A primer on the party-list system

On May 9, Filipino voters will vote for a new President and other national and local leaders from among the choices listed on the front page of the ballot they will cast; at the back of that ballot is a full page of party-list candidates from which voters may choose only one party.

The first party-list representatives were elected in 1998 following the enactment in 1995 of Republic Act 7841, the Party-List System Act. The party list system is one of the novel features of the 1987 Constitution that was approved in a plebiscite after EDSA People Power restored democracy in the country.

Constitutional provision

The Constitution provides that aside from the representatives elected from the legislative districts, other representatives “shall be elected through a party-list system of registered national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations” (Article VI on The Legislative Department, section 5).

It also states: “The party-list representatives shall constitute 20 per centum of the total number of representatives including those under the party list.  For three consecutive terms after the ratification of this Constitution, one-half of the seats allocated to party-list representatives that shall be filled, as provided by law, by selection or election from the labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, and such other sectors, as may be provided by law, except the religious sector.”

Party-List System Act

The Party-List System Act set into motion the implementation of this new concept of representation —

“Sec. 2. Declaration of Policy. – 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. Towards this end, the State shall develop and guarantee a full, free and open party system in order to attain the broadest possible representation of party, sectoral or group interests in the House of Representatives by enhancing their chances to compete for and win seats in the legislature, and shall provide the simplest scheme possible.”

Evolution and development

The key phrases in the party-list concept are “proportional representation,” “marginalized and under-represented sectors, organizations and parties who lack well-defined political constituencies; and “could contribute to the formulation and enactment of appropriate legislation that will benefit the nation as a whole.”

Cases have been brought to the Supreme Court to clarify the intent of the law; the High Court decisions on these cases have influenced the level of participation in the party-list system.

The first two cases were decided in 2001; then Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban wrote these decisions. The first case was Ang Bagong Bayani v. Comelec that was decided on June 26, 2001. The tribunal ruled that only those parties and their nominees “who belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors” were qualified to hold party-list seats.

The second decision, Veterans Party v. Comelec, issued on Oct. 6, 2000, upheld the Party-List Law provision limiting the winners only to those passing the 2-percent parameter. According to Panganiban, “…the constitutional allocation of 20 percent of the House seats to the party-list was merely directory, not mandatory, in character. As a result, only a few (about 15) party-list candidates were elected.”

On April 21, 2009, the Court overturned the 2-percent parameter in Banat v. Comelec, saying that if this rule was kept, the constitutional provision —  “The party-list representatives shall constitute twenty per centum of the total number of representatives including those under the party list” — would not be attained.

From 14 elected in 1998

In 1998, when the first election of party-list members was held, 14 won seats to the House, the same number as in 2001. The number doubled to 28 in 2004; and nearly doubled anew to 53 in 2007 before inching up to the latest total of members.Presently there are 62 active party-list members out of 308 representatives.

The least number of candidates was in 2004 with only 66, before rising to 93 in 2007 and reaching the highest level at 178 in 2010; then tapered down to 112 and 115, respectively, in 2013 and 2016, and rising anew to 134 in 2019.  The number of present contenders, at 173, is just slightly lower than the previous highest figure.


Based on a majority vote on each major issue raised in the Banat v. Comelec case, the court directed the Comelec to observe six “parameters” in implementing the party-list system law:

First: Three different groups are allowed to participate in the party-list system, namely, national parties or organizations; regional parties or organizations; and sectoral parties or organizations;

Second: 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;

Third: 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;

Fourth: Sectoral parties or organizations may either be “marginalized and underrepresented” or lacking in “well-defined political constituencies.” 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.

Fifth: The majority of the members of sectoral parties or organization that represent the “marginalized and underrepresented” must belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sector that they represent.

Finally: A majority of the members of sectoral parties or organization that lack “well-defined political constituencies” must belong to the sector that they represent. The nominees of either sector must either 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.