Artwork by Lloyd Evangelista

Youth Representation in Congress: A Glimpse into the Philippine Partylist System

by Kathryn Suacillo

In an attempt to open the traditional politician-dominated system, the party-list system was established under the 1987 Philippine Constitution. The system was intended to represent the national, regional, and sectoral organizations or parties that will fill the 20 percent in the House of Representatives, following the proportional system. Only sectoral organizations that represent the following are eligible to join the system: labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, elderly, handicapped, women, youth, veterans, overseas workers, and professionals. Political parties are also allowed provided that they are not violating the law. Any participating party or organization may be disqualified if they are advocating violence, fail to comply with the laws, regulations, and rules related to the election, and have declared an untruthful statement in their petition.

Rep. Sarah Jane Elago

Among the list of marginalized and underrepresented sectors in the Party-list Law is the youth. Out of 171 national, regional, and sectoral organizations, only 2 party-lists are representing the youth in the 18th Congress. These groups are the Duty to Energize the Republic through the Enlightenment of the Youth Sectoral Party list (DUTERTE Youth) and the Kabataan Party list (KPL). Despite representing similar sectors, the two have expressed opposing ideologies on how they will address the concerns regarding the Filipino youth. The latter organization has been serving in the House of Representatives since 2004 and is known to be the first and sole youth sectoral party in Congress. Meanwhile, the former organization only emerged during the 2019 midterm election. The DUTERTE Youth have also been condemned and labeled as a “fake youth organization” by 47 Philippine youth organizations, including We The Future PH.

The Kabataan Partylist is one of the most productive lawmakers in the House of Representatives in terms of number of filed legislative measures from July 2019 to October 2020. Data from Twitter account of Deputy Speaker Rufus Rodriguez.

Genuine representation is proven outside and inside Congress. In the case of both youth sectoral representatives, the two earned an equal number of seats in Congress with the same duration of term service. In the span of 3 years, the youth faced safety, educational, and healthcare issues and has expressed the urgency in addressing them. From a broader perspective, the DUTERTE Youth’s representative Ducielle Marie S. Cardema principal authored 12 bills and co-authored 5 bills,while Kabataan Partylist’s representative Sarah Jane I. Elago principal authored 694 bills and co-authored 22 bills.

Among the notable bills filed by the Kabataan Partylist concerning education at the secondary and tertiary levels, is a bill that mandates the inclusion of Philippine History as a subject in the high school curriculum. Ignorance of significant events in Philippine History among the youth has been alarming despite the accessibility of information thanks to new media. Rather, social media and the web have contributed to the spread of misinformation and disinformation, particularly about Philippine history. The partylist also submitted a comprehensive bill that would institutionalize free public tertiary education in state universities and colleges. This bill includes the provision of free university housing, health services, and affordable food services. Passing this bill would encourage young people from low-income families to enter and finish college. However, approval for the first reading has been pending since November 17, 2021.

KPL also addressed the youth’s concerns about climate change. Among their five principal authored bills and resolutions is the call for support among house representatives to address climate change and mobilize for climate justice, as pointed out by climate advocates. KPL also passed the resolution to adopt the People’s Green New Deal for a just and green economic recovery.

The DUTERTE Youth started as a fringe group of Duterte loyalists who staged counter-protests despite lacking in numbers and sensible political stance. Photo from Philstar.

In healthcare, KPL has also submitted a bill that aims to strengthen the mental health services of state universities and colleges. They have also expressed their support for the discussion of face-to-face classes. They submitted a resolution urging the inclusion of students on the vaccination priority list for a safe and gradual return to face-to-face classes and in-person campus activities. In the midst of rising COVID-19 cases, social media was bombarded with the youth’s cry for free mass testing. KPL responded by being one of the principal authors that submitted a bill mandating free mass testing. However, the bill has remained pending in the House of Representatives since June 1, 2020.

Meanwhile, DUTERTE Youth submitted a joint resolution, concerning healthcare, that aims to defer the implementation of the premium rate increase by PhilHealth for 2021. In that same category, KPL submitted a separate joint resolution that mandates the immediate suspension of the increase in the PhilHealth premium rate amid the pandemic.

While KPL was focused on drafting bills that would address the concerns of the Filipino youth during the coronavirus pandemic, the health crisis was not the only major issue the youth has dealt with in the previous years. Proliferate red-tagging continued well into the pandemic. Attacks from the military, government officials, and agencies have also been launched against human rights defenders, activists, journalists, progressive organizations, and educational institutions.

Both youth representatives in Congress have tackled the issue differently. On one hand, KPL countered these attacks by filing a bill that aims to criminalize red-tagging and submitting a resolution that urges CHED and DepEd to issue a directive to stop the red-tagging campaign in educational institutions. They also filed a resolution that condemns and urges an investigation of the ongoing human rights violation against the Lumads.

