SC shakes up party list in new verdict

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court ruled on Friday, April 5, that the party list is not only for the marginalized sectors, debunking an argument that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) used in disqualifying 54 party-list groups for the May 13 elections.

Voting 10-2-1, the SC said political parties do not have to represent the marginalized sector to participate in the party-list elections.

"National parties or organizations and regional parties or organizations do not need to organize along sectoral lines and do not need to represent 'any marginalized and underrepresented' sector," the High Court said in a decision penned by Justice Antonio Carpio. 

The ruling effectively upholds what the Constitution and the party list law intended the system to be: a system of proportional representation open to various kinds of groups and parties, and not an exercise exclusive to the so-called marginalized sectors.

It reverses the interpretation that the SC, under then Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, promulgated in 2001 that caused the retroactive disqualification of some of the groups that got the highest number of votes.

In the new decision, those who concurred with Carpio are Justices Teresita Leonaro de Castro, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Roberto Abad, Martin Villarama, Jose Perez, Jose Mendoza and Marvic Leonen.

Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Justice Bienvenido Reyes dissented, while Justice Estela Perlas-Bermabe was on leave when they voted on it.

The SC also remanded all 54 petitions of disqualified party-list groups to the Comelec. 

Applicable in 2016

Out of these 54, a total of 13 petitions are from party-list groups which were granted a status quo ante order but failed to get a mandatory injunction from the SC. Their names therefore were excluded in the ballot for May.

The Comelec previously explained that getting a status quo ante order allowed these groups to retain their status as new applicants for the party-list system, but that they still needed a mandatory injunction to stop their disqualification. 

The SC said the Comelec in the future must decide whether the 13 groups are qualified to register under the party-list system based on the new parameters.

But it stressed they would not be able to participate in the coming elections.

The 13 include:

Regarding the 41 other party-list groups which secured mandatory injunctions to have their names included in the ballot, the SC said the Comelec must decide whether these groups are qualified to register under the party list and to participate in the 2013 elections.

The SC earlier defined the party-list system as one that caters to the poor sectors. In the 2001 case Bagong Bayani v. Comelec, then Justice Artemio Panganiban (he would later become Chief Justice) wrote that "the law crafted to address the peculiar disadvantages of Payatas hovel dwellers cannot be appropriated by the mansion owners of Forbes Park."

Carpio in effect reversed Panganiban in the new ruling.

New guidelines

The SC set new guidelines on the types of parties that may qualify for the party-list system. The SC Public Information listed the new parameters:

1. National parties or organizations, regional parties or organizations, and sectoral parties or organizations could participate in the party-list elections.

2. National parties or organizations and regional parties or organizations do not need to organize along sectoral lines and do not need to represent "any marginalized and underrepresented" sector.

3. Political parties can participate in party-list elections provided they register under the party-list system and do not field candidates in legislative district elections.

A political party, whether or not it fields candidates in legislative district election, can participate in party-list elections only through its sectoral wing that can separately register under the party-list system. The sectoral wing is by itself an independent party, and is linked to a political party through a coalition.

4. Sectoral parties or organizations may either be  "marginalized and underrepresented" or lacking in "well-defined political constituencies." It is enough that their principal advocacy pertains to the special interest and concerns of the sector. The sectors that are "marginalized and underrepresented” include labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, handicapped, veterans and overseas workers. The sectors that lack well-defined political constituencies include professionals, the elderly, women and the youth.

5. A majority of the members of sectoral parties or organization that represent the "marginalized and underrepresented" must belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sector that they represent. Similarly, a majority of the members of sectoral parties or organization that lack "well defined political constituencies" must belong to the sector that they represent. The nominees of either sector must either belong to their respective sectors, or must have a track record of advocacy.

6. National, regional and sectoral parties or organizations shall not be disqualified if some of their nominees are disqualified, provided that they have at least one nominee who remains qualified (The Supreme Court Public Information office earlier said 5 other nominees, but corrected itself on Saturday, April 6). 

What the Charter says

When the Constitutional Commission crafted the party-list provision in the 1987 Constitution, it did so with the goal of slowly building “proportional representation” in the House of Representatives. Simply put, this would allow political parties unable to wage national campaigns to take part in lawmaking, allotting them 20% of the seats in the lower chamber.

But the implementing law, Republic Act 7941, which took effect in 1998, took that a step further and limited the system to the marginalized and the political underclass.

Yet, it put a cap—3 seats—on the maximum maximum seats that one party could have and came up with percentages of votes that made it difficult, to this day, to fill up the 55 slots. 

Then in June 2001, Panganiban made his own computations and declared that only one party deserved to have 3 seats. The rest could have one or two depending on a new round of percentages that the justice wrote down.

Called a form of judicial legislation, the Panganiban verdict reinforced the law’s bias for the marginalized sector, because it described the party-list system as "a social justice tool…to make the…underrepresented…active participants in the mainstream representative democracy.”

Lawyers disagreed with him then. The point of the Constitution is to give leeway to the marginalized sectors only for the first term but allow the other parties to join the fray subsequently, they said. - with reports from Glenda M. Gloria/Rappler.com