THE charge by Panfilo “Ping” Morena Lacson Sr. that our party-list system has become a joke is actually not a joke anymore. It has whisked away its main purpose, requisites and processes and turned into a convenient mechanism control by the elites, dynasties and even professional opportunists.
Worse, its bastardization takes place steadily and smoothly because the Commission on Elections, Department of Justice, the House and the Senate, have not done anything to stop the assault.
Today, the party-list system is flooded by anybody from right to extreme right.
The party-list system was passed in 1995 with the purpose of giving more representation to program-based parties and political organizations rather than limit to the personality-based politics of the traditional politicians the political dynasties and clans behind them.
Our party-list system has similarity to the political system of most European countries, as well as Russia, South Africa and Israel. It promotes the political process beyond one or two dominating political parties as in the case of US.
In this system, the representation of “marginalized and underrepresented” sectors increases by giving 20 percent of the 260 House seats, and for every 2 percent of total party-list votes cast gets a seat in the House, with each party allowed only a maximum of three seats.
Therefore, or supposed to be, the system enhances democratic process, transparency and accountability in Philippine governance. In many ways, the system has set up a challenge for the moneyed and patronage politics that have dominated our system since the US-imposed Commonwealth system and then the consequent two-party system dominated by the ruling elites.
There were only 123 party-list organizations registered in 1998 elections but only 13 with a total of 14 representatives received 2 percent of total votes. However, the newness of the system explained why of the 80 percent total voters turnout only 26 percent cast their party-list vote. As a result, 38 party-list seats in Congress were not filled.
In 2001, there were 162 party-list organizations which participated in the elections. Eventually, a number were disqualified and only four parties were proclaimed to have won seats in the House, led by the militant Bayan Muna and Gabriela.
More than two decades after, the full 57 seats are repeatedly contested by more than 2.5 million voters, whose representatives are from left to right, with hundreds coming from overnight parties put up by political dynasties and families with interlocking operations, and as well as opportunist groups and notorious organizations who all see vast political and economic opportunities to make money in Congress.
Interestingly, sensing the entry of more militant left organizations vying for more seats notwithstanding the pseudo progressives and elite clans, and the stiffer competition with ruling party representatives, COMELEC, Malacañang and the political dynasties have been moving heaven and earth to cut to insignificant numbers the representation of genuine progressives and increase their favored parties.
In a number of instances, they even have the gall to move for the disqualification of Bayan Muna which is the representative of the basic sectors, and has the most consistent records in public service and struggle for genuine national freedom and democracy.
In recently concluded mid-term elections, it seems that some progressive party-lists like Anakpawis are being edged out by the more elitist and rightist groups.
But no matter how the COMELEC and the elites argue with all sorts of legal and technical arguments, the current trends expose the conspiracy of the administration, the pseudo liberals and the reactionary elites towards the “elitization” of the party-list system and eventually get in their likes in lieu of the progressives.
Still, their moves are bound to fail as mass poverty widens and sharpens the struggle between the forces of change and the status quo.
Apparently, the national democratic movement in our country, in this region and province, have already learned valuable lessons from elections and parliamentary struggle, that is, never make it as the only way to real social change.
The way to genuine national freedom and democracy is always a combination of parliamentary struggle and mass actions, legal and extralegal, above ground and underground, urban and countryside.
In the short run, the elites’ buildup of their trenches in Congress and local governments will never be able to stop the surge of the democratic and patriotic forces who are founded not despair but on unity and hope for a better tomorrow.
Democratization not “elitization” of our political system is the way towards social justice.