Atong Paglaum, Inc. vs Commission on Elections

May 8, 2014
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694 SCRA 477 – Political Law – Constitutional Law – Legislative Department – Party-List System

This case partially abandoned the  rulings in Ang Bagong Bayani vs COMELEC and BANAT vs COMELEC.

Atong Paglaum, Inc. and 51 other parties were disqualified by the Commission on Elections in the May 2013 party-list elections for various reasons but primarily for not being qualified as representatives for marginalized or underrepresented sectors.

Atong Paglaum et al then filed a petition for certiorari against COMELEC alleging grave abuse of discretion on the part of COMELEC in disqualifying them.

ISSUE: Whether or not the COMELEC committed grave abuse of discretion in disqualifying the said party-lists.

HELD: No. The COMELEC merely followed the guidelines set in the cases of Ang Bagong Bayani and BANAT. However, the Supreme Court remanded the cases back to the COMELEC as the Supreme Court now provides for new guidelines which abandoned some principles established in the two aforestated cases. The new guidelines are as follows:

I. Parameters. In qualifying party-lists, the COMELEC must use the following parameters:

1. Three different groups may participate in the party-list system: (1) national parties or organizations, (2) regional parties or organizations, and (3) sectoral parties or organizations.

2. 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.

3. 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 elections 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 sectoral party, and is linked to a political party through a coalition.

4. Sectoral parties or organizations may either be “marginalized and underrepresented” or lacking in “well-defined political constituencies.” It is enough that their principal advocacy pertains to the special interest and concerns of their 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.

5. A majority of the members of sectoral parties or organizations that represent the “marginalized and underrepresented” must belong to the “marginalized and underrepresented” sector they represent. Similarly, a majority of the members of sectoral parties or organizations that lack “well-defined political constituencies” must belong to the sector they represent. The nominees of sectoral parties or organizations that represent the “marginalized and underrepresented,” or that represent those who lack “well-defined political constituencies,” either must belong to their respective sectors, or must have a track record of advocacy for their respective sectors. The nominees of national and regional parties or organizations must be bona-fide members of such parties or organizations.

6. 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.

II. In the BANAT case, major political parties are disallowed, as has always been the practice, from participating in the party-list elections. But, since there’s really no constitutional prohibition nor a statutory prohibition, major political parties can now participate in the party-list system provided that they do so through their bona fide sectoral wing (see parameter 3 above).

Allowing major political parties to participate, albeit indirectly, in the party-list elections will encourage them to work assiduously in extending their constituencies to the “marginalized and underrepresented” and to those who “lack well-defined political constituencies.”

Ultimately, the Supreme Court gave weight to the deliberations of the Constitutional Commission when they were drafting the party-list system provision of the Constitution. The Commissioners deliberated that it was their intention to include all parties into the party-list elections in order to develop a political system which is pluralistic and multiparty. (In the BANAT case, Justice Puno emphasized that the will of the people should defeat the intent of the framers; and that the intent of the people, in ratifying the 1987 Constitution, is that the party-list system should be reserved for the marginalized sectors.)

III. The Supreme Court also emphasized that the party-list system is NOT RESERVED for the “marginalized and underrepresented” or for parties who lack “well-defined political constituencies”. It is also for national or regional parties. It is also for small ideology-based and cause-oriented parties who lack “well-defined political constituencies”. The common denominator however is that all of them cannot, they do not have the machinery – unlike major political parties, to field or sponsor candidates in the legislative districts but they can acquire the needed votes in a national election system like the party-list system of elections.

If the party-list system is only reserved for marginalized representation, then the system itself unduly excludes other cause-oriented groups from running for a seat in the lower house.

As explained by the Supreme Court, party-list representation should not be understood to include only labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, handicapped, veterans, overseas workers, and other sectors that by their nature are economically at the margins of society. It should be noted that Section 5 of Republic Act 7941 includes, among others, in its provision for sectoral representation groups of professionals, which are not per se economically marginalized but are still qualified as “marginalized, underrepresented, and do not have well-defined political constituencies” as they are ideologically marginalized.

 

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