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EN BANC

G.R. No. 147589. June 26, 2001

ANG BAGONG BAYANI-OFW LABOR PARTY (under the acronym OFW), represented herein by its secretary-general, MOHAMMAD OMAR FAJARDO, Petitioner, v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS; CITIZENS DRUG WATCH; MAMAMAYAN AYAW SA DROGA; GO! GO! PHILIPPINES; THE TRUE MARCOS LOYALIST ASSOCIATION OF THE PHILIPPINES; PHILIPPINE LOCAL AUTONOMY; CITIZENS MOVEMENT FOR JUSTICE, ECONOMY, ENVIRONMENT AND PEACE; CHAMBER OF REAL ESTATE BUILDERS ASSOCIATION; SPORTS & HEALTH ADVANCEMENT FOUNDATION, INC.; ANG LAKAS NG OVERSEAS CONTRACT WORKERS (OCW); BAGONG BAYANI ORGANIZATION and others under Organizations/Coalitions of Omnibus Resolution No. 3785; PARTIDO NG MASANG PILIPINO; LAKAS NUCD-UMDP; NATIONALIST PEOPLES COALITION; LABAN NG DEMOKRATIKONG PILIPINO; AKSYON DEMOKRATIKO; PDP-LABAN; LIBERAL PARTY; NACIONALISTA PARTY; ANG BUHAY HAYAANG YUMABONG; and others under Political Parties of Omnibus Resolution No. 3785. Respondents.

[G.R. No. 147613. June 26, 2001

BAYAN MUNA, Petitioner, v. COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS; NATIONALIST PEOPLES COALITION (NPC); LABAN NG DEMOKRATIKONG PILIPINO (LDP); PARTIDO NG MASANG PILIPINO (PMP); LAKAS-NUCD-UMDP; LIBERAL PARTY; MAMAMAYANG AYAW SA DROGA; CREBA; NATIONAL FEDERATION OF SUGARCANE PLANTERS; JEEP; and BAGONG BAYANI ORGANIZATION, Respondents.

D E C I S I O N

PANGANIBAN, J.:

The party-list system is a social justice tool designed not only to give more law to the great masses of our people who have less in life, but also to enable them to become veritable lawmakers themselves, empowered to participate directly in the enactment of laws designed to benefit them. It intends to make the marginalized and the underrepresented not merely passive recipients of the States benevolence, but active participants in the mainstream of representative democracy. Thus, allowing all individuals and groups, including those which now dominate district elections, to have the same opportunity to participate in party-list elections would desecrate this lofty objective and mongrelize the social justice mechanism into an atrocious veneer for traditional politics.

The Case

Before us are two Petitions under Rule 65 of the Rules of Court, challenging Omnibus Resolution No. 3785 1 issued by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on March 26, 2001. This Resolution approved the participation of 154 organizations and parties, including those herein impleaded, in the 2001 party-list elections. Petitioners seek the disqualification of private respondents, arguing mainly that the party-list system was intended to benefit the marginalized and underrepresented; not the mainstream political parties, the non-marginalized or overrepresented.

The Factual Antecedents

With the onset of the 2001 elections, the Comelec received several Petitions for registration filed by sectoral parties, organizations and political parties. According to the Comelec, [v]erifications were made as to the status and capacity of these parties and organizations and hearings were scheduled day and night until the last party w[as] heard. With the number of these petitions and the observance of the legal and procedural requirements, review of these petitions as well as deliberations takes a longer process in order to arrive at a decision and as a result the two (2) divisions promulgated a separate Omnibus Resolution and individual resolution on political parties. These numerous petitions and processes observed in the disposition of these petition[s] hinder the early release of the Omnibus Resolutions of the Divisions which were promulgated only on 10 February 2001. 2cräläwvirtualibräry

Thereafter, before the February 12, 2001 deadline prescribed under Comelec Resolution No. 3426 dated December 22, 2000, the registered parties and organizations filed their respective Manifestations, stating their intention to participate in the party-list elections. Other sectoral and political parties and organizations whose registrations were denied also filed Motions for Reconsideration, together with Manifestations of their intent to participate in the party-list elections. Still other registered parties filed their Manifestations beyond the deadline.

