LOOKBACK: 25 years of the Party List Law

MANILA, Philippines – On March 3, 1995, President Fidel Ramos signed Republic Act 7941, which implemented the party list system in Congress.

The 1987 Constitution mandated that 20% of all seats in the House of Representatives should be allotted to the party list. Depending on the share of votes received, a party-list group can win up to 3 seats in the House.

The party list system allows various groups – including those in the marginalized and underrepresented sectors of society – to be represented in Congress, so they could craft laws for their advocacies or causes and for the country's benefit as well.

Through highs and lows, here's a lookback on how the party list has evolved over the past 25 years. (READ: 8 things you need to know about the party list)

During the term of President Ferdinand Marcos, representatives for the labor and youth sectors were elected to the unicameral Interim Batasang Pambansa and Regular Batasang Pambansa.

After the 1986 People Power Revolution and the return to a bicameral Congress, sectoral representatives remained in the House, but the President appointed them during the 8th Congress up to the 10th Congress, or from 1987 to 1998.

The Party List Law's principal author was congressman Michael Mastura of the first district of Maguindanao. He filed the bill in September 1992 during the 9th Congress. In the Senate, the counterpart bill was filed by Senator John Henry Osmeña.

Despite the law's enactment in 1995, it wasn't applied yet in the elections that same year. 

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) issued rules and regulations for the party list system in June 1996. Afterwards, party-list groups joined the 1998 election in the hopes of being elected to Congress. 

According to Comelec's rules back then, only the groups that received 2% of the total party-list votes earned one party-list seat in Congress, with additional seats for every 2% thereafter.

A total of 13 groups met the 2% threshold. The election topnotcher, Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives (APEC), garnered more than 4% of the votes to earn two seats, while the rest each won one seat.

Since not all 52 seats for the party list were filled after the 1998 elections, many groups – among them the Veterans Federation Party (VFP) – filed a case before the Supreme Court to remedy this.

In VFP vs. Comelec, the SC in 2000 came up with a rule that gave the topnotcher a seat for every 2% of the total party-list votes garnered. Other groups that also reached 2% got one seat each, and could earn additional seats based on a formula that considered the topnotcher's total votes and House seats earned.

Still, not all seats had been filled. So another group, Banat, tried again. 

In 2009, through Banat vs. Comelec, the SC changed the formula to what is now being used in party list elections. Groups that get at least 2% of the vote still get one seat each, and could get up to 2 more seats if they get enough overall vote shares.

The remaining seats at this point will be given to groups with less than 2% vote share, with one seat each until all party-list seats are filled.

They came from around 103 groups representing different sectors, from farmers and fishermen to laborers and professionals, from the youth to the elderly, as well as women, small businesses, teachers and nurses, regional groups, multi-sectoral parties, and many more. (READ: What sectors, causes do 2019 party-list groups aim to represent?)

Among these groups, 6 have won in the most number of elections, at 7, since 1998:

Some party-list groups took advantage of the alphabetical listing of names on the ballot. They used acronyms starting either with "A" or "1." This practice worsened over time, such that in 2010, of the 187 groups on the ballot, 12 had acronyms beginning with "1" and 103 with "A."

Heading into the 2013 polls, the Comelec had enough. In late 2012, it held a raffle to determine the order of appearance of all groups on the ballot.

In 2001, the Supreme Court ruled that, based on the spirit of the Party List Law, only those from the marginalized and underrepresented sectors or from those that did not have "well-defined political constituencies" were allowed to run in the party list.

"The party list system is one such tool intended to benefit those who have less in life. It gives the great masses of our people genuine hope and genuine power. It is a message to the destitute and the prejudiced, and even to those in the underground, that change is possible," the court said in that decision.

However, in April 2013, the SC changed course, saying organizations "do not need to organize along sectoral lines and do not need to represent 'any marginalized and underrepresented' sector." 

It also said in its new guidelines, "It is enough that their principal advocacy pertains to the special interest and concerns of the sector."

Poll watchdog Kontra Daya observed that, in the 2019 polls, almost half of participating groups possibly represented "the interests of well-entrenched political dynasties and big business interests," given the influential ties of the groups' nominees. (LIST: Neophyte party-list reps include businessmen, political clans, former gov't officials)

Even ex-representative Mastura, who drafted the Party List Law, was irked in 2018 by the apparent "shortcuts" taken by some party-list groups.

In addition, party-list nominees are not covered by the one-year appointment ban in case they lose in the elections. After the 2019 polls, the Comelec and election watchdogs suggested that lawmakers should address this issue.

A 2016 study also proposed ways to make the system more representative. – Rappler.com

Michael Bueza

Michael Bueza is a researcher and data curator under Rappler's Research Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.