In 2012, the Comelec initiated special proceedings that sought the disqualification of several partylist groups after public outcry over the proliferation of nominees who were neither marginalized nor underrepresented. Groups like Kontra Daya filed disqualification cases against what they described as “fake” or non-marginalized partylist groups.
The groups disqualified by the Comelec soon brought their case to the Supreme Court. With the consolidation of 54 petitions from 52 party-list groups in 2013, the SC was prompted to decide on Comelec’s disqualification case against various groups from running in the May elections of the same year.
Among the most common grounds that Comelec cited for the disqualifications were:
1. The sector the party-lists aimed to represent were neither marginalized nor underrepresented
2. The nominees did not belong to those sectors
3. The nominees / political parties did not have extended histories in supporting their chosen sectors
A number of the grounds for disqualification were essentially rendered null by the SC decision, which set six new parameters to which the Comelec must adhere in determining who was allowed to participate in the May 2013 elections. The decision’s fourth parameter states that “it is enough that the party-lists’ principal advocacy pertains to the special interests and concerns of the sector.”
Renato Reyes, secretary-general of Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN), said that this results in narrower representation, especially when measuring who gets to sit. “Mas-kumikitid yung representation… kasi yung party-list sana would have allowed other sectors to be represented. Pero yung mga dati nang nakaupo, gusto nila pati iyong partylist i-claim nila, hawakan nila, because it helps concentrate power in the hands of a few.”
While disadvantaged groups have their own seats, the law in its current form does not protect them from unfair competition, according to Reyes. “Ang dilemma is how can they compete during the elections doon sa mga dynastic party-list groups, tsaka sa mga well-funded local machineries? So yung mga party-list groups na talagang galing sa mga mahihirap yung kanilang kinatawan, lagi silang mahihirapang mag-compete and manalo ‘pag ang kalaban nga nila yung mga dynasties at yung mga bilyonaryo.”
Meanwhile, Panao said that the low requirement of only two percent to gain seats, albeit limited to three, also results in almost identical parties. “Hindi sila ganun ka-productive kasi hindi sila maka-forge ng alliance… hindi sila nagtutulungan kasi ine-alienate mo na no’ng kampanya ninyo; nagkaroon ng fragmentation sa halip na unity. Parties are meant to unify your preferences, that’s the point of party-list, whether you like it or not.”
In the 17th congress, Kalinga Party-list, whose nominee is one of the poorest in Congress, was only able to file a total of 40 bills, whereas Ako Bicol Party-list, which listed multi-millionaires Christopher Co and Rodel Batocabe, filed 1,163 bills.
Despite the high number of bills authored and co-authored by Ako Bicol, only 55 unique bills were passed into law. The party-list was the main sponsor of 39 of these bills, and a co-sponsor of 16. These laws, however, were not directly concerned with the welfare of Bicolanos, the region they claim to represent.
In his statement in an interview with ABS-CBN, the late Ako Bicol Rep. Rodel Batocabe said that authoring bills that would only benefit Bicol would be “tantamount to class legislation and a violation of the equal protection clause of the constitution.”
“Amend it or craft a new law that defines with lesser ambiguity – with no ambiguity – those gray portions and those gray areas of the law. Ang nangyayari sa akin ngayon we have the law, we don’t amend it, and we let the Supreme Court do the interpretation,” Panao said.
*The authors are students of Prof. Danilo Arao in Journalism 117 or Online Journalism.
Read part two: Party-list groups: family enterprise
Read part three: Business league: Congress of the elite