiance to this.

1-UTAK party-list ― a group representing PUV drivers, operators and commuters ― had the late former Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes as its representative. It is interesting to note that former Sec. Reyes is a stalwart defender of the oil deregulation law, which this group he tried to represent, strongly opposes. Another point the Supreme Court ruling raised was that “the political party, sector, organization or coalition must represent the marginalized and underrepresented groups identified in Section 5 or R.A. 7941” (Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW Labor Party vs. COMELEC, G.R. No. 147589, June 26, 2001, En Banc). However, APEC or the Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives is not a marginalized group yet it is granted the chance to join the election and win seats. Manalansan (2007) further points out other party-lists which are not considered marginalized. They are BUHAY, Veterans Federation of the Philippines and Cooperative-National Confederation of Cooperatives (Coop-NATCCO) among others. Moreover, the Supreme Court ruled that “the party or organization must not be an adjunct of, or a project organized or entry funded or assisted by, the government. . . .

The participation of the government or its official in the affairs of a party-list candidate is not only illegal and unfair to other parties, but also deleterious to the objective of the law” (Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW Labor Party vs. COMELEC, G.R. No. 147589, June 26, 2001, En Banc). However, the Veterans Federation of the Philippines (VFP) is a government-funded group. It is in fact a creation of R.A. 2640 (Manalansan, 2007). Clearly, there are lots of loopholes in the current party-list system ― not only the structure which makes it ineffective but also the very process of filtrating or accrediting the party-lists-to-be and the nominees. In its 14 years of existence, how well did the party-lists performed in the Philippine legislature? In the 11th Congress, the party-list representatives filed a total of 3, 698 bills and resolutions. Only 20 bills reached Second Reading. In the 12th and 13th Congress, party-lists representatives filed a total of 5, 706 bills and resolutions, but majority of which are still pending (Manalansan, 2007). In the 14th Congress, there were 19 bills which reached the Third Reading but disappointingly, none became a law.

One may remember the approval of the 125 pesos daily minimum wage increase in the 13th Congress. It was filed by Bayan Muna Rep. Crispin Beltran (12th Congress) and refilled by him again in the 13th Congress (this time as Anakpawis representative). It was approved by the House of Representatives and the Senate. However, it was later on recalled. At the brighter side, laws on Abolition of the Death Penalty, Protection to Children in Conflict with the Law, Anti-Trafficking in Persons, Anti-Violence against Women and Overseas Absentee Voting have been passed with party-list representatives as forwarders and/or consultants. The progressive party-list representatives are diligent enough to file and re-file bills and resolutions that would serve the greater mass. These are bills to amend the Labor Code, to repeal the Automatic Appropriations law, Mining Act, National Government Center Land Utilization Act and Oil Deregulation Act among others.

On the contrary, a number of bills have been passed within a short period of deliberations only. These bills are alleged as “Malacaňang-certified” legislations. Examples of this are the Expanded Value Added Tax, Lateral Attrition Law and the infamous Anti-terrorism bill or the Human Security Act of 2007. Since the beginning of the party-list system there were assumptions that the party-list, originating from elite politics, shall only prolong elite politics in the country (Simbulan, 2007).

Some believe that this is just a make-believe measure to make it appear that the Philippine society is well-represented in the legislature. At this point, we will try to assess whether this assumption is true or not. It is a fact that the Philippine congress is a congress of the elite or the wealthy oligarchs of the nation. As a matter of fact, in a study conducted by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), it found out that ‘60 to 100 wealthy families (political clans) “dominate” and “determine” the entire Philippine legislature or politics’ (Simbulan, 2007). The PCIJ studied political clans from 2001 to 2004 and found out that political parties in the country are really “clan alliances”.