The Comelec gave due course or approved the Manifestations (or accreditations) of 154 parties and organizations, but denied those of several others in its assailed March 26, 2001 Omnibus Resolution No. 3785, which we quote:

We carefully deliberated the foregoing matters, having in mind that this system of proportional representation scheme will encourage multi-partisan [sic] and enhance the inability of small, new or sectoral parties or organization to directly participate in this electoral window.

It will be noted that as defined, the party-list system is a mechanism of proportional representation in the election of representatives to the House of Representatives from national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations or coalitions thereof registered with the Commission on Elections.

However, in the course of our review of the matters at bar, we must recognize the fact that there is a need to keep the number of sectoral parties, organizations and coalitions, down to a manageable level, keeping only those who substantially comply with the rules and regulations and more importantly the sufficiency of the Manifestations or evidence on the Motions for Reconsiderations or Oppositions.3cräläwvirtualibräry

On April 10, 2001, Akbayan Citizens Action Party filed before the Comelec a Petition praying that the names of [some of herein respondents] be deleted from the Certified List of Political Parties/Sectoral Parties/Organizations/Coalitions Participating in the Party List System for the May 14, 2001 Elections and that said certified list be accordingly amended. It also asked, as an alternative, that the votes cast for the said respondents not be counted or canvassed, and that the latters nominees not be proclaimed. 4 On April 11, 2001, Bayan Muna and Bayan Muna-Youth also filed a Petition for Cancellation of Registration and Nomination against some of herein respondents. 5cräläwvirtualibräry

On April 18, 2001, the Comelec required the respondents in the two disqualification cases to file Comments within three days from notice. It also set the date for hearing on April 26, 2001, 6 but subsequently reset it to May 3, 2001. 7 During the hearing, however, Commissioner Ralph C. Lantion merely directed the parties to submit their respective memoranda. 8cräläwvirtualibräry

Meanwhile, dissatisfied with the pace of the Comelec, Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW Labor Party filed a Petition 9 before this Court on April 16, 2001. This Petition, docketed as GR No. 147589, assailed Comelec Omnibus Resolution No. 3785. In its Resolution dated April 17, 2001, 10 the Court directed respondents to comment on the Petition within a non-extendible period of five days from notice. 11cräläwvirtualibräry

On April 17, 2001, Petitioner Bayan Muna also filed before this Court a Petition, 12 docketed as GR No. 147613, also challenging Comelec Omnibus Resolution No. 3785. In its Resolution dated May 9, 2001, 13 the Court ordered the consolidation of the two Petitions before it; directed respondents named in the second Petition to file their respective Comments on or before noon of May 15, 2001; and called the parties to an Oral Argument on May 17, 2001. It added that the Comelec may proceed with the counting and canvassing of votes cast for the party-list elections, but barred the proclamation of any winner therein, until further orders of the Court.

Thereafter, Comments 14 on the second Petition were received by the Court and, on May 17, 2001, the Oral Argument was conducted as scheduled. In an Order given in open court, the parties were directed to submit their respective Memoranda simultaneously within a non-extendible period of five days. 15

Issues:

During the hearing on May 17, 2001, the Court directed the parties to address the following issues:

1. Whether or not recourse under Rule 65 is proper under the premises. More specifically, is there no other plain, speedy or adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law?

2. Whether or not political parties may participate in the party-list elections.

3. Whether or not the party-list system is exclusive to marginalized and underrepresented sectors and organizations.

4. Whether or not the Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion in promulgating Omnibus Resolution No. 3785.16

The Courts Ruling

The Petitions are partly meritorious. These cases should be remanded to the Comelec which will determine, after summary evidentiary hearings, whether the 154 parties and organizations enumerated in the assailed Omnibus Resolution satisfy the requirements of the Constitution and RA 7941, as specified in this Decision.

