Philippines: Electoral Innovation


Dr Ron May

Following the Philippines' 'People Power Revolution' in 1986, many political commentators predicted a return to the essentially US-style two party system which had dominated Philippines politics in the years before the Marcos dictatorship. Filipinos, however, had become deeply cynical about 'traditional' party politics and traditional politicians ('trapos') and during the drafting of a new constitution in 1986-87 there was little evidence of desire to return to the pre-Marcos pattern of two-party dominated politics.

One reflection of this was the inclusion in the new constitution of a 'party-list' provision in the electoral arrangements for the bicameral legislature. Of the 'not more than 250 members' of the lower house, 20 per cent were to be elected 'through a party-list system of registered national, regional, and sectoral parties or organisations'. For the first three terms of the new Congress, however, half of these seats were to be filled, by selection or election, 'from labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, and such other sectors as may be prescribed by law, except the religious sector'.

In fact, in the early post-1986 congresses, sectoral representatives were part-nominated and part-appointed through a complex process; sectoral representatives often held multi-sectoral briefs and the full 20 per cent complement was not filled. Moreover, when in Congress, the sectoral representatives tended to behave like regular constituency politicians. The 'synchronised' (presidential, congressional, local) elections of May 1998 were the first to implement the party-list provisions, which were spelt out in the Party-List System Act (RA 7941). Under RA 7941 each group which obtains 2 per cent of the total party-list vote gets a seat; a further 2 per cent gains an additional seat, to a maximum of three.

In 1998, 122 groups contested the party-list election, for 52 seats. But due to poor understanding of the system, only thirteen groups gained the necessary 2 per cent, one group gaining 4 per cent and thus two seats. The thirteen groups embrace four sectors: urban poor, women, peasants and veterans.

Embarrassed by the poor showing, the Commission on Elections subsequently decided to fill the vacant 38 seats by appointing representatives from the groups placing 14th to 52nd in the poll, 'allowing certain rooms (sic) for novelty and the more lofty goals of broad representation'. Among those gaining from these arrangements were Joseph Victor Ejercito, son of President Estrada and chair of the youth arm of his father's Kabataan ng Masang Pilipino (KAMPIL) party. However, a petition from the fourteen successful party-list candidates - who saw 'grave and irreparable damage' to their rights as winning candidates - succeeded in having the Supreme Court issue a temporary restraining order against proclaiming the '38 losers'. In the midst of this controversy, Ejercito announced in January 1999 that, so as not to leave his father open to accusations of political intrigue, he would not take up the offered seat.

WATCHPOINT: The Philippines' experiment with a party-list electoral system remains experimental, and controversial.


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