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For the very first time, the Party-List System will be used in the May 11 elections. Thus, some 52 seats in the House of Representatives will be hotly contested by 92 small and new political parties and sectoral organizations

by Alberto C. Agra

The mad scramble for party-list seats has begun. In 1998, 52 of the 257 seats in the House of Representatives will be contested under the party-list system. The Constitution and the Party-List Act provide that 20% of the total composition of the house shall be party-list representatives. The 205 seats will be contested by plurality of votes where the candidate who obtains the highest number of votes wins. Congress may increase the number of legislative districts either by general reapportionment or by special legislation (as in the case of Mandaluyong and Makati) thereby proportionately increasing the number of party-list seats. District and party-list representatives will be elected on May 11, 1998 together with the president, vice-president, senators and provincial, city and municipal officials.

A New Way of Selecting Representatives

The party-list system introduces two new concepts. Under the system, the Filipino electorate will vote for parties, organizations and coalitions, not individuals or natural persons. National, regional and sectoral parties, organizations and coalitions are the candidates in the party-list. For other offices, the candidates will remain to be natural persons, not legal or juridical persons as parties, organizations and coalitions.

Another new feature is the formula for selecting representatives. They shall be chosen not by plurality vote but through a mechanism of proportional representation. The seats are distributed based on the number of votes a party or organization gets in relation to the total number of votes obtained by all participating candidates. More votes will mean more seats and less votes will mean fewer seats. The party-list system, however, is not truly proportional since a party may only be entitled to a maximum of three seats. Furthermore, for a party to be entitled to at least one seat, it must obtain at least 1.9231% of the total votes under the party-list. Dividing 100% with 52 seats derives the percentage requirement. If there were 50 seats, the minimum requirement would be 2%. Thus, with 15 million voting under the system, a party or organization must get 288,465 votes to get one seat, 576,930 for two seats and 865,395 for three seats. For the district or ‘regular’ representative, as well as for the president, vice-president, senators, governors, mayors, board members and councilors, they will be chosen through the traditional formula of plurality.

While the 52 seats are distributed to parties and organizations, these seats are physically occupied by people. Members of such parties and organization represent the winning candidates. For sectoral parties and organizations, party-list representatives need not be members of the sector they seek to represent. These party-list representatives become members of the House of Representatives. As legislators, they must possess the same qualifications as district representatives. They must be at least 25 years of age, natural-born citizens, residents of the Philippines for at least one year prior to elections, registered voters and able to read and write. They will also serve a three-year term with a maximum of three consecutive terms. As members of Congress, they must be entitled to the same set of rights, benefits, salaries and emoluments since they are in fact elected officials (even with a national constituency), with the same set of accountabilities and duties as their regular counterparts. To deprive them of such treatment will be to discriminate against them and to violate the equal protection clause of the Constitution.


Votes Based on Issues, Policies and Programs

The party-list system is meant to favor small, new and sectoral organizations. While the system favors the marginalized, it does not (and cannot) totally and perpetually ban political parties. Republic Act No. 7941 provides such exception. It bans the top five political parties (and presumably, also their satellites, fronts and dummies) and permits other parties to participate. The five parties banned from participating in this year’s party-list elections are the LAKAS-NUCD-UDMP, Liberal Party (LP), National People’s Coalition (NPC), Lakas ng Demokratikong Pilipino (LDP), and Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL). On the other hand, the Partido ng Masang Pilipino (PMP), People’s Reform Party (PRP), Aksyon Demokratiko and Kabalikat ng Mamamayang Pilipino (KAMPI) may participate. PDP-LABAN has already manifested its intention to run.(See Roster of candidate parties-Ed.)

Having parties and organizations as candidates, the framers of the Constitution and the Party-List Act seek to instill a different election and political culture. Instead of a highly personalized or individualized campaign where voters choose from a list of aspirants who are men and women, voters will choose from a roster of parties and organizations, hopefully, on the bases of the issues they advocate, policies they support, and the platforms and programs of government they carry. By campaign period, expect to see posters that carry issues, mission statements, and groups of people, not just one person either holding a rose, smiling from ear to ear, wearing a wristband, boasting of his or her achievements, or showing the silhouette of his or her brother or father.