First Issue:

Recourse Under Rule 65

Respondents contend that the recourse of both petitioners under Rule 65 is improper because there are other plain, speedy and adequate remedies in the ordinary course of law. 17 The Office of the Solicitor General argues that petitioners should have filed before the Comelec a petition either for disqualification or for cancellation of registration, pursuant to Sections 19, 20, 21 and 22 of Comelec Resolution No. 3307-A 18dated November 9, 2000. 19cräläwvirtualibräry

We disagree. At bottom, petitioners attack the validity of Comelec Omnibus Resolution 3785 for having been issued with grave abuse of discretion, insofar as it allowed respondents to participate in the party-list elections of 2001. Indeed, under both the Constitution 20 and the Rules of Court, such challenge may be brought before this Court in a verified petition for certiorari under Rule 65.

Moreover, the assailed Omnibus Resolution was promulgated by Respondent Commission en banc; hence, no motion for reconsideration was possible, it being a prohibited pleading under Section 1 (d), Rule 13 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure. 21cräläwvirtualibräry

The Court also notes that Petitioner Bayan Muna had filed before the Comelec a Petition for Cancellation of Registration and Nomination against some of herein respondents. 22 The Comelec, however, did not act on that Petition. In view of the pendency of the elections, Petitioner Bayan Muna sought succor from this Court, for there was no other adequate recourse at the time. Subsequent events have proven the urgency of petitioners action; to this date, the Comelec has not yet formally resolved the Petition before it. But a resolution may just be a formality because the Comelec, through the Office of the Solicitor General, has made its position on the matter quite clear.

In any event, this case presents an exception to the rule that certiorari shall lie only in the absence of any other plain, speedy and adequate remedy. 23 It has been held that certiorari is available, notwithstanding the presence of other remedies, where the issue raised is one purely of law, where public interest is involved, and in case of urgency. 24 Indeed, the instant case is indubitably imbued with public interest and with extreme urgency, for it potentially involves the composition of 20 percent of the House of Representatives.

Moreover, this case raises transcendental constitutional issues on the party-list system, which this Court must urgently resolve, consistent with its duty to formulate guiding and controlling constitutional principles, precepts, doctrines, or rules. 25cräläwvirtualibräry

Finally, procedural requirements may be glossed over to prevent a miscarriage of justice, when the issue involves the principle of social justice x x x when the decision sought to be set aside is a nullity, or when the need for relief is extremely urgent and certiorari is the only adequate and speedy remedy available. 26

Second Issue:

Participation of Political Parties

In its Petition, Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW Labor Party contends that the inclusion of political parties in the party-list system is the most objectionable portion of the questioned Resolution. 27 For its part, Petitioner Bayan Muna objects to the participation of major political parties. 28 On the other hand, the Office of the Solicitor General, like the impleaded political parties, submits that the Constitution and RA No. 7941 allow political parties to participate in the party-list elections. It argues that the party-list system is, in fact, open to all registered national, regional and sectoral parties or organizations. 29cräläwvirtualibräry

We now rule on this issue. Under the Constitution and RA 7941, private respondents cannot be disqualified from the party-list elections, merely on the ground that they are political parties. Section 5, Article VI of the Constitution provides that members of the House of Representatives may be elected through a party-list system of registered national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations.

Furthermore, under Sections 7 and 8, Article IX (C) of the Constitution, political parties may be registered under the party-list system.

Sec. 7. No votes cast in favor of a political party, organization, or coalition shall be valid, except for those registered under the party-list system as provided in this Constitution.

Sec. 8. Political parties, or organizations or coalitions registered under the party-list system, shall not be represented in the voters' registration boards, boards of election inspectors, boards of canvassers, or other similar bodies. However, they shall be entitled to appoint poll watchers in accordance with law.30cräläwvirtualibräry

During the deliberations in the Constitutional Commission, Comm. Christian S. Monsod pointed out that the participants in the party-list system may be a regional party, a sectoral party, a national party, UNIDO, 31 Magsasaka, or a regional party in Mindanao." 32 This was also clear from the following exchange between Comms. Jaime Tadeo and Blas Ople: 33cräläwvirtualibräry

MR. TADEO. Naniniwala ba kayo na ang party list ay pwedeng paghati-hatian ng UNIDO, PDP-Laban, PNP, Liberal at Nacionalista?

MR. OPLE. Maaari yan sapagkat bukas ang party list system sa lahat ng mga partido.

