Duterte blames the abused, not the abuser

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PRESIDENT DUTERTE recently declared that he would work for the abolition of the party-list system because the rich abuse it in complete “mockery of the law.”

If abuse by the rich is the criterion for the abolition of public institutions, then Mr. Duterte should work for the abolition of Congress in its entirety. Congress is the epitome of a publicly-funded institution that is abused by the rich. The oligarchs’ misuse of congressional powers is the ultimate mockery of the law.

Recall that the purpose of the party-list system is to give society’s underrepresented sectors a chance to have a voice in Congress. These sectors include laborers, farmers, urban poor, minorities, women, and the youth. The party-list system aims to provide these sectors a small side entrance that is separate from the front entrance used by the rich to become district members of the House of Representatives.

Of the 294 members of the House, the Constitution mandates that 20 percent should be party-list representatives. A total of 56 party-list representatives are currently sitting as members of the 17th Congress.

Without the party-list system, there is very little chance for the underrepresented to elect a representative in Congress. Just look at the House roster, and it is easy to figure out the singular qualification to become a district representative: One must be a multimillionaire. Those who are not party-list representatives belong to the rich families in each of the country’s 236 congressional districts.

It is true that the rich have not confined themselves to the front entrance of the House. The rich are also entering the House through the small side entrance reserved for party-list members. Of the 56 newly-elected party-list representatives, a good number belong to political dynasties and rich families. Party-list organizations have been set up by families who already have many members occupying different elective positions in the government or who are allied with these families.

President Duterte correctly rages against the abuse of the party-list system, which he brands as a mockery of the law. But he is completely wrong when he puts the blame on the party-list system itself and not on the rich who abuse the system. He blames the rape victim instead of the rapist; this constitutes a blunt analogy.

It is also lamentable that the President fumes at the abuse perpetrated by the rich on the 20-percent party-list seats and yet his silence is deafening when it comes to the bigger abuse perpetrated by political dynasties on congressional district seats that comprise 80 percent of the House of Representatives.

If the party-list system is abolished, the only way for underrepresented sectors to elect their legislative representatives is to participate in congressional district elections. But since congressional districts are dominated by deeply-entrenched political dynasties, the underrepresented will have no chance of winning.

If Mr. Duterte succeeds in removing the party-list system, he will close the only door available for the underrepresented sectors to enter Congress, and in effect ensure that Congress will remain an exclusive club of the rich.

Instead of working to close the side entrance of Congress, Mr. Duterte should work for the exclusion of the rich and the elimination of the oligarchs from the party-list system. He should work at overhauling the system to improve it, instead of abolishing it.

Whether he realizes it or not, what Mr. Duterte is complaining about is actually the plague of political dynasties infecting the party-list system. He is merely complaining about the symptoms instead of going after the root cause. He should work for the elimination of political dynasties.

The party-list system should be strengthened so that more progressive organizations will have increased chances of winning, and in the process minimize (if not totally prevent) the hijacking of party-list seats by oligarchs masquerading as champions of the underprivileged.

It is true that there is a minority of real and genuine sectoral representatives among the ranks of party-list lawmakers. But these very few—such as those belonging to progressive and activist organizations—are usually the voices we hear and the warm bodies we see when we need a principled stand, a voice of defiance, and an act of protest.

The ranks of party-list representatives—notwithstanding their imposed status as a permanent minority—have always been a good source of outstanding fiscalizers against beholden district representatives who will always constitute the supermajority. This has been demonstrated by the notable stints of party-list representatives like Neri Colmenares, Walden Bello, Loretta Rosales, Roy Señeres, Teodoro Casiño, Satur Ocampo, and Rafael Mariano, among others.

The need for independent legislators who will serve as fearless fiscalizers has never been more important than now because of the current administration’s propensity to overstep the bounds of the separation of powers and its inclination to violate the bill of rights.

President Duterte displays little tolerance for criticism. But he needs to test his words and actions in the free market of ideas because his ways of achieving his goals are resulting in the irreversible destruction of lives, reputations, and even long-established principles and institutions.

The President must realize that he is not an infallible god immune from misjudgment and emotional anomalies.

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