President Gloria Arroyo was prohibited by law to run for reelection in 2010. But in her lust for power, even if only a fraction of what she wielded as president, she decided to run for representative of the 2nd District of Pampanga. Her son Mikey, then the representative of the district, had to give way to his Mom as the candidate for the position.
To prevent the further diminution of the power of the family, Gloria Arroyo wanted her son Mikey to remain a member of the House of Representatives like her other son Dato. So, they inveigled the officers of the party-list Ang Galing Pinoy, which represents tricycle drivers and security guards, to nominate Mikey as the party’s representative in Congress if the party garnered the required number of votes to be represented in Congress.
“A mockery of the principles of the party-list system,” cried leaders of groups from the truly marginalized sectors. They claimed that the intention of the party-list law was to bring them from the parliament of the streets where they had been holding rallies for decades into Congress.
The 1987 Constitution created the party-list system. It mandates that under-represented community sectors or groups, including labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous, cultural, women, youth, and other such sectors must be represented in the House of Representatives. In 1995, Congress enacted Republic Act No. 7941 or the Party-List System Act.
It mandates 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 leaders of the marginalized groups claimed, and rightly so, that Mikey Arroyo was never a tricycle driver or security guard, or operator of tricycles or owner of a security agency. Not only that, the biggest group of security guards disowned him. And the Comelec had disqualified other would-be party-list candidates for not being from the marginalized sector.
Mikey Arroyo’s net worth of P99 million placed him way above not only the marginalized sector but the middle class of society as well. He was part-owner of a stable which had 20 race horses, some of them worth P1 million each. In his guest appearance in Winnie Monsod’s TV talk show “Unang Hirit” in 2009, he fumbled famously as he tried to explain how his net worth increased from P76.9 million in 2005 to P99 million in 2008 and who the owner of the P63.7-million beachfront property in the United States was.
But President Arroyo’s appointees in the Comelec — Nicodemo Ferrer, Elias Yusoph, Lucenito Tagle, and Armando Velasco — helped to allow Mikey to represent the party-list group of tricycle drivers and security guards. The protesters then filed with the Supreme Court a disqualification complaint against Mikey. The Supreme Court, dominated by Arroyo appointees led by Renato Corona, who was also named chief justice by President Arroyo in contravention of the law, quickly dismissed the disqualification complaint against Mikey on the basis of a bizarre argument.
The Court ruled that it had no jurisdiction to pass upon the eligibility of Mikey Arroyo who was already a member of the House of Representatives. It acknowledged that the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal had the original jurisdiction over the petition for the declaration of Mikey Arroyo‘s ineligibility. But the complaint was not about his qualification for the House of Representatives. The complaint was about his qualification to represent a group from a marginalized sector – the tricycle drivers and security guards.
In contrast, the Corona Court readily took up Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez’s complaint regarding the House of Representatives Justice Committee impeaching her on the basis of two complaints when it had no jurisdiction to pass upon impeachment cases as only the House of Representatives has jurisdiction over such cases.
Also, the Court had ruled in 2001 that only those parties or organizations and their nominees “who belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors” were qualified to hold party-list seats. In 2009 the Court excluded the major political parties from party-list elections, since they were already well-represented in the district polls. Using that logic, the Court should have excluded Mikey Arroyo from the 2010 elections on the grounds that one family, the Arroyo family, would be overly represented.
Anyway, in October 2013 the Comelec, then headed by President Benigno Aquino-appointed Sixto Brillantes, Jr., motu proprio (acting on its own initiative) disqualified Ang Galing Pinoy from running in that year’s elections because their nominees were not tricycle drivers and security guards. Comelec First Division Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, who back in 2010 had voted against Mikey Arroyo’s eligibility as nominee of Ang Galing Pinoy, said: “The disqualification of AGP is an example of the party-list system truly serving the marginalized and underrepresented.”
However, in 2013 the Court, still dominated by Arroyo appointees, reversed its 2001 and 2009 rulings. It held that the party-list system is composed of three groups: the national parties, the regional parties, and the sectoral parties or organizations, with the national and regional parties not needing to represent any “marginalized and underrepresented” sector. The Court said it is sufficient that their members advocate common ideologies or governance principles regardless of their economic status.
The Court interpreted the words “marginalized and underrepresented” as the incapacity to win district elections for any reason. That interpretation of the Court enabled multi-millionaires, members of political dynasties, and those well-connected to the powers that be to use the party-list system as the easier and cheaper way of getting elected to the House of Representatives, thus crowding out of Congress the real marginalized folks.
In effect, the Supreme Court modified RA 7941 by discarding its original intent of giving the marginalized and underrepresented sectors 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 the opportunity to become members of the House of Representatives. Once again, the Supreme Court justices, who were not elected by the citizenry, usurped the function of Congress, this time to the detriment of the marginalized and underrepresented citizens that RA 7941 meant to benefit.
Oscar P. Lagman, Jr. is a member of Manindigan! a cause-oriented group of businessmen, professionals, and academics.