Indeed, Commissioner Monsod stated that the purpose of the party-list provision was to open up the system, in order to give a chance to parties that consistently place third or fourth in congressional district elections to win a seat in Congress. 34 He explained: The purpose of this is to open the system. In the past elections, we found out that there were certain groups or parties that, if we count their votes nationwide, have about 1,000,000 or 1,500,000 votes. But they were always third or fourth place in each of the districts. So, they have no voice in the Assembly. But this way, they would have five or six representatives in the Assembly even if they would not win individually in legislative districts. So, that is essentially the mechanics, the purpose and objectives of the party-list system.

For its part, Section 2 of RA 7941 also provides for a party-list system of registered national, regional and sectoral parties or organizations or coalitions thereof, x x x. Section 3 expressly states that a party is either a political party or a sectoral party or a coalition of parties. More to the point, the law defines political party as an organized group of citizens advocating an ideology or platform, principles and policies for the general conduct of government and which, as the most immediate means of securing their adoption, regularly nominates and supports certain of its leaders and members as candidates for public office.

Furthermore, Section 11 of RA 7941 leaves no doubt as to the participation of political parties in the party-list system. We quote the pertinent provision below:

x x x

For purposes of the May 1998 elections, the first five (5) major political parties on the basis of party representation in the House of Representatives at the start of the Tenth Congress of the Philippines shall not be entitled to participate in the party-list system.

x x x

Indubitably, therefore, political parties even the major ones -- may participate in the party-list elections.

Third Issue:

Marginalized and Underrepresented

That political parties may participate in the party-list elections does not mean, however, that any political party -- or any organization or group for that matter -- may do so. The requisite character of these parties or organizations must be consistent with the purpose of the party-list system, as laid down in the Constitution and RA 7941. Section 5, Article VI of the Constitution, provides as follows:

(1) The House of Representatives shall be composed of not more than two hundred and fifty members, unless otherwise fixed by law, who shall be elected from legislative districts apportioned among the provinces, cities, and the Metropolitan Manila area in accordance with the number of their respective inhabitants, and on the basis of a uniform and progressive ratio, and those who, as provided by law, shall be elected through a party-list system of registered national, regional, and sectoral parties or organizations.

(2) The party-list representatives shall constitute twenty 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 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. (Emphasis supplied.)

Notwithstanding the sparse language of the provision, a distinguished member of the Constitutional Commission declared that the purpose of the party-list provision was to give genuine power to our people in Congress. Hence, when the provision was discussed, he exultantly announced: On this first day of August 1986, we shall, hopefully, usher in a new chapter to our national history, by giving genuine power to our people in the legislature. 35cräläwvirtualibräry

The foregoing provision on the party-list system is not self-executory. It is, in fact, interspersed with phrases like in accordance with law or as may be provided by law; it was thus up to Congress to sculpt in granite the lofty objective of the Constitution. Hence, RA 7941 was enacted. It laid out the statutory policy in this wise:

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 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.

The Marginalized and Underrepresented to Become Lawmakers Themselves

The foregoing provision mandates a state policy of promoting proportional representation by means of the Filipino-style party-list system, which will enable the election to the House of Representatives of Filipino citizens,

1. who belong to marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties; and

2. who lack well-defined constituencies; but

3. who could contribute to the formulation and enactment of appropriate legislation that will benefit the nation as a whole.

The key words in this policy are proportional representation, marginalized and underrepresented, and lack [of] well-defined constituencies.

Proportional representation here does not refer to the number of people in a particular district, because the party-list election is national in scope. Neither does it allude to numerical strength in a distressed or oppressed group. Rather, it refers to the representation of the marginalized and underrepresented as exemplified by the enumeration in Section 5 of the law; namely, labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, elderly, handicapped, women, youth, veterans, overseas workers, and professionals.

However, it is not enough for the candidate to claim representation of the marginalized and underrepresented, because representation is easy to claim and to feign. The party-list organization or party must factually and truly represent the marginalized and underrepresented constituencies mentioned in Section 5. 36 Concurrently, the persons nominated by the party-list candidate-organization must be Filipino citizens belonging to marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties.

