Urgent need to revise the party-list system

The 1987 Constitution created the party-list system for underrepresented community sectors, including labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous, women, youth, and other such groups as may be defined by law (except the religious sector). However, a 2013 Supreme Court decision clarified that the party-list is a system of proportional representation open to various kinds of groups and parties, and not an exercise exclusive to marginalized sectors.

On March 3, 1995, President Fidel V. Ramos signed into law Republic Act No. 7941 or the Party-List System Act, mandating the state to promote proportional representation in the House of Representatives through a party-list system. The law provides that a group has to get at least 2 percent of the total votes cast in a party-list election to get one congressional seat. The top party list groups may have a maximum of three seats each.

The incoming 19th Congress will have 316 representatives—63 for party-list and 253 for legislative districts. For the allocation of seats, party-list groups are ranked from the highest to the lowest based on votes garnered. The groups garnering at least 2 percent of the total votes cast are guaranteed one seat each. Those garnering a sufficient number of votes, according to the ranking, shall be entitled to additional seats in proportion to their total number of votes—a three-seat cap is imposed such that a party-list cannot hold more than three seats regardless of the votes garnered. Then, one seat to each of the parties next in rank shall be assigned until all 63 representations are completed.

The determination of what parties are allowed to participate—who their nominees should be, how the winners should be determined, and the allocation of seats for the winning parties—has been controversial ever since the party-list election was first contested in 1998.

For the May 9 elections, the Comelec has listed a record 177 party-list groups. Poll watchdog Kontra Daya said that far from representing marginalized sectors, the majority of the 177 party-list groups seeking at least one sectoral seat in the House of Representatives are linked to powerful interest groups.

Kontra Daya said at least 120 (or 67 percent) of the 177 party list groups accredited by the Comelec were either connected to political clans, big business, incumbent politicians, the government or the military; have pending court cases or criminal charges; or have dubious backgrounds.

“The country’s party-list system continues to be hijacked by the rich and powerful. Around 70 percent of party list groups are being used as a backdoor to further entrench their political and economic interests,” the poll watchdog said.

In the May 9 polls, only six out of 177 party-list groups were able to make it in the party-list race, as the record number of groups accredited by the Comelec had also served to lessen the number of votes. The six winning party-list groups are ACT-CIS (5.76 percent of the votes), 1-Rider (2.74 percent), Tingog (2.42 percent), 4Ps (2.32 percent), Ako Bicol (2.25) and Sagip (2.14 percent). But, as we said earlier, parties next in rank—from seventh place downwards—will be assigned one seat each until all 63 party-list seats are completed.

The farce that the party-list system has become is now a full-fledged tragedy after the May 9, 2022 elections. “The Comelec should explain why it continues to allow dubious groups to hijack the party-list system, depriving marginalized groups from having a voice at the House of Representatives,” Kontra Daya said.

The intention of the 1987 Constitution to provide space for the democratic representation of marginalized sectors in the House of Representatives has been taken over by political dynasties, big business and other powerful individuals. Retired Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban said that the current party-list system can be “manipulated” to serve the interests of a select few. He called for the urgent revision of the law. Indeed, the past three decades have seen the party-list system steadily transmogrify into yet another monster in our dysfunctional political system. It’s time for real change.

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