Lax party-list rules dividing ‘marginalized’ sectors

Published by rudy Date posted on March 22, 2010

Too many groups from the same sector means less chances of getting House seats

MANILA, Philippines—While the intent of the introducing the party-list system 4 elections ago is to give smaller parties and organizations, including those of supposed marginalized sectors, the chance to send nominees to Congress, the rules governing the exercise are achieving the opposite.

The trend has been for several groups from the same sectors or with the same advocacies to compete against each other for a limited constituency, instead of consolidating their forces. The result: none of them are likely to get any seat, and their sectors or advocacies don’t get represented in the House.

For the 2010 polls, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has accredited 158 groups for the party list. However, it has listed 187 groups on the ballot, in anticipation of the Supreme Court possibly favoring those that have appealed their disqualification.

The number of groups allowed this year is double the number ((93) of those that were accredited in 2007. Inevitably, with 187 groups participating, many of them will be competing with groups that seek to represent the same sectors or push the same advocacies.

Newsbreak classified the groups according to their sectoral affiliations and their advocacies and found that certain “marginalized” groups are overly represented in the polls.

For instance, participating in May are 37 groups that are agriculture-based; 31, labor; 28, urban poor; 22, indigenous peoples; 17, women; 17, youth; 12, senior citizens; 11, overseas Filipino workers; 10, professionals.

According to Republic Act 7941, the party-list system law, those that can participate in the polls are national, regional, or sectoral parties, organizations, or coalitions. The sectors that can be represented by these groups include labor, peasant, fisher folks, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, the elderly, handicapped, women, youth, veterans, overseas workers, and professionals.

“Because of the loose guideline in the party-list law, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has problems regulating which groups can join, the extent of the groupings, and which to weed out,” said Edna Co of the University of the Philippines National College of Public Administration and Governance.

The Comelec is also apparently being consistent with the intent of the writers of the Constitution that the party-list is open to the basic sectors, but not necessarily limited to them. Thus, this year—as in past elections—transport groups, seafarers, cooperatives, micro-entrepreneurs, and LPG marketers, among others, are accredited.

Co pointed out that instead of encouraging groups within a sector to cooperate and choose common representatives, the rules have allowed “all sorts of groupings and representations.”

Rep. Leonardo Montemayor, whose farmers’ group ABA-AKO will not participate this year, said that having too many organizations representing peasants will “divide their countryside votes.”

“The more they are, the more confusing for the voters. Even a farmers’ group which already has a mass base will share votes with other peasant groups,” he said in a phone interview.

There are 37 party-list groups claiming to represent farmers and fisher folks.

The same principle necessarily applies to groups representing other sectors

In the 1998 elections, only 2 women’s groups participated—Abanse Pinay and Women Power Inc.—yet, only 1, Abanse, won a seat.

In 2004, there were 3 women’s groups, but only 1, Gabriela, won. It got 2 seats, however. The other groups, Abanse Pinay and Babae Ka, failed to get the minimum votes required.

In past elections, women’s groups had cornered only an average 3.7% of the total party-list votes. How then will 17 women’s groups this year divide among themselves that limited constituents?

The labor group Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) said that although it is confident it will still win this year, it fears that bogus groups claiming to represent the workers will eat into its vote base.

“The greater the number, the smaller the chances for a group to get 2% of the votes, therefore, less chances to be represented,” said Jay Carizo, a research and development officer of the Institute for Popular Democracy.

To secure the 2%, some sectoral groups coalesce with other sectoral groups and register as a multi-sectoral organization, said Ramon Casiple of the Institute of Political and Electoral Reforms. That way, a group from 1 sector can tap into the votes of another sector.

The peasants’ group ABA, for example, decided to coalesce with AKO for the urban poor votes in 2004, said Carizo.

He acknowledged, however, that the vote base is not expanding. Carizo said that the party list has a “fixed” constituency—only 24% of the turnout cast votes for the party list in past elections.

Farmers’ groups, for example, would also have to split the votes with multi-sectoral groups that also represent other agri-based interests. (Newsbreak) –Lilita Balane, Newsbreak

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