Hodgepodge party-list

By Ramon Casiple for Yahoo! Southeast Asia

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) recently released a list of 79 accredited party-list groups, in addition to seven previously announced.

These 86 organizations, plus several more who may still be accredited or those which may be allowed by the Supreme Court to participate, will run in the 2013 party-list elections.

The Comelec obviously tried its best to weed out groups who—for one reason or another—fail the criteria Comelec sets for them. The problem is that the criteria seems to be only one—that is, if a party-list group gets the majority's vote, it passes. If not, it fails.

The Party-List Law (Republic Act 7941), and later the Supreme Court, in a June 2001 decision, put forward several criteria which the Comelec is now interpreting on its own.

This approach is fraught with unforeseen dangers. One, it almost guarantees motions for reconsideration and, eventually, appeal to the Supreme Court (which is the only body that can overturn an en banc Comelec decision.

Two, it opens the gate for lobbying with the individual commissioners, four of whom can automatically guarantee an accreditation.

Three, it is an open invitation to public criticism and controversy. Fourth, at the end of the day, it may also lead to powerful groups (and political families or dynasties) using their political (and possibly financial) clout to ensure accreditation.

For example, the Courage sectoral organization was disqualified on the basis of its being an organization of government employees even as ACT Teachers and the Association of Volunteer Teachers (AVE) whose members also have public school teachers were accredited.

It disqualified Ako Bicol and Alliance for Rural Concerns (ARC) partly because they were geographic entities but it allowed An Waray, an association of Samareños. And so on and so forth.

The lack of a set of criteria announced beforehand led to this situation. A contributory factor was the ill-advised lobby of some groups who acted as election watchdogs and introduced false criteria or misinterpreted the criteria for participation in the party-list system.

The attempt, for example, to apply the term "marginalized and underrepresented" to party-list groups rather than the sectors cited in the law is a mistake.

Likewise, the argument that a successful political party such as Akbayan may not anymore be qualified to run because it is part of the ruling coalition is a fallacy.

This stems from an interpretation that the party-list system is a "reserved seats" system for "marginalized and underrepresented groups."

The constitution (and the discussions of constitutional commissioners) has made clear and affirmed that it is a system for proportional representation.

The party-list system only opened the doors to the House of Representatives for representatives of marginalized and underrepresented sectors, and not to exclusively reserve it for them.

The Comelec, for its good intentions, got confused again.

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