Commission on Elections Chair Jose Melo says that the Comelec is having a hard time accrediting party list groups that truly represent marginalized sectors, and in recognizing nominees qualified to represent them because Philippine laws don’t define “marginalized.” But he himself seems to know — if we’re to go by his statement that limiting representation via the party list system to marginalized sectors “isn’t wise.”

“For example, here is a group of tricycle drivers. What if their nominee is a tricycle driver and he was not able to finish school. How can he represent the interest of tricycle drivers? They should have somebody who is educated to speak for them,” Melo was quoted as saying during a recent Comelec press conference.

In addition to practically declaring that he doesn’t agree with the party list system’s reason for being — to enable marginalized groups and sectors to participate in the making of the laws that after all would affect them and everyone else — there’s at least two things wrong with that statement.

The first is that the Party List Law (Republic Act 7941) does not impose any education qualification. It merely declares that anyone may be a party list representative if he or she is a natural born citizen of the Philippines, a registered voter, a resident of the Philippines for not less than one year prior to the election, able to read and write, has been a bona fide member of the party he or she will represent 90 days before the election, and is at least 25 years old on the day of the election.

The Constitution of 1987 from which the Act derives its mandate emphasizes that no educational or property qualifications may be imposed on voters, in tacit recognition that doing so would disenfranchise millions for no other reason than their poverty and their not having had the means and/or opportunity to get an education. Imposing such qualifications would make Philippine claims to democracy even more hollow than they currently are.

The same consequences would ensue if education were to be a qualification for running for office. It is true that the absence of education as a qualification has often been lamented by people who assume, because of the country’s bad experience with officials who were school drop outs or sub-literate celebrities, that having a degree after your name makes you better qualified to run this country.

But the second thing wrong with Melo’s statement is its assumption that only the educated –presumably those with at least a college degree — would know what the problems of a particular sector are and would be capable of providing solutions. As Filipino experience with what passes for democracy in these parts has shown, college degrees are no cure for the stupidity that characterizes most of the people who claim to be running this country, or, for that matter, for their dishonesty, deceit and outright malevolence.

If we went along with Melo, party list representatives would need qualifications the law doesn’t impose even on candidates for President, Vice President, Senators and non-party list Representatives. The party list system would then be even more restrictive than the rest of the political and legislative system — it would become the exact opposite of what it was intended to be.

And yet the intent of the party list system is to make the House of Representatives more representative of Philippine society. The system is described by both RA 7941 as well as the Comelec’s own primer as “a mechanism of proportional representation in the election of representatives to the House of Representatives from marginalized or underrepresented national, regional and sectoral parties, or organizations or coalitions thereof registered with the Commission on Elections (Comelec).”

That description as well as the Constitution and RA 7941 assume without an outright declaration the truth of the thesis, long ago advanced by such groups as workers and farmers, that representation in the Philippine Congress is NOT proportional and is in fact skewed in favor of the economic and political elite.

That the House of Representatives is landlord-dominated seems hardly contestable. Its sorry record in land reform legislation is only one among the many indicators of that fact. The major source of the wealth of much of its membership is land, whether in the burning plains of Central Luzon or in the sugar haciendas of the Visayas. It would seem evident then that among the intents of the party list system is to add to the already loud and overly-represented interests of the landed, those of farmers.

Who are certainly among the marginalized, whether the law defines “marginalized” or not, the meaning of marginalized in the Philippine context being absence of participation in Philippine governance, although the party list system limits “marginalization” to the law-making process.

As earlier noted, Melo and everyone else knows what it means. The Constitution also identifies “labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth,” as marginalized sectors, but doesn’t limit the definition to them by stating that “such other sectors as may be provided by law, except the religious sector” may also be represented in the party list system.

If marginalized means “absence of participation in Philippine governance,” then those who have been in government, are closely associated with those who are, and/or who by affinity or some other connection exercise some power in law and decision-making, would NOT qualify as representatives of even admittedly marginalized sectors like, say, security guards or indigenous people.

Mrs. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s children therefore don’t qualify, and neither do former military people, or former Cabinet secretaries, or the wives and husbands and children of incumbent or former politicos, since, having been or being still in power, it’s not likely that they can adequately represent the marginalized sectors that for some reason have chosen them as nominees.

It’s not brain surgery or rocket science except to the Comelec, which, in addition to its fabled innumeracy, has acquired another vice: that of wimping out in stopping the ongoing perversion of the party list system.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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  1. i have remembered a party list representative who passed different bills for their sector and did well in the congress in spite of being very poor and “uneducated” in melo’s terms… the late Ka Bel of anakpawis is a good example that the marginalized, the true one can produce a representative that will promote its welfare… why bring bogus to the congress… AGP?, mikey arroyo? damn its a big bullshit!!!

  2. But looking at the proceedings of the 1986 Concon, it appears that indeed they did not intend the party-list system _only_ for marginalized sectors. The current interpretation stretched the intent of the members of the Concon.

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