Gone to the dogs?

Photo from Bulatlat.com

There’s now a party-list for drug addicts and alcoholics, one for adult school dropouts and one for foreign exchange dealers. The three groups are among the more than 100 party-list organizations that are seeking accreditation from the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) for the May 2013 and succeeding party-list polls.

I had the chance to review the initial list of party-list hopefuls, and upon seeing it, I felt a bit sad for the country’s party-list system. Party-list groups such as Addicts and Alcoholics Carrying the Message Association Inc. (AACMA); WWW.FOREXDEALERS.COM CORP; Adult School Drop Outs (ASD) Party-list and AKO AT ANG BASURA MOVEMENT (AKO BA), to name a few; made me pause for a bit and contemplate if the system really has gone to the dogs.

Republic Act No. 7941 or the “Party-List System Act” provides that the State shall promote proportional representation in the House of Representatives for Filipino citizens belonging to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors in society. No doubt, the spirit and intent of the system is genuine and deserves our full support.

But since 1995, when the bill was enacted into law, the Party-list system of representation have been bastardized and abused to no end. And the ways and methods employed by enterprising party-lists and their representatives in circumventing this system range from evidently mendacious to downright brilliant.

Bastardized

We have seen personalities who have shamelessly used the Party-list as a ‘backdoor entry’ to Congress. Take the case of Presidential son and former Pampanga Congressman Mikey Arroyo. This self-proclaimed representative of Filipino security guards managed to win a Party-list seat two years ago. Gen. Jovito Palparan, notoriously known as “The Butcher” for his alleged lead role in murdering unarmed political activists wherever he is assigned, was also catapulted to Congress thru his party-list BANTAY. By no stretch of imagination would anyone – not even a toothless, shirtless jeepney barker – would believe that these buffoons belong to a marginalized sector. But they passed COMELEC screening anyway.

And so while a son of a former President and an infamous military general successfully landed seats intended for the poor in Congress, a lot of legitimate party-lists were denied accreditation by the poll body. Migrante Sectoral Party, who has members in more than 22 countries worldwide, was stricken off the list of qualified party-lists in 2010. COURAGE Government Employees Party-list was also disqualified in that same year.

187 Party-list organizations were accredited by the COMELEC for the 2010 elections. Of that number, 116 are parties with names starting with the letter “A” or the number “1”. Apparently, these parties desperately scrambled to land the top spot in the ballot to secure the votes of the ‘I-have-no-idea-about-the-Party-list-system-anyway-so-I-will-just-vote-for-the-one-on-top-of-the-list’ and the ‘I-have-no-time-to-skim-through-the-hordes-of-party-list-bets-so-I-will-just-vote-for-the-one-on-top-of-the-list’ type of voters. And, indeed, there were a lot of them! Just ask the 1-United Transport Koalisyon or 1-UTAK who were widely believed to win a seat in Congress by doing just that.

Thus, it is of no surprise that there are quarters that are calling for the re-examination of the party-list system with the view of strengthening it further. Others have gone as far as calling scrapping it altogether.

Vigilance is key

Indeed, steps must be done to insulate the party-list system from further bastardization and abuse, and this is not a task we should leave to the COMELEC or Congress alone. Ordinary citizens, most especially the legitimate party-list organizations must do something to uphold the genuine spirit and intent by which the law was crafted.

We must remain vigilant and keep a close watch on the COMELEC’s screening of party-lists and their nominees. Fake party-list organizations and charlatans who obviously do not belong to the marginalized sector should not be allowed to participate. They defeat the very purpose of the party-list system.

Aside from this, measures must also be undertaken by the COMELEC to keep the Party-list system more accessible and affordable. The system, after all, is for the poor, the marginalized and the underrepresented.

The P10, 000 filing fee and the legal research fee of P100 for filing of petitions for registration must be lowered if not scrapped. Filing fees (P10, 000) for petitions for cancellation of registration or disqualification of party-list and their nominee/s must likewise be lowered if not scrapped. A crackdown on reported syndicates that allegedly sell party-list registrations and nominations must also be carried out by the COMELEC.

Lastly, the COMELEC must conduct a massive and systematic information campaign to educate the public on the Party-list system. The phenomenon of party-lists scrambling for the topmost spot in the party-list ballot to capitalize on the huge number of uninformed voters is a clear indication of this very urgent need.

Undeniably, the party-list system of representation must be strengthened and protected from abuse. People’s vigilance is key to attaining this. Huwag nating sayangin ang dalisay na mithiin ng sistema para bigyan ng pagkakataon ang mga maliliit na tao na makabahagi sa pag-gawa ng mga batas para sa ikabubuti ng kanilang sektor.

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