MANILA, Philippines – A week after the May 13 elections, opposition legislators said there is a need to revisit the country’s party-list system law, arguing that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Supreme Court have “bastardized” the system.
Albay 1st District Representative Edcel Lagman – one of the principal authors of Republic Act No. 7941 or the Party-list System Act – shared this view, which was echoed by Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin, whose party failed to secure a seat in the next Congress.
“I am the principal author of this law and the purpose is to afford and guarantee the marginalized sectors of having representation in Congress which they cannot win in the traditional district elections. But that has been bastardized by the Comelec. And even the Supreme Court has decisions which is not consistent with the…spirit of the law,” Lagman said in a news conference on Tuesday, May 21.
He said one of the first things legislators in the 18th Congress should do is to strengthen the party-list system and “make it consistent with its original intention of securing the marginalized sectors of having their own representation in Congress.” (READ: 8 things you need to know about the party list)
What went wrong? Under RA 7941, organizations that wish to gain seats in the House have to register with the Comelec, which then vets the applications before allowing them to run in the elections.
The law defines a "political party" as an "organized group of citizens advocating an ideology or platform, principles, and policies for the general conduct of government and which, as the most immediate means of securing their adoption, regularly nominates and supports certain of its leaders and members as candidates for public office."
But in 2013, the High Court ruled that political parties do not have to represent the marginalized sector to participate in the party-list elections, debunking an argument Comelec used at the time in disqualifying 54 party-list groups from running in the elections.
According to Villarin, it has since become easy for party-list groups to win seats in Congress even if they do not necessarily have “defined sectoral constituencies.”
“Even progressive party-list groups were also targeted na hindi makapasok. And of course, you have the entry of party-list groups [that] have no defined sectoral constituencies. Biglang sumulpot na lang. Ni walang proven track record in advocacies. Biglang nagna-number one, even got more votes than established party-list groups,” said Villarin.
(Even progressive party-list groups were also targeted and were not able to win. And of course, you have the entry of party-list groups that have no defined sectoral constituencies. They just came out of nowhere. They do not even have proven track record in advocacies. They suddenly became number, even got more votes than established party-list groups.)
He also questioned Comelec's accreditation process for party-list groups.
"But our question really is: How rigorous was the screening? Kasi we know for a fact biglang may mga party-list groups. How will they prove their track record?… So ‘yon ‘yong remiss ang Comelec of its duties," said Villarin.
(But our question really is: How rigorous was the screening? Because we know for a fact there are party-list groups all of a sudden. How will they prove their track record?...That's where Comelec was remiss in its duties.)
Akbayan was able to secure at least one seat in the House in the past two decades. In the May 13 elections, it got only 172,540 votes based on the partial and official votes canvassed by Comelec on Tuesday – not enough to bring it back to Congress.
Cheating allegations continue: Villarin joined other groups claiming electoral fraud, citing the 7-hour glitch involving the transparency server which relayed unofficial results to media groups and watchdogs.
“Akbayan has been here in Congress for the past 21 years. And hindi ho namin matanggap na gano’n ang boto namin. We lost more than 400,000 votes na alam namin na dapat nandun ’yon. And we got zero votes in many precincts. That’s why we called for a random manual audit, ni-request namin sa Comelec. I hope the Comelec en banc will address that,” said Villarin.
(Akbayan has been here in Congress for the past 21 years. And we cannot accept the votes we got were just like that. We lost more than 400,000 votes that we knew were supposed to be there. And we got zero votes in many precincts. That's why we called for a random manual audit, which we requested from Comelec. I hope the Comelec en banc will address that.)
Election lawyer Emil Marañon III, however, said transmission glitches of partial and unofficial results do not necessarily mean cheating was involved.
Other party-list groups have already filed a petition urging the Comelec to suspend the proclamation of winning party-list groups in the 2019 elections.