April 21, 2009

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History has borne witness to the struggle of the faceless masses to find their voice, even as they are relegated to the sidelines as genuine functional representation systemically evades them. It is by reason of this underlying premise that the party-list system was espoused and embedded in the Constitution, and it is within this context that I register my dissent to the entry of major political parties to the party-list system.


The Court today effectively reversed the ruling in Ang Bagong Bayani v. Comelec[1] with regard to the computation of seat allotments and the participation of major political parties in the party-list system. I vote for the formula propounded by the majority as it benefits the party-list system but I regret that my interpretation of Article VI, Section 5 of the Constitution with respect to the participation of the major political parties in the election of party-list representatives is not in direct congruence with theirs, hence this dissent.


To revisit the crux of the controversy, the pertinent portion of Article VI, Section 5 of the Constitution reads:

Section 5. (1) The House of Representatives shall be composed of not more than two hundred and fifty members, unless otherwise fixed by law, who shall be elected from legislative districts apportioned among the provinces, cities, and the Metropolitan Manila area in accordance with the number of their respective inhabitants, and on the basis of a uniform and progressive ratio, and those who, as provided by law, shall be elected through a party-list system of registered national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations.

(2) The party-list representatives shall constitute twenty per centum of the total number of representatives including those under the party list. For three consecutive terms after the ratification of this Constitution, one-half of the seats allocated to party-list representatives shall be filled, as provided by law, by selection or election from the labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, and such other sectors as may be provided by law, except the religious sector.[2]


It will be remembered that the petitioners in Ang Bagong Bayani sought the disqualification of the major political parties on the ground that the party-list system was intended to benefit the marginalized and underrepresented, and not the mainstream political parties, the non-marginalized or overrepresented. Rising to the occasion, the Court ruled through then Associate, later Chief Justice Panganiban, that while any duly registered political party, organization or group may participate, the role of the Comelec is to ensure that only those who are marginalized and underrepresented become members of Congress through the Filipino-style party-list elections. Characterizing the party-list system as a social justice vehicle, the Court batted for the empowerment of the masses, thus

It is ironic, therefore, that the marginalized and underrepresented in our midst are the majority who wallow in poverty, destitution and infirmity. It was for them that the party-list system was enacted to give them not only genuine hope, but genuine power; to give them the opportunity to be elected and to represent the specific concerns of their constituencies; and simply to give them a direct voice in Congress and in the larger affairs of the State. In its noblest sense, the party-list system truly empowers the masses and ushers a new hope for genuine change. Verily, it invites those marginalized and underrepresented in the past the farm hands, the fisher folk, the urban poor, even those in the underground movement
to come out and participate, as indeed many of them came out and participated during the last elections. The State cannot now disappoint and frustrate them by disabling and desecrating this social justice vehicle.


Today, less than a decade after, there is an attempt to undo the democratic victory achieved by the marginalized in the political arena in Ang Bagong Bayani. In permitting the major political parties to participate in the party-list system, Mr. Justice Carpio relies on the deliberations of the Constitutional Commission. Allegedly, the said deliberations indicate that the party-list system is open to all political parties, as long as they field candidates who come from the different marginalized sectors.[3] Buttressing his view, Mr. Justice Carpio notes that the major political parties also fall within the term political parties in the Definition of Terms in Republic Act 7941, otherwise known as the Party-List System Act.[4] Likewise, he holds that the qualifications of a party-list nominee as prescribed in Section 9 of the said law do not specify any financial status or educational requirement, hence, it is not necessary for the party-list nominee to wallow in poverty, destitution and infirmity.[5] It is then concluded that major political parties may now participate in the party-list system.


With all due respect, I cannot join this submission. We stand on solid grounds when we interpret the Constitution to give utmost deference to the democratic sympathies, ideals and aspirations of the people. More than the deliberations in the Constitutional Commission, these are expressed in the text of the Constitution which the people ratified. Indeed, it is the intent of the sovereign people that matters in interpreting the Constitution. In Civil Liberties Union v. Executive Secretary, we held:

While it is permissible in this jurisdiction to consult the debates and proceedings of the constitutional convention in order to arrive at the reason and purpose of the resulting Constitution, resort thereto may be had only when other guides fail as said proceedings are powerless to vary the terms of the Constitution when the meaning is clear. Debates in the constitutional convention "are of value as showing the views of the individual members, and as indicating the reason for their votes, but they give us no light as to the views of the large majority who did not talk, much less of the mass or our fellow citizens whose votes at the polls gave that instrument the force of fundamental law. We think it safer to construe the constitution from what appears upon its face.[6]


