“A social justice tool designed not only to give more law to the great masses of our people who have less in life, but also to enable them to become veritable lawmakers themselves, empowered to participate directly in the enactment of laws designed to benefit them” – this is how the Philippine party-list system was described back in 2001, three years after it was first implemented.
The party-list system was then seen as a hallmark in the democratization of the Philippine government. Signed into law in March 1995, Republic Act No. 7941 or the Party-List System Act seeks to equalize the electoral playing field by providing a fifth of the seats at the House of Representatives to sectoral groups, organizations, and political parties of the marginalized. In doing so, it challenges the elitism and nepotism that has long pervaded the corridors of our public office. However, around two decades, four presidents, and six legislative sessions after, questions around the system still persist.
In his calls for a new constitution, President Rodrigo Duterte has insisted upon the abolition of the party-list system. The President remarked that party-lists must be stricken off the Constitution since it has been abused by the rich and powerful. Those who have the power to mount a nationwide campaign win over those who have genuine platforms for social justice.
Instead of seating representatives of farmers, fisherfolk, laborers, youth, women, the elderly, overseas workers, indigenous peoples, and other marginalized sectors in Congress, the party-list system has provided another avenue for political clans and corporations to flourish.
At first glance, the points Duterte has made are valid; we can no longer tolerate corruption in the government. However, he is opting to remove a constitutional guarantee for the voiceless Filipino to be heard.
What Duterte fails to see, and what we must build upon, are the small yet significant victories that we have earned thanks in part to the party-lists in Congress that truly forward the agenda of the people. Progressive party-lists have led in propounding the causes that triumph the Filipino people’s collective and unwavering effort. With such party-lists forwarding the people’s agenda towards legislation, the nation is a few steps closer towards genuine social justice and democracy.
To cure the party-list system of its ills, we must root out the causes of oppression whether in the electoral process, in political participation, or in the socio-economic and political order. The government must work harder in ensuring the broadest representation in the party-list polls. In line with this, the platforms and programs of these party-lists must truly represent the interests of marginalized groups and sectors, not individuals or organizations with vested self-interests.
Essentially, the party-list system is not the panacea to the problems in Philippine society. However, the party-lists that truly stand with the people can do much more with our support behind them as they promote the campaigns of the masses, advocate sincere changes in policy, and reach these calls to the farthest stretches of the country. Democracy is not merely being able to vote, but being able to stand for our rights. # nordis.net