The Commission on Elections recently came out with a series of decisions on the accreditation of party-list groups for the 2013 party-list elections. The results are mixed, with a whole bunch of disqualified groups—those already in Congress and also those new or losing 2010 candidates—elevating their cases to the Supreme Court.
People generally accepted the disqualification of party-list groups identified with the Arroyo administration who managed to sneak into the list by use of questionable criteria. They also appreciated the removal of party-list groups obviously organized by political dynasties and that have nominees from dynasty members. Further, they viewed as fair the setting aside of party-list groups—incumbent, losing, or new applicant—who do not have marginalized or underrepresented sectors to represent.
However, there are apparent lapses in the Comelec decisions with several party-list groups who have a long record of supporting or even struggling for the interests of the basic sectors who have been disqualified or in danger of being disqualified. One of the surprising decisions for disqualification is the one on the Alliance for Rural Concerns (ARC). The basis, as I understand it, is based on the mere interpretation of “rural” as a geographic area, not as the more common meaning of the sectors of peasants and rural workers.
There are several fallacious criteria that have been put forward from various quarters regarding inclusion in the party-list system. One of the most common is the wrong interpretation of the term “marginalized and underrepresented” sector as used in the Party-List Law.
A type of interpretation proposes to apply it to the party-list group itself, in relation to its inclusion in the ruling coalition or its representation in the government. Another type is the insistence that only members of the marginalized and underrepresented sector can become nominee. Still another is the suggestion to exclude party-list groups representing multiple sectors.
The correct interpretation of the term “marginalized and underrepresented” sector can only be applied within the context of the party-list system which, at the moment, is restricted to the House of Representatives. Party-list representation and nominees also do not require the exclusive membership in a “marginalized and underrepresented” sector but recognizes the track record of both the party-list group and its nominees in advancing the interests of the “marginalized and underrepresented” sector or sectors.
Invoking the multisectoral character of a party-list group and insisting on representation of a single sector or banning one on the basis of representation of “contradictory” sectors such as the elderly and youth are specious arguments and should not have been entertained by the Comelec.
It is imperative that the Comelec bring down the number of groups competing in the party-list elections to a manageable level. However, it should take care to disqualify only those who—in one way or another—are making a mockery of the system, and not those that have the history and the track record of representing the “marginalized and underrepresented” sectors.
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