ABOL­ISH OR RE­FORM PARTY-LIST SYTEM

Philippine Daily Inquirer - - FRONT PAGE - ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN ———— Com­ments to chiefjus­ti­cepan­gani­ban@hot­mail.com

Ut­terly bereft of lo­cal con­sti­tu­tional ances­try, the Filipino party-list was, from in­cep­tion, be­set by two tough ques­tions: (1) Who can qual­ify for and hold party-list seats, and (2) How many should the seats be? Last Sun­day, I tack­led ques­tion 1; now, I will take up ques­tion 2. To de­ter­mine the win­ners in a party

list elec­tion, Vet­er­ans Fed­er­a­tion Party vs Com­elec ( Oct. 6, 2000), the ear­li­est ju­rispru­dence on the sub­ject via a 12-3 vote, man­dated “four in­vi­o­lable pa­ram­e­ters.” The first was extracted from the Con­sti­tu­tion and the other three from the Par­tyList Law (RA 7941), as fol­lows:

“First, the twenty per­cent al­lo­ca­tion— the com­bined num­ber of all party-list con­gress­men shall not ex­ceed twenty per­cent of the to­tal mem­ber­ship of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, in­clud­ing those elected un­der the party-list;

“Sec­ond, the two per­cent thresh­old— only those par­ties gar­ner­ing a min­i­mum of two per­cent of the to­tal valid votes cast for the party-list sys­tem are ‘qual­i­fied’ to have a seat in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives;

“Third, the three seat limit—each qual­i­fied party, re­gard­less of the num­ber of votes it ob­tained, is en­ti­tled to a max­i­mum of three seats, that is, one ‘qual­i­fy­ing’ and two ad­di­tional seats; (and)

“Fourth, pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion— the ad­di­tional seats which a party is en­ti­tled to shall be com­puted ‘in pro­por­tion to their to­tal num­ber of votes.’”

I will no longer de­tail the for­mula gen­er­ated by the Court from th­ese pa­ram­e­ters. Suf­fice it to say that it re­sulted in the elec­tion of only a few can­di­dates, be­low the 20-per­cent al­lo­ca­tion, which the Court ruled to be merely a ceil­ing, not a manda­tory num­ber to at­tain.

Be­cause of this paucity of win­ners, the Vet­er­ans for­mula was crit­i­cized by the losers, con­ve­niently for­get­ting that the Vet­er­ans de­ci­sion it­self ac­knowl­edged the in­evitabil­ity of dis­tor­tions, but only be­cause the for­mula (chris­tened by the le­gal com­mu­nity as the “Panganiban for­mula” as I was the writer of the de­ci­sion) merely re­flected the dis­tor­tions in the Party-list Law. That was why Vet­er­ans, an­tic­i­pat­ing th­ese crit­i­cisms, sug­gested a re­vi­sion of the law to cure the dis­tor­tions.

The Court re­fused to nul­lify any pro­vi­sion of the Party-list Law. Af­ter all, the Char­ter gave Congress wide dis­cre­tion to shape the Filipino party-list sys­tem. Warts and all, the Panganiban for­mula was unani

mously re­it­er­ated in Par­tido ng Mang­ga­gawa vs Com­elec (March 15, 2006) and Cibac vs Com­elec (April 13, 2007).

How­ever, on April 21, 2009 (af­ter I had re­tired), the Court is­sued Banat vs Com­elec, which mod­i­fied Vet­er­ans by award­ing seats to those gar­ner­ing less than 2 per­cent of the votes. To do this, it voided the sec­ond pa­ram­e­ter, say­ing that the 20-per­cent al­lo­ca­tion would never be reached if the 2-per­cent thresh­old were main­tained. Yet, it re­tained the third pa­ram­e­ter that lim­ited the top­notch­ers to three seats.

As a con­se­quence, the Court de­clared 55 party-list win­ners in­stead of only 22 if the Vet­er­ans for­mula were used. Thus, Buhay Party which gar­nered 1,169,243 votes (7.33 per­cent of the to­tal) was granted only three seats, while Co­cofed which ob­tained a measly 155,920 votes (or .98 per­cent of the to­tal) was given one seat. Un­der this rul­ing, a party that gets only 10,000 votes can win. Pre­pos­ter­ous, but cer­tainly pos­si­ble! Ob­vi­ously, the end re­sult was still dis­torted, as the newBanat for­mula failed to fol­low the fourth pa­ram­e­ter—pro­por­tional rep­re­sen­ta­tion. Be­cause the flood­gates to 20 per­cent of the House mem­ber­ship were opened by the scut­tling of the 2-per­cent thresh­old, and be­cause the “marginal­ized and un­der­rep­re­sented” doc­trine was over­turned per last Sun­day’s col­umn, the rich, the pow­er­ful and the dy­nas­ties now dom­i­nate our mon­gre­lized party-list sys­tem, to the cha­grin of the poor and the pow­er­less.

Given this dom­i­nance, amend­ing the Party-List Law is, I be­lieve, no longer vi­able. The dom­i­nant solons will not al­low it. Only a con­sti­tu­tional re­vi­sion via a con­sti­tu­tional con­ven­tion, not via a con­stituent assem­bly of Congress, may be the an­swer: Ei­ther abol­ish the party-list, which in the first place was just an ex­per­i­ment that has gone berserk, or in­sti­tute the nec­es­sary re­forms.

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