KASAMA Vol. 17 No. 3 / July-August-September 2003 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

With elections in the Philippines scheduled for 10th May 2004, and for the first time absentee overseas citizens will be able to exercise their constitutional right to vote, we asked Irynn Abano of the Akbayan! Task Force on Absentee Voting to give us an update on the party-list system.

A PARTY-LIST system is any system of proportional representation in which voters choose among parties rather than among candidates. Votes are awarded to parties in proportion to the votes they receive. Most countries in Europe, as well as Russia, South Africa and Israel favor some form of party-list system because it opens up the political process beyond one or two dominating political parties.

A party-list system can help create a healthy democracy, providing a citizens' voice in Congress and in local government. The Philippine party-list system aims to increase the representation, particularly of "marginalized and underrepresented" sectors and enhance transparency and accountability, leading to more efficient government. Political parties are strengthened, encouraging program and platform-based politics instead of weak affiliations between opportunists. This challenges moneyed and patronage politics that have bred corruption and inefficiency, hindering the country's development.

In the Philippines, voters have two votes for their congressional representatives. The first elects a district representative. The second elects a party-list representative. Twenty percent of the 260 seats in the House of Representatives are reserved for party-list. Every 2% of total party-list votes cast gets a seat in the House, with each party allowed only a maximum of three seats.

District representatives act on behalf of their own district, tending to make laws for the good of their constituencies alone e.g. building sheds, basketball courts, etc. Party-list representatives, on the other hand, are national candidates elected by voters countrywide and thus have a broad vision for national good. They are not the "trapos" (traditional politicians) whose party loyalties is superficial and who are chosen for their popularity. They sit in the House for a party that is elected to Congress on the basis of its electoral platform and thus push their party's programs. They are accountable to the party they represent and can be removed and replaced by it if they violate its principles or programs, as in the case of corruption.

The party-list system is based on Republic Act 7941 which was signed into law on March 3, 1995. In keeping with the call for "new politics", this system reflects the move towards program-based politics focused on competent parties with comprehensive programs rather than on personalities and "trapos".

The Filipino electorate was first introduced to this system during the May 1998 elections. 123 party-list organizations registered but only 13 (with a total of 14 representatives), including Akbayan! and Sanlakas, received 2% of total votes. Of the 80% total voter turnout, only 26% cast their party-list vote. This was expected as the Commission on Elections (Comelec) failed to conduct a comprehensive education campaign. As a result, 38 party-list seats in Congress were not filled.

In 2001, there were 162 party-list organizations which participated in the elections. Eventually, a number were disqualified and only four parties were proclaimed to have won seats in the House. Eventually, eight more were proclaimed to have been elected to Congress, although getting a seat much later, a number only this year, just a few months from the next elections. Comelec reported that 11,434,554 party-list votes were cast, 42% of the total 35,297,479 voters.

Some party-list organizations were: sectoral groups (such as Abanse! Pinay representing women, NFSCFO representing small coconut farmers); people's organizations (ABA representing farmers, peasants and fisherfolk, AKO representing the urban poor); as well as multi-sectoral coalitions (Sanlakas for instance); and political parties (like Akbayan!). In the 2001 elections, only 64 met the 8-point guideline issued by the Supreme Court. The others, big traditional parties like Lakas and NPC, Filipino Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Inc. controlled by Lucio Tan (hardly a "marginalized and underrepresented" sector), actor Richard Gomez' DILG/PNP-related and government-funded Mamamayang Ayaw sa Droga, and the True Marcos Loyalist Association, clearly defeat the spirit and purpose of the party-list system and thus were belatedly disqualified.

In the May 2004 elections, progressive party-list organizations will field local candidates across the country as part of their commitment to improve local governance, strengthen local government units and make them accessible and accountable to the people. They will also support progressive senatorial bets as well as campaign against corrupt and turncoat candidates, those who consistently take anti-people positions on crucial national issues and incompetents or non-performers who personify the worst in traditional politics and are dangers to democracy.

Related Articles