Finally, lack of well-defined constituenc[y] refers to the absence of a traditionally identifiable electoral group, like voters of a congressional district or territorial unit of government. Rather, it points again to those with disparate interests identified with the marginalized or underrepresented.

In the end, the role of the Comelec is to see to it that only those Filipinos who are marginalized and underrepresented become members of Congress under the party-list system, Filipino-style.

The intent of the Constitution is clear: to give genuine power to the people, not only by giving more law to those who have less in life, but more so by enabling them to become veritable lawmakers themselves. Consistent with this intent, the policy of the implementing law, we repeat, is likewise clear: to enable Filipino citizens belonging to marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties, x x x, to become members of the House of Representatives. Where the language of the law is clear, it must be applied according to its express terms. 37cräläwvirtualibräry

The marginalized and underrepresented sectors to be represented under the party-list system are enumerated in Section 5 of RA 7941, which states:

SEC. 5. Registration. -- Any organized group of persons may register as a party, organization or coalition for purposes of the party-list system by filing with the COMELEC not later than ninety (90) days before the election a petition verified by its president or secretary stating its desire to participate in the party-list system as a national, regional or sectoral party or organization or a coalition of such parties or organizations, attaching thereto its constitution, by-laws, platform or program of government, list of officers, coalition agreement and other relevant information as the COMELEC may require: Provided, that the sector shall include labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, elderly, handicapped, women, youth, veterans, overseas workers, and professionals.

While the enumeration of marginalized and underrepresented sectors is not exclusive, it demonstrates the clear intent of the law that not all sectors can be represented under the party-list system. It is a fundamental principle of statutory construction that words employed in a statute are interpreted in connection with, and their meaning is ascertained by reference to, the words and the phrases with which they are associated or related. Thus, the meaning of a term in a statute may be limited, qualified or specialized by those in immediate association. 38

The Party-List System Desecrated by the OSG Contentions

Notwithstanding the unmistakable statutory policy, the Office of the Solicitor General submits that RA No. 7941 does not limit the participation in the party-list system to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors of society. 39 In fact, it contends that any party or group that is not disqualified under Section 6 40of RA 7941 may participate in the elections. Hence, it admitted during the Oral Argument that even an organization representing the super rich of Forbes Park or Dasmarias Village could participate in the party-list elections. 41cräläwvirtualibräry

The declared policy of RA 7941 contravenes the position of the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG). We stress that the party-list system seeks to enable certain Filipino citizens specifically those belonging to marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties to be elected to the House of Representatives. The assertion of the OSG that the party-list system is not exclusive to the marginalized and underrepresented disregards the clear statutory policy. Its claim that even the super-rich and overrepresented can participate desecrates the spirit of the party-list system.

Indeed, the law crafted to address the peculiar disadvantages of Payatas hovel dwellers cannot be appropriated by the mansion owners of Forbes Park. The interests of these two sectors are manifestly disparate; hence, the OSGs position to treat them similarly defies reason and common sense. In contrast, and with admirable candor, Atty. Lorna Patajo-Kapunan 42 admitted during the Oral Argument that a group of bankers, industrialists and sugar planters could not join the party-list system as representatives of their respective sectors. 43cräläwvirtualibräry

While the business moguls and the mega-rich are, numerically speaking, a tiny minority, they are neither marginalized nor underrepresented, for the stark reality is that their economic clout engenders political power more awesome than their numerical limitation. Traditionally, political power does not necessarily emanate from the size of ones constituency; indeed, it is likely to arise more directly from the number and amount of ones bank accounts.

It is ironic, therefore, that the marginalized and underrepresented in our midst are the majority who wallow in poverty, destitution and infirmity. It was for them that the party-list system was enacted -- to give them not only genuine hope, but genuine power; to give them the opportunity to be elected and to represent the specific concerns of their constituencies; and simply to give them a direct voice in Congress and in the larger affairs of the State. In its noblest sense, the party-list system truly empowers the masses and ushers a new hope for genuine change. Verily, it invites those marginalized and underrepresented in the past the farm hands, the fisher folk, the urban poor, even those in the underground movement to come out and participate, as indeed many of them came out and participated during the last elections. The State cannot now disappoint and frustrate them by disabling and desecrating this social justice vehicle.

