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The Party List System: A Quick Introduction

The Party List System: A Quick Introduction

Jan 14, 2012

The Party List System: A Quick Introduction

by Jenina Joy Chavez

Abetting deep-seated social and economic inequities in the country is an elite-captured political system that stifles the political space counter the benefit of ordinary citizens. In particular, the formal electoral system – the mechanism by which citizens get the chance to elect their leaders and the people who will run the country – has been dominated by the clichéd guns, goons and gold.

The Party-List System is supposed to be one way to remedy the gaps of representational democracy in the country by breaking the monopoly of the big traditional parties and tempering the propensity for personality politics. Under this system, citizens vote for parties rather than for candidates, and parties are given electoral seats based on the proportion of votes they get. This way, citizens are given a bigger voice as more parties may be voted into office. And because parties are elected rather than individuals, parties have bigger space to concentrate on platforms and programs rather than on packaging their individual candidates.
The Party-List System is based on Republic Act 7941 (An Act Providing for the Election of Party-List Representatives through the Party-List System, and Appropriating Funds Therefor, or simply the Party-List System Act) signed into law in March 1995. This law states that “The State shall promote proportional representation in the election of representatives to the House of Representatives through a party-list system of registered national, regional and sectoral parties or organizations or coalitions thereof, which will 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.”

Pertinent provisions of the Party-List System Act include:
–    Every voter gets two (2) votes: one for the district representative; and one for the party-list.
–    Party-list representatives shall constitute 20% of the total number of the members of the House of Representatives including those under the party-list. That is, 20% of 250 or 50 seats. The House of Representatives currently has 265 members.
–    Parties are ranked from the highest to the lowest based on the number of votes garnered during the elections.
o    Parties receiving at least two percent (2%) of the total votes cast for the party-list system shall be entitled to one seat each.
o    Parties with more than two percent (2%) of the votes are entitled to additional seats in proportion to their total number of votes
o    Each party is allowed a maximum of three (3) seats.
–    Party-list representatives have a term of office of three (3) years.
–    Party-list representatives can have a maximum of three (3) consecutive terms.

Upon interpretation of the Supreme Court, several major clarifications were highlighted:
–    The 20% allocation is not mandatory, that is, not all 50 seats need to be filled up. (SC October 6, 1998 decision)
–    Major political parties are disallowed from participating directly or indirectly in the Party-List election;
–    The 2% rule must be observed in the allocation of additional Party-List seats. An updated interpretation of the law made by the Supreme Court in April 2009 declared unconstitutional the two percent threshold in the distribution of additional party-list seats, saying that it is an “unwarranted obstacle” to the attainment of “the broadest possible representation of party, sectoral or group interests in the House of Representatives.”
The law was first implemented in the May 1998 elections. The absence of a systematic voter education program at the time, however, resulted in only a quarter of those who actually participated in the 1998 elections voting for the Party-List. The percentage has improved since then, reaching 53% in the 2007 elections. Still, gaps in data made publicly available by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) constrain a more accurate reading of turnouts.  (See Table 1 for the number of votes cast for the party-list.)

Table 1
How Popular?
Votes Cast for Party-List

Election Year

Votes Cast for


Total Votes Cast

% of Votes for Party-List













* Percentages (for available data) are  computed from the COMELEC database: http://www.comelec.gov.ph

A weakness has been the interpretation of the allocation of seats, preventing the filling-up of the 55 (formerly 52) seats reserved for the Party-List system. Only 13 parties with 14 representatives took their seats in 1998. In 2007, only 17 seats were filled, later on increased to 22. With the recent SC decision clarifying the system and setting the formula for allocation of seats, 32 more seats are supposed to be filled. (See Table 2 for Parties and their representatives that have assumed office under the Party-List system.)
The type of parties, sectoral or group interest that can be represented in the Party-List System has also been a contentious issue. In the 2001 elections, the number of parties participating rose to 162. This number whittled down after a stricter interpretation of the law and the decision barring major parties from participating.
The biggest concern about the Party-List system came when the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism released a document outlining the alleged plan of the administration to use the Party-List system to field their own parties to neutralize the impact of ‘Left’ parties winning seats, and to aid in their agenda in Congress. Indeed, the 2007 elections witnessed the participation of parties with retired military officers or personalities closely identified with the administration of Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Overall, the Party-List System has been able to introduce democratic improvements in the country’s electoral and legislative politics. Parties representing marginalized groups and alternative ideas have been able to penetrate Congress and have created a little bit more space, especially for issues usually avoided by a Congress dominated by the oligarchy. A lot of work has to be done still, not least of which is safeguarding the system against unscrupulous manipulation as has happened in 2007.


(Published in: Focus on the Philippines May 2009, htt http://focusweb.org/oldphilippines/content/view/296/52/)

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