Sotto to file poll reform bill barring groups eyeing gov’t ‘overthrow’
MANILA, Philippines — Senate President Vicente Sotto III said on Wednesday he would file a bill that would bar groups seeking the “overthrow of government” from running for party list seats in the House of Representatives.
The move was in response to President Rodrigo Duterte’s allegations that the opposition Makabayan bloc in the House had ties to communist rebels, who have been fighting the government for more than 50 years.
Makabayan legislators deny supporting the rebellion but sympathize with its broader causes. They are among the staunches critics of the President and oppose many of his administration’s policies, particularly the war on drugs and the cancellation of the peace talks.
Mr. Duterte had earlier said that the “best way” to deal with the activist lawmakers was to remove the party list system entirely from the Constitution. Sotto disagreed, saying amending the law was easier to do.
The Senate leader told the Kapihan sa Manila Bay online forum on Wednesday that this antirebellion clause was one of the reforms he wanted to introduce in Republic Act No. 7941, or the Party-list System Act.
Another is removing ambiguities in the language of the law defining which sectors should be allowed to have party list seats so that only truly marginalized and vulnerable Filipinos are represented in Congress, he said. Sotto said a constitutional amendment would involve a more difficult and lengthier process.
He clarified that the Makabayan bloc, composed of six progressive party list groups whose representatives had been “Red-tagged” by security and administration officials, would not be targeted specifically by his bill.
The bloc is composed of Representatives Ferdinand Gaite, Carlos Zarate and Eufemia Cullamat of Bayan Muna, Arlene Brosas of Gabriela, France Castro of ACT Teachers, and Sarah Elago of Kabataan.
“We can come out with a provision, to be able to address the President’s concerns, that if you are working to overthrow the government, you cannot be qualified,” Sotto said. He did not say how such groups would be identified.
Sotto said his bill would give a clear definition of marginalized sectors requiring representation through the party list system.
Last week, the Senate chief said the President told Congress leaders in a meeting with military officials last November that he “[wanted] this problem with the CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army) solved.” “The best way is that we remove the party list system, or change it in the Constitution so we can call for a constituent assembly and amend that,” Sotto said, quoting the President.
“You may then take advantage of the opportunity to amend the economic provisions,” the Senate leader said, still quoting Mr. Duterte.
Zarate did not comment on Sotto’s proposed measure to ban groups who want to topple the government but said he shared the Senate leader’s desire to strengthen the party list system and to provide a clearer definition of sectors that should be represented by party list groups.
“That is in fact our advocacy also to strengthen the [party list] law,” he said in a text message to the Inquirer, citing a bill filed by the Makabayan bloc in July 2019.
“We are also asking the House leadership to fast-track House Bill No. 242 to ensure that the party list system should be reserved for the truly marginalized and underrepresented,” Zarate said. “We also urge the Senate to file a similar bill for its speedy passage,” he added.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.