Because the marginalized and underrepresented had not been able to win in the congressional district elections normally dominated by traditional politicians and vested groups, 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives were set aside for the party-list system. In arguing that even those sectors who normally controlled 80 percent of the seats in the House could participate in the party-list elections for the remaining 20 percent, the OSG and the Comelec disregard the fundamental difference between the congressional district elections and the party-list elections.

As earlier noted, the purpose of the party-list provision was to open up the system, 44 in order to enhance the chance of sectoral groups and organizations to gain representation in the House of Representatives through the simplest scheme possible. 45 Logic shows that the system has been opened to those who have never gotten a foothold within it -- those who cannot otherwise win in regular elections and who therefore need the simplest scheme possible to do so. Conversely, it would be illogical to open the system to those who have long been within it -- those privileged sectors that have long dominated the congressional district elections.

The import of the open party-list system may be more vividly understood when compared to a student dormitory open house, which by its nature allows outsiders to enter the facilities. Obviously, the open house is for the benefit of outsiders only, not the dormers themselves who can enter the dormitory even without such special privilege. In the same vein, the open party-list system is only for the outsiders who cannot get elected through regular elections otherwise; it is not for the non-marginalized or overrepresented who already fill the ranks of Congress.

Verily, allowing the non-marginalized and overrepresented to vie for the remaining seats under the party-list system would not only dilute, but also prejudice the chance of the marginalized and underrepresented, contrary to the intention of the law to enhance it. The party-list system is a tool for the benefit of the underprivileged; the law could not have given the same tool to others, to the prejudice of the intended beneficiaries.

This Court, therefore, cannot allow the party-list system to be sullied and prostituted by those who are neither marginalized nor underrepresented. It cannot let that flicker of hope be snuffed out. The clear state policy must permeate every discussion of the qualification of political parties and other organizations under the party-list system.

Refutation of the Separate Opinions

The Separate Opinions of our distinguished colleagues, Justices Jose C. Vitug and Vicente V. Mendoza, are anchored mainly on the supposed intent of the framers of the Constitution as culled from their deliberations.

The fundamental principle in constitutional construction, however, is that the primary source from which to ascertain constitutional intent or purpose is the language of the provision itself. The presumption is that the words in which the constitutional provisions are couched express the objective sought to be attained. 46 In other words, verba legis still prevails. Only when the meaning of the words used is unclear and equivocal should resort be made to extraneous aids of construction and interpretation, such as the proceedings of the Constitutional Commission or Convention, in order to shed light on and ascertain the true intent or purpose of the provision being construed. 47cräläwvirtualibräry

Indeed, as cited in the Separate Opinion of Justice Mendoza, this Court stated in Civil Liberties Union v. Executive Secretary 48 that the debates and proceedings of the constitutional convention [may be consulted] in order to arrive at the reason and purpose of the resulting Constitution x x x only when other guides fail as said proceedings are powerless to vary the terms of the Constitution when the meaning is clear. Debates in the constitutional convention are of value as showing the views of the individual members, and as indicating the reason for their votes, but they give us no light as to the views of the large majority who did not talk, much less of the mass or our fellow citizens whose votes at the polls gave that instrument the force of fundamental law. We think it safer to construe the constitution from what appears upon its face. The proper interpretation therefore depends more on how it was understood by the people adopting it than in the framers understanding thereof.

Section 5, Article VI of the Constitution, relative to the party-list system, is couched in clear terms: the mechanics of the system shall be provided by law. Pursuant thereto, Congress enacted RA 7941. In understanding and implementing party-list representation, we should therefore look at the law first. Only when we find its provisions ambiguous should the use of extraneous aids of construction be resorted to.

But, as discussed earlier, the intent of the law is obvious and clear from its plain words. Section 2 thereof unequivocally states that the party-list system of electing congressional representatives was designed to enable 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 x x x. The criteria for participation is well defined. Thus, there is no need for recourse to constitutional deliberations, not even to the proceedings of Congress. In any event, the framers deliberations merely express their individual opinions and are, at best, only persuasive in construing the meaning and purpose of the constitution or statute.