The Makabayan-bloc, the group of party-list representatives who files the most people-centered bills, are often at the receiving end of red-tagging threats. Photo from Philstar

On the other hand, DUTERTE Youth has joined the concerted efforts to malign and red-tag progressive organizations such as ACT Teachers, Bayan Muna, Anakpawis, Gabriela, and Kabataan Partylist. Leading the attacks is Ronald Cardema, founder of DUTERTE Youth. The group used red-tagging tactics as an advantage during the 2019 electoral campaign. This earned them the lead vote of 354,629 or 1 congressional seat after the midterm elections. Kabataan was last on the list of winning parties with 196,385 votes equivalent to 1 congressional seat.

After gaining a congressional seat, The DUTERTE Youth submitted a resolution that called for an investigation regarding the recruitment of the New People’s Army (NPA) using civilian front organizations and campus youth organizations. They also filed a resolution for the investigation of the vandalism by “so-called” artists and youth groups that they deemed as an act of promoting the NPA and subversive attacks against the government. And most notably, DUTERTE Youth’s Ducielle Cardema, Ronald Cardema’s wife and substitute in Congress, submitted a bill that proposes to outlaw the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army, National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF), and Organizations allegedly supporting them in their recruitment, operations, financial transactions, and other activities. Their aforementioned proposal will aggravate the ongoing attacks against genuine party-lists that advocate the welfare of the marginalized and the underrepresented.

Between the two organizations representing the youth sector, it is clear that one is a genuine product of the Party-list system’s original intention while the other is the product and an embodiment of how the system has become a backdoor for corruption and abuse of power. The DUTERTE Youth is a clear example of how traditional politicians and cronies used the system to advance their political agendas. Their attempt to circumvent the law has already been palpable starting from the campaign period.

Ronald Cardema, founder of DUTERTE Youth, gets emotional as he plays the victim during a press conference. He cited COMELEC’s decision to disqualify him because he was too old to represent the youth. Cardema, 34 years old, exceeded the age requirement. Photo from Inquirer.net

According to R.A 7941 or the Party-list System Act, all organizations who wish to participate in the party list system must submit a petition expressing their intention that will then be published in at least two national newspapers and will be resolved after public notice and hearing. This mandate was bypassed by DUTERTE Youth. Another part of the law that the said partylist violated was the rule that a nominee of a youth sector must be at least 25 years old but not more than 30 years old. Kabataan Partylist first nominee Sarah Elago was 29 years old then, however, DUTERTE Youth first nominee, Ronald Cardema was 34. He was later substituted twice by his wife, Ducielle Marie Cardema, 29, who first withdrew as the second nominee because she “can no longer fulfill the expectations set forth by the party” and later after her re-substitution when the elections were over. This was interpreted by many as another example of the “palitan” system in Philippine politics wherein spouses take turns in government positions in an attempt to monopolize power.

The DUTERTE Youth also exemplify cronyism when Ronald Cardema openly declared his affiliation with President Rodrigo Duterte, which was his self-proclaimed reason behind their pending case in the COMELEC en banc as an attempt to extort favors. Apart from that, at the time of Ronald Cardema’s term as the chairperson and first nominee of DUTERTE Youth, he was also the incumbent chairperson and CEO of the National Youth Commission. This provided an additional basis for the persistent doubts regarding his motive in joining the Partylist System. Despite winning in the 2019 election, the pending case of the DUTERTE Youth caused the organization to leave a vacant seat in Congress. It was during this time that Northern Samar Representative Paul Daza threatened to defer COMELEC’s budget unless there is progress on the case. On the evening of October 13, 2019 Ducielle Cardema was included in the House of Representatives’ roll call followed by her oath taking as the representative of DUTERTE Youth. Later that night, COMELEC published the public announcement on the signed minute resolution of Ducielle Cardema’s Certificate of Proclamation.

Many Filipinos already feel disenchanted with the current political system where candidates often resort to winning through popularity. Policy stances and platforms do not seem to matter anymore and the partylist system has been the casualty of an ineffective electoral system. The well-intended law aiming to open the doors of Congress became susceptible to attempts in extending political power in the House of Representatives.

“Fight for the Safe Reopening of Schools”. Youth representation in Congress must be consultative and inclusive. Photo from Kabataan Partylist Facebook page.

Have party-list representatives fulfilled their mandate of advancing the cause of the marginalized sectors that they claim to represent? The DUTERTE Youth led by the Cardemas is the manifestation of the failure of the party-list system. Instead of creating bills that would help the Filipino youth cope with the shift to online classes and deteriorating quality of education, the DUTERTE Youth continued to malign and red-tag progressive organizations. Despite continuous attacks and threats, Kabataan Partylist did not deviate from their goal of truly representing the youth. KPL has authored numerous bills that benefit the youth and other sectors of society. Although a despairing 70% of party-list candidates this election have been found to be questionable by KontraDaya, Kabataan Partylist continues to prove that they are the epitome of the party-list system’s ideals. It is time that we fulfill the aim of this system — to give genuine power to the marginalized and underrepresented. With a single vote, we can amplify change. Make every vote count. Vote Kabataan Partylist.

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Institute for Nationalist Studies

Institute for Nationalist Studies

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The Institute advances ideas and information campaigns on social issues to ferment a nationalist consciousness for the interest of the people’s welfare