MANILA, Philippines-Two lawmakers on Monday expressed outrage at the decision of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to relax its rules on the party-list system, paving the way, they said, for the nomination of the "rich and famous" as representatives of marginalised sectors.
Bayan Muna Representatives Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate said they were shocked by the Comelec statement it would no longer require groups to submit the names of their nominees to be accredited as a party-list group.
"This is really shocking and a reversal of the true essence of the party-list system," Colmenares said in a statement.
"The party-list system will only worsen because of this ruling and reinforce the phenomenon of party-list seats for sale as it becomes a contest of who has the most money," he said.
Acting Comelec Chair Christian Robert Lim said the new rule was based on the Supreme Court decision in 2013, which stated that the party-list system did not require that organisations be marginalised and under-represented to be accredited as a party-list group.
The high court also ruled that nominees did not have to come from the marginalised and under-represented sectors to represent a party-list group in Congress. They may do so if they have a track record of advocating for the sector.
Colmenares said it was a shame the Comelec would institute such a policy at a time when "there are only a few groups left that genuinely advance the interests of the poor and marginalised in Congress."
Zarate said the ruling was a setback for the majority of the poor people in the country. "This will also serve as a backdoor for traditional politicians and their lackeys to get back into power."
He said the Comelec's new rule was a travesty of social justice and patently antidemocracy. "The powerful parties would also use this antipeople ruling to get more of the majority seats in Congress and make their railroading even faster."
Zarate said he hoped that the new Comelec rule could still be reversed "because it is snuffing out what little people's representation in Congress there is."
The party-list system is provided for in the Constitution to give under-represented and marginalised sectors of society a chance at sending their representatives to Congress. It has been used as a vehicle to gain a seat in the House of Representatives by certain personalities who were seen as not really belonging to their sector.
An example was former Rep. Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo who was a nominee of a party-list group made up of security guards and tricycle drivers. Arroyo is a son of former president turned Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
The basis for the new Comelec rule was the Supreme Court decision laid down in April 2013 that allowed party-list representation even for sectors that were not marginalised. This ruling was a revision of the guidelines the high tribunal had set 12 years before.
The court, voting 10-2, granted 54 petitions for certiorari and prohibition filed by party-list groups that were disqualified by the Comelec based on the earlier standards.
In the 2013 ruling, the Supreme Court set new parameters for the accreditation of party-list groups, such as the rule that sectoral parties may either be "marginalised and underrepresented" or lacking in "well-defined political constituencies."
The party-list groups may also nominate a representative who does not necessarily belong to the sector, but has been an advocate for the sector, according to the ruling.
The justices ordered the cases of the 54 petitioners remanded to the Comelec so the poll body could ascertain the qualifications of each party-list group based on the revised standards.
There are 58 party-list groups in the 16th Congress. They represent 20 per cent of the 290 total seats in the House.