BY ANDREA ZARAH DAYAO, ANNE EDNALYN DELA CRUZ and CIELO EUNICE FLORES
MANILA — Because they are rarely covered by the media, Bulatlat decided to feature some of the most accomplished and progressive party-list groups.
Section 2 of Republic Act 7941 or Party-List System Act declares that “the state shall promote proportional representation in the election of representatives to the House of Representatives through a party-list system of registered national, regional and sectoral parties or organizations or coalitions thereof, which will enable Filipino citizens belonging to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties, and who lack well-defined political constituencies but who could contribute to the formulation and enactment of appropriate legislation that will benefit the nation as a whole, to become members of the House of Representatives…”
The party-list (PL) system was first introduced during the May 1998 elections. A total of 123 party list groups registered for the elections and competed for 52 party-lists seats. However, only 14 seats were filled, which was equivalent to 6.3 percent of the total number of seats in the House of Representatives. This is a very small percentage considering that 20 percent of the seats in the Lower House are allotted to party-list groups.
Since 1998, there have been four party-lists elections. In 2001, 20 out of 52 congressional seats were filled, registering a fill-up rate of 8.77 percent in the 12th Congress. In 2004 and 2007, the seats allotted for party-list groups increased to 53 and 55, respectively. However, the results remained variably small. In 2004, 16 party-list groups secured 24 seats, equivalent to only 10.17 percent of the Lower House. In 2007, it even decreased; only 22 seats were filled, equivalent to only 9.09 percent.
This May 2010 elections, 187 party-list groups have registered and are competing for 54 party-lists seats. Twelve years have passed since the party-list system was first introduced yet the importance of party-list elections has remained unrecognized. The results of the April 2010 Pulse Asia survey revealed that 6 of 10 or 58 percent of registered voters are not aware of the party-list system.
What is worse is that even the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) is having a difficult time organizing the party-list system. It has been accused of giving genuine party-list groups a hard time in getting an accreditation while allowing the entry of dubious, Malacañang-sponsored groups. Also, a study conducted by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility revealed that party-list groups are hardly covered in the media. Of the 187 partly-list groups vying for seats in the Lower House, only 23 covered by the three major news programs from the three major networks. Worse, nine out of the 16 in the 10 most covered party-list groups – the coverage of which amounted to a mere 11 seconds – are identified with Malacañang.
Of the 187 party-list running this elections, here are some of the party-list groups that have secured seats in previous elections:
Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP)
Founded in October 28, 2000, Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP) was formed by Gabriela, the biggest progressive organization of women in the country that is fighting for the interests, rights, and welfare of Filipino women, especially women from the basic masses, by working alongside patriotic and democratic classes, sectors, and groups in the struggle for freedom, social justice, equality and democracy. Both Gabriela and GWP were named after General Gabriela Silang who fought against the Spanish colonizers in the Ilocos provinces.
During the 2004 elections, the GWP landed a seat in the 13th Congress for its first nominee Liza Maza. In 2007, it gained two seats, which were occupied by Maza and Luz Ilagan. The two representatives of the GWP have authored bills such as the Reproductive Health Bill or the House bill (HB) 5043 to enhance quality health care for women. They also refiled House Bill 3461 or the Divorce Bill, which was earlier sponsored by Maza in the 13th Congress. Maza said, “In refiling the Divorce Bill, we hope to continue public discussions on the need to provide women, especially those in abusive and violent relationships, the option of divorce.”
Among the bills it passed to promote the rights of women and overseas Filipino workers (OFW), with support from Bayan Muna, is the Anti-Violence Against Women and Children Act or RA 9262. Republic Act no. 9262 is an act that seeks to protect women and children against battering. Other bills it authored include the Overseas Absentee Voting Act of 2003 or RA 9189 to provide Filipinos abroad the opportunity to exercise their right to vote; Magna Carta for Women or RA 9710 to eliminate discrimination against women, to recognize their rights, and provide protection, and support for Filipino women; the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act in 2003 or RA 9208 to promote human dignity and eliminate human trafficking, violence and exploitation; and HB 4833, a bill that declares that the OWWA fund be used exclusively for OFWs.
Rep. Luz Ilagan said in an interview, “We also passed bills that sought to remove excessive fees exacted on OFWs, such as the bill removing the documentary stamp tax on all remittances of OFWS, and House resolutions calling for investigations of cases of OFWs who are stranded and in death row.”
“I have been to congressional hearings, outside and inside the country to know the situation of our OFWs,” she added.