Carlo's Think Pieces

Reflections of a Filipino in the Netherlands

Adjusting the allocation of party-list seats

Posted by butalidnl on 23 April 2009

The Philippine Supreme Court has decided to scrap the 2 percent (of the total votes) minimum for winning a party-list seat in Congress. This made it possible to fill up the 54 seats reserved for party-list Representatives in the House. This was because the SC realized that having a 2% lower limit made it mathematically impossible to get 54 seats filled; and that having too few party-list representatives was undesirable, even unconstitutional.

But this is only one of the ways of adjusting the party-list law to ensure that it produces the needed amount of Representatives. The original law had both a minimum percentage (2%) and a maximum number of seats per party (3 seats). The solution that the SC chose was to scrap the minimum. The seats could also have been filled by scrapping the maximum – thus allowing parties to have more than 3 seats.

There are advantages and disadvantages in either approach. The scrapping of the minimum required votes (as they have done now) ensures that more parties get representatives, and thus potentially allows more “underrepresented sectors” to get represented. However, it raises the possibility of parties winning seats even when they have only a few votes; and thus “overrepresenting” these parties. The present party-list groups could also give birth to “new” parties in the hope of getting more total seats in Congress.

Scrapping the 3-representatives per party limit is fair in that those parties with more supporters get proportionally more Representatives than those with less supporters. The problem with this is that some parties will dominate the party-list groups, and even drown out the smaller party-list groups in Congress.

The Supreme Court’s choice of scrapping the lower limit is probably the better one. It maximizes the number of party-list Representatives, giving a voice to more points of view.  The best part of the SC’s decision is that it decided that leaving so many of the party-list seats unfilled was unconstitutional. For so long, these seats were left unfilled, and there was not too much fuss about it. If the empty seats were for district Representatives, the uproar that would ensue would ensure that immediate steps would have been taken to fill the seats.

We could take the logic of representation even further. The House of Representatives should then be composed in such a way as to provide representation to the widest variety of constituencies.  I believe that this is best achieved by increasing the number of party-list seats – from 1/5th of the total to perhaps one half. And together with this would be the lifting of the upper limit of 3 seats/party. With this number of Representatives chosen by proportional representation, it would then be possible (even desirable) to allow all parties to vie for these seats. The underrepresented sectors will still be able to have enough representatives in this system. At the same time, the established parties would be more answerable to a national constituency than now.

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