Probing the Party-List System in the Philippines

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Philippine Party-List System: A Failure or a Success?
The country’s population is about 90 million; about 70 percent of which is in poverty. It is not farfetched to say that majority of the country’s population is underserved and marginalized ― our farmers, fisher folks, the youth and the women among others ―and are in need of government’s attention. In a developing country like the Philippines, decision-making or policy-making must gear towards development of these underserved sectors of the Philippine society. The population elects its legislators ― congressional and party-list representatives, senators and the rest of the elective members of the bureaucracy. But what assurance do the Filipino people get that the underserved are represented in the policy-making body of the country? It is the party-list system. As defined by Republic Act No. 7941 also known as the Philippine Party-list Act, “the party-list system is a mechanism of proportional representation in the election of representatives to the House of Representatives from national, regional and sectoral parties or organizations or coalitions thereof registered with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC).” The rationale behind the emergence of the Philippine party-list system in the Philippine party politics is to provide representation to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors of the society ― a ‘democratizing agent’ to the elite-oriented Congress. Nonetheless, it attempts to challenge the status quo and truly serve the underserved masses (Rivera, 2007). The emergence of the party-list system is not an event which transpired “out of the blue” rather an attempt to redress an insufficiently undemocratic growing elite party politics in the country. Tracing history backwards, the domination of the elite-oriented party politics can clearly be seen since its beginning up to its continuing ascendancy in the Philippine politics today. When the American rule in the Philippines instigated, they were faced with Filipino armed resistance. To resist such “insurgencies” and to install its complete control over the Philippines, the Americans painstakingly deceived the Filipinos thru the Filipinization it proposed ― a venue for Filipino participation in the realm of governance and politics. To achieve such purpose, they “recruited” the elites to join the Filipinization (Gealogo, 2007). Why the elites?

For one, they have their own interest to protect. They have much and more to lose than to gain if they won’t yield and collaborate with the colonizers. And they do not trust their fellow Filipinos for they themselves have branded their fellowmen as ‘thieves’. Simply put, they try to maintain political power. And political power resides in property: in their wealth. It is interesting to note, they have collaborated not with the Americans only but with all the other colonizers who came to our land and they successfully maintained a stronghold in the political arena ― in the arena of influence and the influential ― and so begins the reign of the elites. Dante Simbulan (2005) sites that “the political parties or factions that developed [today] had one common beginning: the principalia group which . . . was composed of the native ruling elites under the Spaniards [emphasis added].” The elites of today are in fact the elites of the colonial Philippines. Surprisingly, the entire Philippine party system in today’s time is dominated only by less than a hundred to a hundred wealthy families, and they exist as political clans and dynasties (Simbulan, R., 2007). Does one expect an elite-oriented Congress to legislate against its own interests and genuinely serve the greater masses ― the marginalized and the underrepresented? Prior to the party-list system, minority parties that represent the interest of the same sectors that the party-lists represent today have existed. They tried to forward the interest of the underserved and the marginalized, but eventually, “no working class (or...
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