Barely a month before the next national and local elections are held on May 9, debates resume on whether to abolish or modify the representations of the existing party lists in the Congress of our country. Heading into the home stretch of the 90-day election campaign period, President Rodrigo Duterte lashed out at how some entrenched communist political dynasties and “legal fronts” have used the party list system to stay in power and take control of government policies.
During the last two weeks of his public speeches, President Duterte has particularly focused on the five party list groups of the “Makabayan bloc” in the House of Representatives. The five left-wing parties – Bayan Muna, Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), Kabataan, Gabriela and Anakpawis – have been accused of “ideological objectives” such as their advocacy in Congress which seeks the overthrow of the government through armed rebellion.
The party list system took root in the country’s 1987 Constitution which provided for at least 20% of the lower house for marginalized or underrepresented sectors of society, including workers, peasants, the urban poor, indigenous cultural groups, women, youth, veterans or elders groups and other sectors (except religious organizations) as defined by enabling legislation.
Thus, the Party List System Law, or Republic Act (RA) No. 7941, was approved and signed into law on March 3, 1995 by former President Fidel Ramos. It mandated that “the state shall promote proportional shares of seats in the House of Representatives through a party list system.” Unlike regular members of the House who are elected from their respective congressional constituencies, party list representatives are elected nationally.
However, the 2013 Supreme Court (SC) decision clarified that the party list system is open to various types of groups and parties, not just an exclusive exercise of marginalized sectors. This decision and other controversial High Court rulings on the party list system written separately by former SC judges Artemio Panganiban and Antonio Carpio changed the letter and intent of the original concept of RA 7941.
The late Senator Joker Arroyo attacked these SC decisions as having “deployed and engaged in judicial legislation” on the party list system.
President Duterte again echoed official lines from military and police institutions that these five militant groups of the “Makabayan bloc” would be “legal fronts” of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Although the CPP was legalized by another law signed by Pres. Ramos in 1995, his armed component – the New People’s Army (NPA) – remains classified as a threat to national security and is on the Counter-Terrorism Council’s watch list of terrorist groups. Likewise, the dismantling of the NPA remains the target of Duterte’s National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) established in 2018 to stamp out communist rebellion in the countryside.
After attending the NTF-ELCAC Region VII meeting held in Cebu on March 31, President Duterte asserted that the CPP-NPA was “leaderless” because its recognized CPP Chairman, Jose “Joma” Sison, was already absent. “Wala na si Joma,” joked the president amid rumors that Joma had been living in a political asylum in the Netherlands. At the campaign rally held hours later that night in Lapu-Lapu City for his administration-backed candidates, President Duterte urged Filipino voters not to re-elect these party list groups of ” Makabayan block”.
President Duterte then broadened his appeal against party list groups to include those led by political dynasties and the wealthy “elites”. Without giving names, the president lamented that these political dynasties and “elite” seek only to perpetuate their powers in Congress by bearing names ostensibly representing legitimate advocacy. The incumbent has warned that these party list groups actually represent in Congress those deep-rooted political dynasties protecting certain business interests and preserving wealth inequality in the country.
President Duterte has urged voters not to elect these types of party groups.
Based on the latest national Pulse Asia Ulat ng Bayan survey conducted from March 17-21, only eight of the 177 party list groups accredited by the Electoral Commission (Comelec) to participate in the upcoming elections would get enough of the required two percent total. votes cast for groups of party lists. Although there are so many choices on the ballot, voters will choose only one party list.
The Pulse Asia survey showed that only four of them would win additional seats in Congress, based on the decisions of the SC in the allocation of a maximum number of 63 seats in the Lower House, according to which Comelec would count on party group votes.
The four are, namely, ACT-CIS, Ako Bicol, Ang Probinsyano Party List (APPL) and An Waray. As such, it would get them three seats in the Lower House, the maximum number of seats a party list group can win in an election. Meanwhile, the same survey results showed the party list of the elderly; the militant women’s group Gabriela; 4P; and, Ako Ilocano Ako would win two seats while 43 other party list groups would win a single seat each.
Besides Gabriela, two other groups from the “Makabayan bloc” party list survived the Pulse Asia pre-election mock polls, namely Bayan Muna with 1.4 possible seats and ACT Teachers with 0.5 possible seats. The Kabataan and Anakpawis failed to enter the winners column in that same fictitious party list poll.
Thus, each party list group submitted earlier to Comelec its first three candidates in order who will occupy the three seats; or the first two candidates for the two seats, and, the first candidate to occupy a seat.
Being included in President Duterte’s “black list” could of course spell the end of party list groups with dubious claims to return to the next Congress.