Last November 12, the deadline for new parties and organizations, a total of 179 parties and organizations filed their petitions for registration with the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) in Manila and 18 with its regional offices. After hearing most of the petitions for registration, the divisions of the COMELEC has accredited a total of 91 applicants. The Commission released the final list of legal contenders in a resolution dated February 7.

Twelve sectors may be represented as sectoral parties and organizations under the party-list. These are the labor, urban poor, women, peasant, overseas workers, handicapped, veterans, indigenous peoples, elderly, youth and professionals.

Come May 11, if all the petitions are favorably acted upon by the COMELEC, the voting population—which is estimated to reach 40 million—will choose from a diverse array of parties and organizations. Almost all interests and sectors will find a candidate that seeks to represent them. To name a few: Abanse! Pinay and GLOW for women; ABA and COPRA for the peasant and fisherfolk; AKO and SM for the urban poor; ALL PRO and PRO-ARIBA for the professionals; LMLC and PDMP for workers; Barkadahan and Kilos Kabataan for youth; and Bagong Bayani and Ang Lakas ng OCW for overseas workers. Multi-sectoral groups like AKBAYAN, ABS and KATIPUNAN also joined the fray. Even judges and law practitioners formed their own group, the Philippine Jury Movement. There were also regional parties organized such as, BIAG for the Cordillera Region and Bisaya. All in all, there are 91 candidates, but a voter may only choose one; some or most may even decide not to choose at all.

The Limitations of the System

While this may strike some as a prime example of people power, with the multiplicity of interests and sectors represented, the unfortunate fact is that less than 25% of them are likely to land a seat in the House. There are 52 seats and some 92 candidates. Not all will be entitled to a seat. For most, this may serve as just a valuable learning experience.

It is also possible that not all the 52 seats will be occupied. This may happen if there are less than 52 organizations that meet the minimum requirement of votes. Given the earlier example where 15 million will vote under the system and the 92 candidates obtain less than 100,000 votes each, none of the vying parties and organizations will be entitled to sit in Congress under the system. Due to all the different parties and organizations running, the votes may be divided and instead of the sector gaining a majority of the seats as intended by the framers of the system, they may only get a few. They will split the votes of the very few who are informed and who actually belong to a sector.

The mad scramble begins with the members of the organizations. All the prospective candidates are presently undertaking active recruitment campaigns and information drives. However, with regards to the general public, the campaign is limited. According to the Resolution No. 2946-A issued by the COMELEC last Jan. 6, 1998, the candidates under the system may only campaign beginning March 27, 1998. Campaign for the purpose of the party-list refers to an act designed to promote the election or defeat of a particular party, organization or coalition duly registered with the COMELEC under the system of the House of Representatives.

It would be politically nave to expect that there will be no competition between sectors. It would be worse to tag the law as defective for causing division since all elections involve contests and division of the electorate. In fact, the sectors are joining the contest divided.


Form Coalitions of Commitment

How does one achieve unity within such a diverse playing field? Informal coalitions or formations of coalitions among candidates may provide some relief under the current set-up. This may take the form of a joint campaign strategy. Since a party only needs to get some 300,000-second votes to be entitled to one seat or some 900,000 votes for three seats, theoretically speaking, several parties may join forces. Each party in an informal alliance of 10 parties may help the other nine parties to get their 900,000, splitting 9 million votes equally where 15 million are estimated to vote. Party 1 need not campaign nationwide and may just focus its efforts and presumably its modest resources in a few provinces or regions and rely on Party 2 to campaign for it in other areas. Party 2 will expect the same treatment from Party 1 in the latter’s assigned areas.

Another cure would be to amend the law by taking away the cap of three seats. This would then encourage the creation of "coalitions of commitment". In addition, a massive and effective information campaign must be adopted (this should have been done years or months ago). While this may raise the minimum requirement to be able to get one seat, this should not be an excuse for keeping the ordinary Filipino ignorant about the law. Should these be done, the struggle may not be so mad after all.

Alberto C. Agra is a lawyer who currently teaches at the Ateneo College of Law. He is the author of "Q & A Primer on the Philippine Party-List System."

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