Party-list: legislation is the solution (1)

Every election season, the party-list system always becomes a vortex of controversies. And yet, all the time, the controversies revolve around the same two basic questions: First, what and who are qualified to be party-list representatives? And second, how are party-list winners determined? I will tackle the first question today and will continue with the second next Sunday.

Marginalized and underrepresented. The 1987 Constitution injected, for the first time in our history, the party-list system (which is normally a component of the parliamentary system) into our presidential form of government by creating two types of congressmen—those elected by legislative districts, and those who, like senators, are elected nationally and yet take their seats in the House of Representatives.

Moreover, what are elected are organizations or political parties, not individuals. The lawmakers who actually sit as lawmakers are the “nominees” of these organizations.

In “Bagong Bayani vs. Comelec” (June 26, 2001), the Supreme Court—citing the Constitution and the Party-List Law (RA 7941)—ruled that, to qualify, party-lists “must factually and truly represent marginalized and underrepresented constituencies… and the persons nominated by the party-list candidate-organization must be Filipino citizens belonging to marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties.”

Furthermore, the major political parties cannot be elected as party-lists because they do not represent the marginalized and underrepresented; quite the contrary, they embody the political mainstream in the country and do not deserve a new constitutional haven.

As the ponente or decision writer, I anchored the ruling on the propoor policy declaration of the Party-List Law, consistent with my legal philosophy of favoring the underprivileged whenever possible. I viewed the party-list system as an opportunity to reform the political environment; otherwise, it would serve no useful purpose; worse, it would merely re-entrench “tradpols” and pollute politics further.

And so I wrote in part, “Crucial to the resolution of this case is the fundamental social policy principle that those who have less in life should have more in law. The party-list system is one such tool intended to benefit those who have less in life. It gives the great masses of our people genuine hope and genuine power. It is a message to the destitute and the prejudiced, and even to those in the underground, that change is possible. It is an invitation for them to come out of their limbo and seize the opportunity.”

Fortunately, a majority of the Court sided with me, voting 9-5, with one justice abroad.

Role of Comelec. The Court also held, “the role of the Comelec is to see to it that only those Filipinos who are marginalized and underrepresented become members of Congress under the party-list system, Filipino style.” Despite this crystal-clear language, the Comelec had been inconsistent, sometimes defiant, in discharging this simple duty.

For example, in Maza vs. Arroyo (July 19, 2010), the Comelec upheld Mikey Arroyo as the nominee of Ang Galing Pinoy, an organization of security guards, saying that Arroyo’s membership in the group is enough to qualify him even if he himself is not marginalized.

Recently, the Comelec—now under the leadership of Sixto Brillantes Jr.—firmly resolved to follow the guidelines enunciated by the “Ang Bagong Bayani” decision and purged the party-list system of undesirables. It disqualified Ang Galing Pinoy and other pretenders from the 2013 elections for failing to meet this propoor hurdle but did not dislodge incumbents for lack of jurisdiction.

Political will. The Supreme Court is the ultimate authority on legal matters. While the Comelec may disagree with the Court, it has absolutely no power to defy it. That is quite elementary. True, Ang Bagong Bayani was carried by a divided 9-5 vote. True, also, the high court—in “Banat vs Comelec” (April 21, 2009)—affirmed the Ang Bagong Bayani ban on major political parties via the slimmest vote of 8-7.

But incredibly, Congress—despite its current 20-percent party-list membership—has done nothing to help ease these recurrent problems. Until Congress finds the political will to clarify the system, party-list controversies will continue to hound the nation.

In sum, the real solution to the recurrent party-list row is more definitive and clear legislation to settle once and for all the nature and extent of the Filipino party-list system. Reliance on the Supreme Court and the Comelec is at best temporary because the Constitution left policy determination to Congress, not to the judiciary.
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Congratulations. Catholic Philippines was twice blessed this month with the canonization of the humble St. Pedro Calungsod and the elevation of the equally humble Archbishop Luis Antonio G. Tagle to the College of Cardinals. Cardinal Tagle joins the select few entitled to vote and be voted as the successor to Pope Benedict XVI. Indeed, he could be the first Filipino Pope!

Kudos also to BPI president and CEO Aurelio “Gigi” R. Montinola for having been chosen by the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP) as the “Management Man of the Year 2012.” Having been active in the MAP before joining the Supreme Court, I know how stringent the selection process is. And having personally known Gigi for many years, I know also that the award is well-deserved and in fact long overdue.
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