THE way to save the party-list system from abuses is to have more marginalized and sectoral organizations participate in the elections.
Encourage these groups who represent sectors such as the elderly, youth, women, overseas workers, fisherfolk, professionals and veterans. There are many organizations that are authentic, small and more deserving of House of Representatives seats than some of those now in the current Congress.
But these groups feel inadequate and shy away from the elections for lack of resources, absence of a backer, or inadequate knowledge of the opportunities that await them. They should be encouraged to formalize their organizations, come up with the needed programs and structure, and work at having a track record of helping the sector.
There were calls made recently for removing the party-list system from the Constitution because it has become a venue for the rich and powerful to enter Congress without being elected for individual platforms.
President Rodrigo Duterte said last week the party-list system should be stricken off a new Constitution because of abuses where only those with financial resources to run a nationwide campaign can win. He said he will insist that the constitutional body to draft a new Constitution would delete that provision. “Ang nananalo yung may pera. (Those who win are those with money.) Representing the what? Security guards?” he said.
A total of 115 party-list groups joined the 2016 elections. Of this number, 46 won in the party-list polls and their nominees occupy 59 seats in the House of Representatives.
Republic Act 7941 known as the Party-List System Act says, “The State shall promote proportional representation in the…House of Representatives to…enable Filipino citizens belonging to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties, and who lack well-defined political constituencies but who could contribute to the formulation and enactment of appropriate legislation that will benefit the nation as a whole, to become members of the House of Representatives.”
The law also states that government shall develop and guarantee a “full, free and open party system in order to attain the broadest possible representation of party, sectoral or group interests in the House of Representatives by enhancing their chances to compete for and win seats in the legislature, and shall provide the simplest scheme possible.” It is in this second part of the law’s policy declaration that the government needs to work harder. It has to do more to let groups try for the party-list polls in order to have the broadest representation.
The Philippine Association of Retired Persons (Parp) is one such organization that tried twice in the party-list elections. It ran to represent the interests of the elderly and retired persons whose clamor for proper benefits needs legislative attention. It lost primarily because of lack of resources, and its additional attempts at the party-list polls got discouraged by politicians promising support in exchange for the number one nominee slot should it win.
The state may decide to take measures to strengthen the party-list system, instead of get rid of a constitutional guarantee that could benefit those without a voice.