Be it remembered that the constitutionality or validity of Sections 2 and 5 of RA 7941 is not an issue here. Hence, they remain parts of the law, which must be applied plainly and simply.

Fourth Issue:

Grave Abuse of Discretion

From its assailed Omnibus Resolution, it is manifest that the Comelec failed to appreciate fully the clear policy of the law and the Constitution. On the contrary, it seems to have ignored the facet of the party-list system discussed above. The OSG as its counsel admitted before the Court that any group, even the non-marginalized and overrepresented, could field candidates in the party-list elections.

When a lower court, or a quasi-judicial agency like the Commission on Elections, violates or ignores the Constitution or the law, its action can be struck down by this Court on the ground of grave abuse of discretion. 49 Indeed, the function of all judicial and quasi-judicial instrumentalities is to apply the law as they find it, not to reinvent or second-guess it. 50cräläwvirtualibräry

In its Memorandum, Petitioner Bayan Muna passionately pleads for the outright disqualification of the major political parties Respondents Lakas-NUCD, LDP, NPC, LP and PMP on the ground that under Comelec Resolution No. 4073, they have been accredited as the five (six, including PDP-Laban) major political parties in the May 14, 2001 elections. It argues that because of this, they have the advantage of getting official Comelec Election Returns, Certificates of Canvass, preferred poll watchers x x x. We note, however, that this accreditation does not refer to the party-list election, but, inter alia, to the election of district representatives for the purpose of determining which parties would be entitled to watchers under Section 26 of Republic Act No. 7166.

What is needed under the present circumstances, however, is a factual determination of whether respondents herein and, for that matter, all the 154 previously approved groups, have the necessary qualifications to participate in the party-list elections, pursuant to the Constitution and the law.

Bayan Muna also urges us to immediately rule out Respondent Mamamayan Ayaw sa Droga (MAD), because it is a government entity using government resources and privileges. This Court, however, is not a trier of facts. 51 It is not equipped to receive evidence and determine the truth of such factual allegations.

Basic rudiments of due process require that respondents should first be given an opportunity to show that they qualify under the guidelines promulgated in this Decision, before they can be deprived of their right to participate in and be elected under the party-list system.

Guidelines for Screening Party-List Participants

The Court, therefore, deems it proper to remand the case to the Comelec for the latter to determine, after summary evidentiary hearings, whether the 154 parties and organizations allowed to participate in the party-list elections comply with the requirements of the law. In this light, the Court finds it appropriate to lay down the following guidelines, culled from the law and the Constitution, to assist the Comelec in its work.

First , the political party, sector, organization or coalition must represent the marginalized and underrepresented groups identified in Section 5 of RA 7941. In other words, it must show -- through its constitution, articles of incorporation, bylaws, history, platform of government and track record -- that it represents and seeks to uplift marginalized and underrepresented sectors. Verily, majority of its membership should belong to the marginalized and underrepresented. And it must demonstrate that in a conflict of interests, it has chosen or is likely to choose the interest of such sectors.

Second , while even major political parties are expressly allowed by RA 7941 and the Constitution to participate in the party-list system, they must comply with the declared statutory policy of enabling Filipino citizens belonging to marginalized and underrepresented sectors x x x to be elected to the House of Representatives. In other words, while they are not disqualified merely on the ground that they are political parties, they must show, however, that they represent the interests of the marginalized and underrepresented. The counsel of Aksyon Demokratiko and other similarly situated political parties admitted as much during the Oral Argument, as the following quote shows:

JUSTICE PANGANIBAN: I am not disputing that in my question. All I am saying is, the political party must claim to represent the marginalized and underrepresented sectors?

ATTY. KAPUNAN: Yes, Your Honor, the answer is yes.52cräläwvirtualibräry

Third , in view of the objections 53 directed against the registration of Ang Buhay Hayaang Yumabong, which is allegedly a religious group, the Court notes the express constitutional provision that the religious sector may not be represented in the party-list system. The extent of the constitutional proscription is demonstrated by the following discussion during the deliberations of the Constitutional Commission:

MR. OPLE. x x x

In the event that a certain religious sect with nationwide and even international networks of members and supporters, in order to circumvent this prohibition, decides to form its own political party in emulation of those parties I had mentioned earlier as deriving their inspiration and philosophies from well-established religious faiths, will that also not fall within this prohibition?