In a Congress like this ―dominated by traditional parties and wealthy political clans, where number matters ― what can the very few party-list representatives do to forward the interest of the masses when it conflicts with the elites? Proponents of the party-list system admit that the party-lists have been absorbed by the traditional parties in the Congress. In news article from GMA News TV on April 6, 2010, former Marikina Rep. Romeo Candazo ― one of the main authors of the RA 7941 ― said that ‘majority of the party-list representatives have been co-opted by traditional politics. As such, it is very difficult for this minority party-list to resist the domination of these ruling elites. These political clans coalesce with other clans or political parties to uphold and protect the status quo and to maintain a stronghold on the legislature. This sufficiently explains why the party-lists get co-opted by these traditional parties. Clearly, the party-list is to the disadvantage as compared to the traditional parties in the Congress. First, the party-list lacks the number or a stronghold in the Congress due to the seat allocation restrictions of the Party-List System Act. Also, the party-list lacks the machinery during elections. The very low voters’ turnout on party-list election testifies to the ignorance of the people on this system.

This may be attributed to the lack of machinery of the party-lists system. The party-lists lack the financial prowess to air political ads on televisions and other media of information. In a Pulse Asia Survey (March 27 to April 4, 2004), television is the leading primary source of election-related information (71%), followed by radio at 20 percent and newspapers by 4 percent (Arao, 2007). As such, how would the people know about the party-list if these media of information is not maximized by the party-list? However, we cannot deny the fact that the party-list has two faces: the rich and the poor. Some party-list representatives are found at the bottom 10 percent poorest Representatives, but there are party-list representatives who are millionaires. In the 12th Congress, APEC representatives were all multi-millionaires. There are many other millionaire party-list representatives like Alagad’s Rodante Macoleto, AVE’s Eulogio Magsaysay, and Coop-NATCCO’s Guillermo Cua among others.

Note that in the 13th Congress, the richest party-list representative was VFP’s Gidaya with a net worth of 34.66 million pesos and the poorest was Anakpawis’ Rep. Rafael Mariano with a net worth of 18,000 pesos (Manalansan, 2007). It is not farfetched that one day the party-list is no longer of difference with the traditional parties in the Congress. What future awaits the Party-List System? Will it too vanish or survive the test of traditional politics? In conclusion, this paper does not undermine the potential of the party-list system for it has forwarded a significant number of bills and resolutions since 1998 up to this present Congress. It is a clear sign that the party-lists system, somehow, is working in the Philippines. They have provided the underserved and the marginalized a voice in the congress. They tried to strike a balance in an elite Congress. The party-list per se is a great chance for the masses to be represented. But it is undeniable that the party-list system is failing.

It might just be a matter of less than a decade that the “narrow alley constitutionally reserved for the representation of marginal sectors in Congress” be permanently closed by traditional politics (Tuazon, 2007). It is quite not hard to conclude that the Philippine party-list system is more of a failure than a success. First and for most, its goal to democratize the Philippine Congress is at the onset defeated for the structure itself limits the growth of this party-list groups in the Congress and even encouraged break ups among the party-lists. Secondly, the issue of accreditation weakens the chance of the party-list system to genuinely fulfill its promising purpose ― to serve the marginalized and the underrepresented sectors of the society. Moreover, the party-lists are co-opted by traditional politics. The party-list legislation has not resulted to any concrete law that would directly benefit the underserved sectors of the Philippine society. Nonetheless, the future for the party-list system is still bright despite such failures. As Dr. Florangel Rosario Braid of the Justice Cecilia Munoz Palma Foundation said:

Those who argue that it [the party-list system] should be retained, and in fact strengthened, point to how it has been able to balance our “elite” democracy by providing representation to sectors which otherwise would have been excluded under our present political system. But how do we deal with blatant abuses like having individuals who had never been a part of the group that they are expected to represent? . . . It is about time that the system should be examined by groups from various sectors of society [emphasis added].

The party-list system as the sole legal or constitutional means by which the underrepresented and the marginalized sectors of the Philippine society assert their rights and be part of the Philippine legislature, despite its failure, should be braced and strengthened so as to serve its purpose truly.

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