Manila Bulletin - Sotto files bill seeking to overhaul the Party List System

News & Interviews
18 January 2021

By Vanne Elaine Terrazola | Manila Bulletin

Senate President Vicente Sotto III wants party list groups “associated” with rebels and those designated or declared as terrorists under the Anti-Terrorism Act disqualified from the country’s party list system.

This was one of his proposed amendments to Republic Act No. 7941 or the Party List System Act, according to the bill he filed on Monday afternoon.

In his Senate Bill No. 1989, Sotto sought the refusal or cancellation of the registration of party, organization or coalition that “directly or indirectly [participate] in acts detrimental to the best interest of the government, to overthrow the government or diminish its powers or to be associated by any means to rebels or those designated and/or proscribed as terrorist persons or groups under the Republic Act No. 11479 or the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.”

The proposed amendment was an apparent response to President Duterte’s earlier call to amend the Philippine party list system, to supposedly address the problem of communist insurgency and its alleged links to some congressmen and groups.

Duterte and his security advisers have insisted that members of the progressive Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives act as fronts and are members of the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing, the New People’s Army (CPP-NPA).

The lawmakers repeatedly denied this claim, pointing out that the allegation lacked evidence and were only grounded on the “baseless” testimonies of the self-proclaimed rebels presented by the government.

Last December 9, the Anti-Terrorism Council recently designated the CPP-NPA as “terrorist groups”.

The party, however, said it will not contest the “terrorist” tag in its refusal to recognize the controversial Anti-Terrorism Act, whose constitutionality is being questioned in 37 petitions filed before the Supreme Court.

Party list system ‘abused’

In filing his SB No. 1989, Sotto said “the interpretation of the law on party-list has expanded its qualification and has deviated from the intent of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, which is to truly represent the marginalized and the underrepresented.”

“The party list system has also been abused and used as a vehicle to pursue advocacies that are not for the best interest of the Government,” he continued, lamenting further that such deviation has resulted in “evil”.

The bill amends the Section 5 of RA 7941 to further refine the registration of groups in the Commission on Elections (Comelec) before the elections to make sure that they represent the “marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations, and parties and that they lack a well-defined constituency”.

It also provides that “majority of its members should belong to the marginalized and underrepresented”, with sectors including labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous communities, elderly, handicapped, women, youth, veterans, overseas workers, and professionals.

Party-list nominees must also belong to the marginalized sectors, “having the common characteristic of its members and not just sharing the same beliefs or advocacy”.

It also proposed to revise Section 6 to include more grounds for the refusal or the cancellation of their registration by the Comelec after due notice and hearing.

Aside from the provision on the groups seeking to overthrow the government, the proposed additional grounds also include:

The failure to represent marginalized and underrepresented sector, organizations, and parties;

The failure of the majority of its members to belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sector, organizations, and parties that they represent;

Ceasing to be a marginalized and underrepresented sector, organizations, and party; and

The material misrepresentation of its nominee’s qualification.

Minority backing

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon backed Sotto’s bill amending the Party List System Law.

“I must admit that the party-list system has been bastardized today. If you read the Constitution, it is designed for the marginalized and the under-represented through the congressional districts. But in truth and in fact, if you look at composition of the party-list today, that objective has been lost,” Drilon told reporters in a virtual interview also Monday.

Other opposition senators have also supported the measure as they agreed with Sotto’s view that changes to the party-list system could be achieved without having to amend the Constitution.

But Drilon said the bill’s specific proposal to disqualify groups who fight the government is still up for their discussions.

“That’s part of the debate. What the Senate President is saying is that, hindi mo na kailangan pang baguhin ang Saligang Batas kung saan nagkamali ang Kongreso sa implementasyon ng Party List System Act,” he said.

Sotto had said that passing a bill, instead of tweaking the 1987 Constitution as Duterte requested, would have more chances of passage in Congress.