In my view, the party list system has evolved into something it was not originally conceived to be. Whether this is good or bad for the country should be a subject of debate.
There are two related concepts in the constitutional provision on the subject: party-list groups and sectoral groups. The Constitution speaks of “a party-list system of registered national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations.” It will be noticed from this that the “sectoral parties” are just one of the various organizations of the “party-list system.” At present, however, the sectoral system has become equated with the party-list system such that only “disadvantaged” sectoral groups can participate in the party-list system. This development has come about as a result of legislation and Supreme Court decisions.
In the 1986 Constitutional Commission, the two concepts were explained. The party-list system meant a voting system where parties or organizations submitted a list of their candidates and the parties would be represented by the number of their members in proportion to the total number of votes they received. The proportional system was meant to be an antidote to the winner-take-all district system. Disadvantaged groups, however, would only be one type among the groups taking part in the proportional system.
There was, however, the understanding that the disadvantaged sectors at that time would not have the resources or capability to compete in the political arena against traditional parties. Hence, there was a strong move to give them permanently reserved seats in the system. But permanent reservation was disapproved. Instead, the compromise reached was that, in order to enable them to build up their strength to be able to complete in the electoral arena, “for three consecutive terms after the ratification of the Constitution, one-half to party list representatives” would be reserved for disadvantaged sectors.
Then came in 2001 a divided Supreme Court decision which made the ruling that the intent of the Constitutional Commission and of the implementing statute, R.A. 7941, was not to allow all associations to participate in the system but to limit participation to parties or organizations representing the "marginalized and underprivileged.” The Court saw the party-list system is a “social justice tool.” The Supreme Court saw the party list system as a sectoral system even if the deliberations of the Constitutional Commission clearly meant that party-list meant more than just one class of organization.
The decision, moreover, said that all the party list seats should be reserved for the sectoral groups not just for three consecutive terms but forever. When a dissenting justice pointed to what the Record of the Constitutional Commission showed, the ponente retorted that Commission records should be consulted only when the text of the Constitution was not clear. For him, the text -- in spite of the specific three term and fifty percent limitation -- was clearly not for one half only but for all the seats, and not for three terms only but forever. Effectively deleted was the phrase "For three consecutive terms after the ratification of this Constitution one-half of the seats . . ." It was an amendment by amputation.
That was not all. The majority also ruled that party-list nominees "must represent marginalized and underrepresented sectors." This meant that nominees who did not have this ideological quality, (which incidentally is not easily proved or disproved), were not qualified to be party-list representatives. But this is another departure from the constitutional text; this time, however, not by amputation but by grafting. No such ideological requirement is found in Section 6 of Article VI which enumerates the qualifications of a member of the House of Representatives. Neither does R.A. 7941 prescribe an ideological qualification. This Supreme Court ruling remains to this day.
An earlier case on the current party-list implementing law, Republic Act 7941, settled two questions. First, R.A. 7941 required parties, organizations and coalitions participating in the system to obtain at least two percent of the total votes cast for the party-list system in order to be entitled to a party-list seat. Those garnering more than this percentage may have "additional seats in proportion to their total number of votes." Furthermore, no winning party, organization or coalition may have more than three seats in the House of Representatives. All these were upheld by the Court in 2000.
A related question was whether the allocated twenty percent of the total House membership set a mandatory number that must be filled or whether it merely set a ceiling. The Court said that it was not a mandatory number but just a ceiling.
The result of these two decisions was that the seats allocated for party-list was never filled and mathematically could never be filled. Thus last year the Court declared the 2% threshold as unconstitutional and that the 20% allocation was mandatory.
As a result of these 2009 rulings, expect the 20% seats allocated for party-list to be filled by an avalanche of “disadvantaged” sectoral representatives. How this will affect the political balance in Congress remains to be seen. It will depend on the loyalties of the incoming sectoral groups.
Finally, it should be remembered that the party-list system was envisioned as an experiment. I believe that it is now time to evaluate the experiment.
15 October 2010