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Ex-SC chief sees urgent need to amend partylist law

Noting that the current partylist system can be easily “manipulated" to serve the interests of a select few, retired Supreme Court chief justice Artemio Panganiban on Friday called for the urgent revision of the Party-List System Act. “Clearly, the most urgent need of the hour is for legislation to be passed to revise the partylist act and install permanent safeguards to prevent abuses and misuses of the system," Panganiban said during his lecture at the Justice Cecilia Munoz-Palma Lecture Series held at the Ateneo Law School in Rockwell, Makati City. The retired SC chief justice said the current partylist system is clearly vulnerable to manipulation and misuse because Republic Act 7941, or the partylist law, “unfortunately is not very clear as to who could be the candidates and who could be the nominees." Equally important, Panganiban said, is the complex mathematics of computing the votes to determine the winner. “It’s very complicated and there must be an easier formula to compute," he said, adding that these have to be clarified by Congress. Panganiban was the author of two SC decisions –Veterans Federation Party vs Comelec and Ang Bagong Bayani vs Comelec – which are being used to interpret the Partylist System Act. In the Veterans case, the high court devised a formula, dubbed as the “Panganiban formula," and its corresponding procedure in allocating House seats to the partylist winners. In the Ang Bagong Bayani case, the SC first tackled the qualifications of the nominees of partylist organizations. Recent SC, Comelec decisions Unfortunately, Panganiban said, these rulings were overturned by more recent SC decisions. He cited the Banat vs Comelec case in April 2009, where the SC “in one fell swoop revised the partylist system without warning" when it declared as unconstitutional the provision which states that only those garnering more than two percent of the votes shall be entitled to additional seats. The SC awarded the other seats to parties that secured less than two percent of the votes cast in order to achieve the maximum number of seats allotted to partylists in the Lower House, which was 50 at that time or 20 percent of the total number of House members, including partylist representatives. Panganiban also claimed that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has been applying inconsistent standards in accrediting partylist candidates and their nominees. As an example, he said that Comelec disqualified Ang Ladlad and Disabled Pinoy Party while allowing Rep. Juan Miguel Arroyo, son of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, to be the first nominee of a partylist of security guards. The Comelec also allowed former Energy Secretary Angelo Reyes to represent a partylist of bus and jeepney drivers. The SC later on reversed Comelec’s decision and allowed Ang Ladlad to run in the partylist race. “Instead of effectively aiding the upliftment of the marginalized sectors, the partylist system may be readily co-opted and utilized inter alia [among other things] to maintain certain personages in political power. All it takes is a few willing souls in the poll body, the judiciary and of course, the legislature," Panganiban said. 'Amend the law now' Public vigilance and amendatory legislation are thus needed to deter attempts to manipulate the partylist system, he said. “We can only hope that such remedial legislation will be initiated soonest by the legitimate partylisters." He added the legitimate partylists are “the very ones who in all likelihood will be first to be ousted from Congress should the partylist system succumb to wholesale manipulation and abuse." Panganiban expressed serious concern that with recent SC and Comelec decisions, the partylist system is more liable to be dominated by a small minority that could take control of the legislative branch. Interviewed at the sidelines of the lecture, Panganiban said Congress needs to clarify the qualification of partylist candidates and nominees and how to determine the winners. The role, powers and duties of the Comelec should be included in the amendatory legislation to guide the poll body in accrediting candidates and in computing the votes, he added. Panganiban stressed that the law should be amended now. “It has to be done now before the next election, in 2013, as it takes time to craft this law," he said. He said that the partylist system, as a new phenomenon in the Philippines, has acquired unique traits. “It does not have any exact counterpart anywhere else in the world… normally partylists are parts of parliamentary systems, not presidential systems but we welded… [it] in our presidential system. Its features, characteristics and solutions to problems have to be also unique," Panganiban said. In the forum after Panganiban’s speech, Comelec commissioner Rene Sarmiento admitted that there is a need to further fine-tune the meaning of “marginalized and underrepresented sectors," as their vagueness serves as backdoor for politicians’ relatives to easily enter politics. Mindoro Oriental Rep. Reynaldo Umali, who listened to the lecture, said he was ready to file a bill amending the partylist law. “Amending the partylist law is on top of my legislative agency. We cannot abolish it so we will just amend it. I ask all of you to help me in this measure," he said during the open forum. Alagad Rep. Rodante Marcoleta was also open to amending the law, but expressed apprehension that the effort will be useless if Comelec officials do not hew to its standards. “We can do that [amend the law] but Comelec is something else. Bakit nila nireregister ang mga partylist na hindi naman dapat [Why do they register partylists that shouldn’t be there], they were given standards, parameters… [but] they are not following it," he told reporters in a separate interview.—JV, GMANews.TV