January 29, 2010

The ins and outs of the party-list system

An update first on the previous post on redistricting. It is interesting to note out that in 1990, the first census after the 1987 constitution was promulgated, the population of the Philippines was at 60,703,206. According to the 2007 census, the population is 88,542,548. That is a 46% increase from 1990; if we will recalculate the minimum population as stated in the 1987 constitution, the new limit should be 365,000. This is still lower than what was previously calculated at 442,713, and probably tells us the bar then was set too low.

By now you should be well aware of the party-list system. The party-list system gives voters a "second voice" in Congress: instead of one voice coming from their district representative, we have a second representative in the form of party-lists.

Ideally, party-lists (I don't know why we call them "party-list organizations" since the party-lists are parties -- they are organizations already) should come from an underrepresented sector of the society, like the poor, women, laborers and the like. However, many party list organizations have become fronts of certain politicians, socio-political/religious groups and the like.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.usParty-lists aren't new. Party-lists are prevalent in Europe where one house of their legislature is elected in two ways: via the usual single-member constituencies, and the other via the party-list system.

In countries such as Germany, the ratio among district and party-list representatives is 1:1, that is, for every district representative, there is one party-list representative. However, one difference from the German system is that the parties contending the party-list election are parties that also contest the district elections.

The 1986 Constitutional Commission set-up the party-list system to allow more participation from the disadvantaged sectors, and to introduce proportional representation in the country. The party-list system was first implemented in the 2001 election; prior to that, the seats reserved for the party-list representatives -- then called "sectoral representatives" -- were appointed by the President. However, during President Aquino's first nominations for such sectoral representatives, the Commission on Appointments (composed of members from both houses of Congress) decreed that the appointments have to go through them. Cory would've liked to give those seats to people who should had represented such disadvantaged sectors (and as reward to people who had helped her be put to power), but the mix of her being careful not to displease anybody, and the CA's tight grip on appointees who are against their interests, made sure that such sectoral representatives appointments come at a trickle.

By the time it was finally implemented in 2001, Bayan Muna was the first party-list proclaimed by the commission, but they protested each and every pre-proclamation of candidates it took until the 2004 elections to sort out the mess. The enabling law per se was crafted so badly interpreting it needs a doctoral degree in statistics to make it work.

In the Philippines, the ratio is ideally 4:1 in favor of the district representatives. But due to the piecemeal redistricting ad infinitum of the country into many microscopic constituencies, the number has increased to 229 (the Malolos district was declared unconstitutional). This caused the party-list membership to increase to 58 -- if you'll add this up, the total membership will be 286 members, more than the 250 stated in the constitution (although the constitution is murky if the 250 limit can be surpassed even without the benefit of a law). (The formula is (Number of district representatives / 0.8) * 0.2.)

Notwithstanding the constitutionality of the maximum number of House members, and unless the Supreme Court nullifies other laws on new districts, we will have 58 party-list members in the house. The commission has approved 150 party-lists this election, and for a party-list to be guaranteed one seat, it has to win at least 2% of the national vote. Any other additional seats depends on its total votes, and the amount of seats remaining once all party-lists with 2% of the vote already have seats.

Note that there's a catch on this provision: the mathematical maximum of party-lists winning that 2% is 50. If each of those 50 party-lists won 2% of the vote, there'll be eight left additional seats -- this may not mirror the party-list vote which was the entire purpose of the system in the first place!

So what are the gimmicks done by the party-lists to get the bigger share of that party-list pie? Some of them are ingenious, such as having the first letter of their party start with the letter "A," since the parties are arranged alphabetically in the ballot. Hence a lot of "Alliance of (x)" party-lists, and party-lists that start with letter "A"; a total of 77 party-lists or 51% have names that start with the letter "A".

Some parties went further: why not used numerals as the first word in their names, so even they'd be in front of the 77 that begin with letter "A?" A total of 7 (5%) party-lists have their names starting with a numeral; the first party-list on your ballot is 1-AANI (COMELEC didn't disclose their full name). Someday, parties will emulate *N-SYNC and use special characters to stay first in the ballots, like *ANG-LADLAD.

Other party-lists are fronts by some politicians who want to get into Congress via the backdoor. One such party-list is "The True Marcos Loyalist (For God, Country and People) Association of the Phils" aka the Bantay (I don't know how they got that acronym) party-list. Their first nominee is the controversial general Jovito Palparan. I don't know if Palparan is a Marcos crony, a Marcos fanatic, or whatever Marcos-(insert word here). Palparan won't need Bantay at least for the 2010 election since he's running for the Senate as an independent.

Still others are fronts of other organizations. For example is "Buhay Hayaang Yumabong (BUHAY)" whose first nominee is Rene M. Velarde, son of El Shaddai leader Mike Velarde. Another is Alagad party-list, which is primarily composed of Iglesia ni Cristo members. And of course who would forget Bayan Muna and related party-lists which are alleged fronts of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

This 2010, it is important to know who are the nominees of the party-lists that you have considered for your vote. Remember, these nominees are ranked, those who are named first will be seated if they win at least 2%. You only have one vote, but it could be crucial (heh, here we go again), since that one vote may be the deal-breaker specially for parties just under the 2% limit. As advocated by everyone in their right frame of mind, if you're planning to support an disadvantaged sector of our society by giving them a seat in Congress, make sure you are voting for the right party.

Next week: How we elect our Senators

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