Everybody agrees that the best way to interpret the Constitution is to harmonize the whole instrument, its every section and clause. [7] We should strive to make every word of the fundamental law operative and avoid rendering some words idle and nugatory.[8] The harmonization of Article VI, Section 5 with related constitutional provisions will better reveal the intent of the people as regards the party-list system. Thus, under Section 7 of the Transitory Provisions,[9] the President was permitted to fill by appointment the seats reserved for sectoral representation under the party-list system from a list of nominees submitted by the respective sectors. This was the result of historical precedents that saw how the elected Members of the interim Batasang Pambansa and the regular Batasang Pambansa tried to torpedo sectoral representation and delay the seating of sectoral representatives on the ground that they could not rise to the same levelled status of dignity as those elected by the people.[10] To avoid this bias against sectoral representatives, the President was given all the leeway to break new ground and precisely plant the seeds for sectoral representation so that the sectoral representatives will take roots and be part and parcel exactly of the process of drafting the law which will stipulate and provide for the concept of sectoral representation.[11] Similarly, limiting the party-list system to the marginalized and excluding the major political parties from participating in the election of their representatives is aligned with the constitutional mandate to reduce social, economic, and political inequalities, and remove cultural inequalities by equitably diffusing wealth and political power for the common good;[12] the right of the people and their organizations to effective and reasonable participation at all levels of social, political, and economic decision-making;[13] the right of women to opportunities that will enhance their welfare and enable them to realize their full potential in the service of the nation;[14] the right of labor to participate in policy and decision-making processes affecting their rights and benefits in keeping with its role as a primary social economic force;[15] the right of teachers to professional advancement;[16] the rights of indigenous cultural communities to the consideration of their cultures, traditions and institutions in the formulation of national plans and policies,[17] and the indispensable role of the private sector in the national economy.[18]


There is no gainsaying the fact that the party-list parties are no match to our traditional political parties in the political arena. This is borne out in the party-list elections held in 2001 where major political parties were initially allowed to campaign and be voted for. The results confirmed the fear expressed by some commissioners in the Constitutional Commission[19] that major political parties would figure in the disproportionate distribution of votes: of the 162 parties which participated, the seven major political parties[20] made it to the top 50. These seven parties garnered an accumulated 9.54% of the total number of votes counted, yielding an average of 1.36% each, while the remaining 155 parties (including those whose qualifications were contested) only obtained 90.45% or an average of 0.58% each. Of these seven, three parties[21] or 42.8% of the total number of the major parties garnered more than 2% of the total number of votes each, a feat that would have entitled them to seat their members as party-list representatives. In contrast, only about 4% of the total number of the remaining parties, or only 8 out of the 155 parties garnered more than 2%.[22]


In sum, the evils that faced our marginalized and underrepresented people at the time of the framing of the 1987 Constitution still haunt them today. It is through the party-list system that the Constitution sought to address this systemic dilemma. In ratifying the Constitution, our people recognized how the interests of our poor and powerless sectoral groups can be frustrated by the traditional political parties who have the machinery and chicanery to dominate our political institutions. If we allow major political parties to participate in the party-list system electoral process, we will surely suffocate the voice of the marginalized, frustrate their sovereignty and betray the democratic spirit of the Constitution. That opinion will serve as the graveyard of the party-list system.


IN VIEW WHEREOF, I dissent on the ruling allowing the entry of major political parties into the party-list system.




Chief Justice

[1] G.R. No. 147589, June 26, 2001, 359 SCRA 698.

[2] Id.

[3] II Record, Constitutional Commission, 25 July 1986, pp. 256-257.

[4] Section 3.

[5] Main opinion, p. 33.

[6] G.R. No.83896, February 22, 1991, 194 SCRA 317, 337.

[7] Lamborn v. Bell, 20 L.R.A. 241, 18 Colo. 346, 32.

[8] Id.

[9] Article XVIII.

[10] V Record, Constitutional Commission, 1 October 1986, p. 332.

[11] Id. at 330.

[12] Article XIII, Section 1.

[13] Article XIII, Sec. 16.

[14] Article XIII, Sec. 3, in relation to section 14.

[15] Article XIII, Sec. 3, in relation to Article II, Sec. 18.

[16] Article XIV, Sec. 5.

[17] Article XIV, Sec. 17.

[18] Article II, Sec. 20.

[19] Id., at 562.

[20]As noted in Bagong Bayani: Nationalist Peoples Coalition, Lakas NUCD-UMDP, Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino, Aksyon Demokratiko, Partido ng Masang Pilipino, Partido Demokratikong Pilipino Lakas ng Bayan and Liberal Party.

[21] Nationalist Peoples Coalition, Lakas NUCD-UMDP and Laban ng Demokratikong Pilipino.

[22] Party List Canvass Report No. 26, Commission on Elections.