Term limits, vote-buying in party-list system



When reelected Sen. Koko Pimentel files an amendatory bill reforming the party-list system as he had promised during the campaign, he should include a provision disqualifying party-list groups that had three consecutive representations in Congress in the next immediate election.

At present, the Commission on Elections is disqualifying the nominees of party-lists who have served in the House for three consecutive terms. It’s for this reason that Reps. Satur Ocampo, Liza Maza and, more recently Teddy Casino, thought they could no longer represent Bayan Muna and had to run for the Senate. I believe this is not correct.

The disqualification should apply also to the winning party-list groups themselves and not just to their nominees in three consecutive elections. After all, people vote not for the nominees but for the party-list group. Most often, people shade on the ballot the party-list of their choice without knowing who their nominees are. If congressmen who are directly voted by the people are disqualified from running for a fourth consecutive term, I see no reason why party-list groups in a similar situation should not be disqualified as well.

A winning party-list can change its nominee anytime even if he or she is already sitting in Congress. If that nominee puts up a new party-list for the next election and wins, will he be considered to be serving a second term? This controversy would arise if the reckoning of “three consecutive terms” is applied only to the nominee and not to the party-list group.

Three consecutive terms is more than enough for a party-list group to do its share in strengthening its sector. Three consecutive terms should be more than enough to make a party-list group more competitive against organized political parties. Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Kabataan, Cibac and a few others have had significant and meaningful contributions in the House. Nevertheless, I believe these groups and not just their nominees should also be subject to term limits, just like district congressmen who have had three consecutive stints in the chamber.

Senator Koko had disagreed with a recent Supreme Court ruling and said his proposed reform of the party-list system would make it truly representative of marginalized and under-represented sector.

“I believe that the party-list system was intended by the framers of the 1987 Constitution as a social justice tool, to narrow the gap between the rich and the poor and give the latter the opportunity to craft laws that would benefit them,” he said.

I hope many legislators will support him. Right now, however, I have my doubts. Senator Koko should be aware that many politicians, especially the dynasts, are using the party-list system to extend their tentacles. And it’s these politicians that are giving the system a bad name because they are employing practices of traditional politics, including vote-buying. Others that want to be competitive are following suit even if they are truly for reform and sincerely want to serve marginalized citizens. Imagine, groups supposed to represent the marginalized sector are buying votes or are being forced to buy votes!

Utol Mike Plana, a nominee of a party-list group in the just concluded election, told me that the demand for money by several politicians and groups had initially discouraged him in his campaign.

“Some people may vote for our group because they believe in us but I’ve found out that to win, you must have not only the heart but also a lot of logistics for buying votes,” he said.

Utol Mike said he wants to reform the political system but he can’t do so without winning. I told him that, perhaps, the only alternative is to join the system first so he could reform it. This is not a case of “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.” Utol Mike and others don’t have to be co-opted by the system. One can use the system to change it from within. He can still maintain his idealism and yearning for reform that way.

Many well-meaning individuals like Utol Mike who want to help change the country by running for an elective post get discouraged after finding out that they could not win without buying votes — and they simply refuse to buy votes. It’s a sad commentary that in the Philippines, one has to spend lots of money if he wants to serve the people. And its sadder still for highly qualified, reform-minded individuals to be forced to follow traditional political practices just to win. But, tell me, is there any other way possible?



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