Abolish us? Party-list representatives: ‘We’re not all bad’

Mara Cepeda
Abolish us? Party-list representatives: ‘We’re not all bad’
Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin says party lists have helped pass landmark legislation in the past, including the Reproductive Health Law, the Sangguniang Kabataan Reform Law, and the Philippine Competition Act

MANILA, Philippines – Several party-list representatives protested against President Rodrigo Duterte’s preference to abolish all party lists should the 1987 Constitution be amended.  

Lawmakers at the House of Representatives who represent specific sectors said Republic Act (RA) Number 7941 or the “Party-list System Act” should be amended instead.

“Not all party lists are bad… The party-list system was instituted by framers of the 1987 Constitution to enhance proportional representation and uplift the plight of all Filipinos, including the underrepresented sectors,” said Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin. 

He said that his party list helped in successfully passing landmark measures like the Reproductive Health Law, the Sangguniang Kabataan Reform Law, and the Philippine Competition Act.

Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano shared the same sentiments, saying that there are still “well-meaning” party-list groups that have “successfully and actively pursued the interests of the sector they represent in Congress.”

“The Supreme Court aptly stressed that the party-list system is a tool for social justice. To abolish it completely without conducting a comprehensive study of its implementation is to deprive the marginalized, the underrepresented, a voice in the highest lawmaking body of the Republic,” added Alejano, who represents retired military and police personnel, the urban poor, and the youth in the 17th Congress.

ACTS-OFW Representative John Bertiz also explained that district representatives cannot always push for legislation supporting specific sectors, like overseas Filipino workers (OFWs). 

He cited a bill he passed calling for the creation of a department for OFWs, which is among Duterte’s priority measures.

For so many years, may mga district congressmen ba tayo na nangalaga sa aming sector, lalung-lalo na ‘yung OFW?… Maapektuhan nito yung mga nirerepresent namin sektor tulad ng OFW, yung mga magsasaka at iba-ibang sektor na ‘di naman sila nagkakaroon ng boses dito sa Kongreso,” said Bertiz.

(For so many years, how many district congressmen truly cared for our sector, especially the OFWs?… This will affect the sectors we’re representing, like the OFWs, the farmers, who don’t really get a voice here in Congress.

AKO Bicol Representative Alfredo Garbin is not in favor of abolishing the party list system, but he said RA 7941 should be reviewed and amended. 

Talaga maraming dapat ayusin sapagkat may mga loopholes (There are a lot of loopholes) but the most important thing is… we have to look into the track record of every party-list group. Ang question there is if this group was able to contribute to the formulation and enactment of laws or legislations that benefit the nation,” said Garbin.

On July 29, Duterte said he wants party lists to be taken out of the political system because he believes they are created by the wealthy as platforms to seek positions in Congress. 

According to the President, rich and powerful Filipinos allegedly use their resources to create associations or groups that ride on advocacies to get votes. 

Abolishing the party list system, however, is only possible if the 1987 Constitution is amended.

Duterte already said he wants charter change and favors a Constitutional Assembly to pave the way for federalism. (READ: Alvarez to ask Duterte to pass Con-Com EO for federalism)

Amend the party list law

Alejano, however, agreed that RA Number 7941 should be amended to avoid party lists being abused by the wealthy.

“I agree that the party-list law should be amended to weed wealthy opportunists out of the system,” he said. 

Alejano suggested that a comprehensive review of the 21-year-old law be conducted, including assessing the background of party-list groups that participated in the elections, the personalities of the party-list representatives, and their performance records in Congress.

According to Alejano, these would help determine if the lawmakers concerned did promote the advocacies of the respective parties during their term. 

Garbin also called on the Commission on Elections to review its accreditation process for party-list groups.

Villarin, meanwhile, suggested that the Duterte administration address the “systemic causes” that has affected the legislative branch’s credibility in being representative of the Filipino people. 

“What the President should do is follow and implement the constitutional mandate of abolishing political dynasties. Many of them are in fact now allied with him. He should likewise push for banning political turncoats too,” said Villarin. 

House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said the minority bloc is yet to issue its position on the matter, but he said he personally finds party-list representatives as responsible lawmakers. 

“As I’ve said, being a veteran legislator, I have seen how very hardworking they are and they’re useful. In any regular session, ang mga masipag umattend ng hearing ng session ay mga party-list (party-list representatives regularly attend hearings and sessions),” said Suarez, who first became a congressman in 1992. 

The Minority Leader said he has already asked party-list representatives who are part of the minority bloc to list down their legislative achievements in the past to help craft the bloc’s stand on whether or not party lists should be abolished. – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.