My close encounter with the party-list system was when my father, Amado F. Cabaero, now deceased, ran and lost in a party-list election under the Philippine Association of Retired Persons (Parp).
It was the 2004 elections and the party-list system was relatively new after it was approved by Congress in 1995. It presented the promise of giving those in un- and underrepresented sectors a voice in Congress and the ability to work on relevant legislation.
The group of elderly citizens under the Parp which my father founded decided to join the election to pursue their mission “to assist retirees and senior citizens in enjoying the benefits of their retirement and senior years granted by law, and to act as guardian of their interests and welfare.”
They pooled their resources, which included their retirement pay, pension and contributions from family, friends and supporters, and joined the campaign. At one point, the Parp national leadership of people in their 60s, 70s and 80s took a public bus from Manila to Bicol to Eastern Visayas and to Cebu. It was a trip that took them days to complete. They paid for their way and their accommodation.
They lost in the election because they could not compete with the resources of other party-list candidates, especially those backed by political parties even if this kind of support was disallowed by law. Despite their failure at the polls, the Parp did not give up on the party-list system because the fault was not in the sectoral representation per se but in the culture and the political patronage that marked the exercise.
I raise this close encounter with the party-list system as President Rodrigo Duterte came up with a proposal to scrap it. He raised last week the possibility of amending the Constitution to remove the party-list system which allegedly allowed communists to infiltrate the legislature. He said the Charter change was not to extend his term or that of other officials but to “solve the problem” of the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army).
After the Parp lost in the polls, it considered making another run at it because its officers still believed in the brilliance of the law. What stopped it was the sad experience of politicians and people with vested interests trying to make a mockery of the law.
The Parp was offered campaign support if the group allowed a politician or individual to be its nominee no. 1 and my Dad, as Parp head, to be nominee no. 2. If Parp got the minimum number of votes, then nominee no. 1 was assured of a seat in the House of Representatives. If it got more than the minimum, only then can nominee no. 2 get a seat. This arrangement, as the Parp correctly saw it, violated the spirit of the party-list system and Parp did not want any part of it.
The Parp didn’t blame the party-list system but the people who tried to make a mockery of the law. There’s nothing wrong with the law.