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Ruling on the Party List

Ruling on the Party List

Jan 14, 2012

Ruling on the Party List By Miriam Coronel Ferrer By significantly reversing the Panganiban doctrine on the party list system, the Supreme Court is ushering a change that could be of lasting import to the nature of the Lower House. The so-called Panganiban doctrine, named after former Supreme Court justice Artemio Panganiban who authored the previous ruling, can be described as a “strict” interpretation of the law. It imposed the minimum two percent of votes cast for the party list requirement to earn one seat and made additional seats proportional to the total votes of the highest-scoring party list group. As a result, only 22 seats were earned and Bayan Muna that got more than 6 percent of the total votes cast for the party list in the 2007 election was given only two seats. The new ruling, on the other hand, can be described as “liberal”. It discarded the 2 percent criteria, and gave more value to the constitutional provision that said that party list groups shall make up 20 percent of the membership of the House. Party list representatives currently comprise less than 10 percent of the 238-strong House. Consequently, the Supreme Court ruled adding 32 to make 54 party list seats or 20 percent of the new total of 270 House seats. I’ll leave the legal complications to the lawyers and the mathematical soundness of the new formula to the statisticians. Allow me to focus on the political ramifications Positive 

 Let’s start with the positive. Most important, the increase enhances representation of groups beyond the big parties dominated by political clans. I won’t be exaggerating when I say that the party list provision in the Constitution allowed for radical possibilities considering how farmers, workers and left-of-center groups were effectively denied this avenue for political participation before. Since the 1995 Party List Law was passed, a number of political movements and sectoral groups have successfully converted their strength in numbers to seats in the House. The greater possibilities offered by the new decision might encourage those who espouse the use of arms to strategically channel their energies to greater electoral victories, the way the Marxists in Latin America and the Maoists in Nepal have done. Interestingly, the ruling has dampened the unrelated effort to increase the members of the House. While merited in some provinces and big cities, so far the proposals to increase the members of the House are devoid of a rational scheme. Rather, the proposals are driven largely by elite interest to subdivide turfs and avoid costly competition with each other. Senator Juan Ponce Enrile has withdrawn his bill to raise the maximum seats in the House to 350 given that it would translate, effortlessly on their part, into 16 more seats to party list groups. Negative

 A serious negative consequence is the greater budgetary burden for the new members -- with little guarantee that the body will pass better laws, be more transparent, and behave without fear of or favor from the presidency. Also, the relative ease in winning a seat can lead to even more manananggal groups --- those fly-by-night, half-entities with no real grounding among the marginalized sectors and other interest groups they supposedly represent. Then there are the tikbalangs -- horse-like creatures in Filipino mythology-- that are really political dynasties in disguise, furthering their political dominion using the party list as fronts. An example is the party list Kasangga, which will land a fourth Arroyo in Congress, the sister no less of presidential spouse Mike Arroyo. On top of these are the halimaw groups, party lists led by people who have not been indicted for any of their heinous crimes because they enjoy the favor of the highest offices in the land. We already have kapres in Congress. Do we really need the manananggal, tikbalang and halimaw to join the show? Incremental change

 So far the negative seems to outweigh the positive. But let’s try to squeeze a little more positive in this new ruling on the assumption that institutional change is an excruciatingly slow, incremental process.

The entry of ideologically diverse personalities in the House could at least lead to more ideological debate taking place in Congress. As it is, the major political parties are distinguished neither by platform nor policy orientation. In this situation, those with defined policy orientations are welcome to enrich policy debates on the floor. I look forward to how sociologist-economist Walden Bello of Akbayan will challenge the Nograles bill on its economic merits. So far, the controversy on the proposed amendment has focused on the suspicious intent behind it. Whether or not liberalizing and opening up land to foreign ownership is beneficial is not being discussed. I cringe at the thought of Jovito Palparan (BANTAY) sitting in Congress, with not one case lodged against him to prevent it. But his presence might at least spark a serious discourse on national security policies, with him (and ANAD) batting for strong-arm counter-insurgency measures. Let this be the chance then to expose Palparan’s dangerous mindset to greater public scrutiny. Let him shoot himself in the foot with his many “profound” thoughts on the best way to deal with his favorite subversives. It’s still better than having him loose in the field shooting with a real gun.   (Published in: Focus on the Philippines May 2009, http://focusweb.org/oldphilippines/content/view/289/52/)

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