Revising the rules it laid down 12 years ago, the Supreme Court on Friday voted to allow political parties and groups not representing marginalized and unrepresented sectors to participate in party-list elections.
The Court en banc, voting 10-2, granted 54 petitions for certiorari and prohibition filed by party-list groups that were disqualified by the Commission on Elections (Comelec). The justices ordered the cases remanded to Comelec so the poll body can ascertain the qualifications of each party-list groups based on the revised standards formulated by the Court.
The 10 who voted in favor were Justices Antonio Carpio, Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Lucas Bersamin, Mariano del Castillo, Roberto Abad, Martin Villarama Jr., Jose Perez and Jose Mendoza.
Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno voted to remand only nine cases while Justice Bienvenido Reyes said only 10 should be returned to Comelec. Justice Marvic Leonen, on the other hand, said 39 groups should be allowed to participate in the May election but the other 13 should again be screened by Comelec.
The justices also voted 7-6 in ruling that Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion in disqualifying the petitioners.
“As a general finding, the Court held that the Comelec did not commit grave abuse of discretion in following prevailing decisions of the Supreme Court in disqualifying the petitioners from participating in the May 13, 2013 party-list elections. However, since the decision adopts new parameters in the qualification of national, regional and sectoral parties under the party-list system, the Court remands to the Comelec all the present petitions for the Comelec to determine who are qualified to participate under the May 2013 elections under the new parameters prescribed,” the Court said in the decision penned by Carpio.
Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., whose wife and daughter are nominees of the party-list group Ang Mata’y Alagaan (AMA), inhibited himself from the case. AMA is not a party to the case as it had been accredited by Comelec as a party-list group last year.
Justice Estela-Perlas Bernade was on leave.
The Court also ruled that while Comelec conducts “summary evidentiary hearings,” only 41 of the petitioners will be temporarily allowed to participate in the May elections. This was because they were able to secure status quo ante orders (SQAOs) and mandatory injunctions, which resulted in the inclusion of their names in the ballots already printed by Comelec.
Thirteen party-list groups that secured SQAOs but not mandatory injunctions would not be able to participate, but Comelec is still required to determine their qualifications, the Court added.
These are: Ako An Bisaya (AAB); Alagad ng Sining (Asin); Alab ng Mamahayag (Alam); Association of Guard, Utility Helper, Aider, Rider, Driver/Domestic Helper, Janitor, Agent and Nanny of the Philippines Inc. (Guardian); Abyan Ilonggo; Alliance of Organizations; Networks and Associations of the Philippines (Alona); Partido ng Bayan and Bida (PBB); Pilipinas Para sa Pinoy (PPP); 1-Alliance Advocating Autonomy Part (1AAP); Kalikasan Akbay Kalusugan (Akin); Manila Teachers Savings and Loans Association (Manila Teachers); and Association of Local Athletics, Entrepreneurs and Hobbyists (Ala-Eh).
The high court also enumerated six “parameters” which the Comelec was instructed to “adhere to” in determining which group may participate not only in this year’s elections but in subsequent elections. The parameters modified some of the eight “guidelines for screening party-list participants” set by the Court in the case Ang Bagong Bayani v. Comelec (2001).
The justices voted on each of new parameters.
First, the justices said, voting 13-0, three different groups are allowed to participate in the party-list system: national parties or organizations; regional parties or organizations; and sectoral parties or organizations.
Second, national parties or organizations and regional parties or organizations do not need to organize along sectoral lines and do not need to represent “any marginalized and underrepresented” sector. Here the justices voted 11-2.
Third, the justices ruled, voting 13-0, political parties can participate in party-list elections provided they register under the party-list system and do not field candidates in legislative district elections.
“A political party, whether major or not, that fields candidates in legislative district election can participate in party-list elections only through its sectoral wing that can separately register under the party-list system. The sectoral wing is by itself an independent party, and is linked to a political party through a coalition,” the justices added.
Fourth, sectoral parties or organizations may either be “marginalized and underrepresented” or lacking in “well-defined political constituencies.” Here, the justices voted 11-2, adding: “It is enough that their principal advocacy pertains to the special interest and concerns of the sector. The sectors that are marginalized and underrepresented” include labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, handicapped, veterans and overseas workers. The sectors that lack well-defined political constituencies include professionals, the elderly, women and the youth.”
Fifth, the justices, voting 13-0 again, ruled that the majority of the members of sectoral parties or organization that represent the “marginalized and underrepresented” must belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sector that they represent.
Similarly, the justices added, a majority of the members of sectoral parties or organization that lack “well-defined political constituencies” must belong to the sector that they represent. The nominees of either sector must either belong to their respective sectors, or must have a track record of advocacy for their respective sectors; while the nominees of national and regional parties or organizations must be bona fide members of such parties or organizations.
The justices pointed out that Republic Act No. 7941 or the Party-list System Act of 1995, the law that implements the party-list system prescribed in the Constitution, does not require national and regional parties or organizations to represent the “marginalized and underrepresented sectors.”
“To require all national and regional parties under the party-list system to represent the ‘marginalized and underrepresented’ is to deprive and exclude, by judicial fiat, ideology-based and cause-oriented parties from the party-list system.”
The Court distinguished between ideology-based and cause-oriented political party from a sectoral party.
“There is no requirement in RA 7941 that a national or regional political party must represent a ‘marginalized and underrepresented sector.’ It is sufficient that the political party consists of citizens who advocate the same ideology or platform, or the same governance principles and policies regardless of their economic status as citizens,” the justices said.
Thus, professionals, elderly, women and the youth are not, by definition, “marginalized and underrepresented,” may be considered as lacking “well-defined political constituencies” and can organize themselves into sectoral parties advocating their interests, they added.
Lastly, the justices, also voting 13-0, said national, regional and sectoral parties or organizations shall not be disqualified if some of their nominees are disqualified, provided that they have at least one nominee who remains qualified.”
The new guidelines were welcomed by political parties, particularly those purged from the party-list roster.
The Ako Bikol (AKB) political party, which was among the party-list groups disqualified from participating in the May 13 elections, said it welcomed the Supreme Court decision that “clearly defined and explained the party-list system of representation in accordance with the true spirit and intent of the Constitution.”
“The landmark decision will put a stop to massive disinformation about the true nature of the party-list system by some groups who are motivated not by their adherence to the rule of law, but by their mistaken conviction that the party-list system is their personal dominion and not open to other groups which have contrary beliefs, ideologies and programs of action.”
The AKB said it will submit itself to public judgment based on its merits and performance.