MR. MONSOD. If the evidence shows that the intention is to go around the prohibition, then certainly the Comelec can pierce through the legal fiction.54

The following discussion is also pertinent:

MR. VILLACORTA. When the Commissioner proposed EXCEPT RELIGIOUS GROUPS, he is not, of course, prohibiting priests, imams or pastors who may be elected by, say, the indigenous community sector to represent their group.

REV. RIGOS. Not at all, but I am objecting to anybody who represents the Iglesia ni Kristo, the Catholic Church, the Protestant Church et cetera.55cräläwvirtualibräry

Furthermore, the Constitution provides that religious denominations and sects shall not be registered. 56 The prohibition was explained by a member 57 of the Constitutional Commission in this wise: [T]he prohibition is on any religious organization registering as a political party. I do not see any prohibition here against a priest running as a candidate. That is not prohibited here; it is the registration of a religious sect as a political party. 58cräläwvirtualibräry

Fourth , a party or an organization must not be disqualified under Section 6 of RA 7941, which enumerates the grounds for disqualification as follows:

(1) It is a religious sect or denomination, organization or association organized for religious purposes;

(2) It advocates violence or unlawful means to seek its goal;

(3) It is a foreign party or organization;

(4) It is receiving support from any foreign government, foreign political party, foundation, organization, whether directly or through any of its officers or members or indirectly through third parties for partisan election purposes;

(5) It violates or fails to comply with laws, rules or regulations relating to elections;

(6) It declares untruthful statements in its petition;

(7) It has ceased to exist for at least one (1) year; or

(8) It fails to participate in the last two (2) preceding elections or fails to obtain at least two per centum (2%) of the votes cast under the party-list system in the two (2) preceding elections for the constituency in which it has registered.59cräläwvirtualibräry

Note should be taken of paragraph 5, which disqualifies a party or group for violation of or failure to comply with election laws and regulations. These laws include Section 2 of RA 7941, which states that the party-list system seeks to enable Filipino citizens belonging to marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties x x x to become members of the House of Representatives. A party or an organization, therefore, that does not comply with this policy must be disqualified.

Fifth , the party or organization must not be an adjunct of, or a project organized or an entity funded or assisted by, the government. By the very nature of the party-list system, the party or organization must be a group of citizens, organized by citizens and operated by citizens. It must be independent of the government. The participation of the government or its officials in the affairs of a party-list candidate is not only illegal 60 and unfair to other parties, but also deleterious to the objective of the law: to enable citizens belonging to marginalized and underrepresented sectors and organizations to be elected to the House of Representatives.

Sixth , the party must not only comply with the requirements of the law; its nominees must likewise do so. Section 9 of RA 7941 reads as follows:

SEC. 9. Qualifications of Party-List Nominees. No person shall be nominated as party-list representative unless he is a natural-born citizen of the Philippines, a registered voter, a resident of the Philippines for a period of not less than one (1) year immediately preceding the day of the election, able to read and write, a bona fide member of the party or organization which he seeks to represent for at least ninety (90) days preceding the day of the election, and is at least twenty-five (25) years of age on the day of the election.

In case of a nominee of the youth sector, he must at least be twenty-five (25) but not more than thirty (30) years of age on the day of the election. Any youth sectoral representative who attains the age of thirty (30) during his term shall be allowed to continue in office until the expiration of his term.

Seventh , not only the candidate party or organization must represent marginalized and underrepresented sectors; so also must its nominees. To repeat, under Section 2 of RA 7941, the nominees must be Filipino citizens who belong to marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties. Surely, the interests of the youth cannot be fully represented by a retiree; neither can those of the urban poor or the working class, by an industrialist. To allow otherwise is to betray the State policy to give genuine representation to the marginalized and underrepresented.

Eighth , as previously discussed, while lacking a well-defined political constituency, the nominee must likewise be able to contribute to the formulation and enactment of appropriate legislation that will benefit the nation as a whole. Senator Jose Lina explained during the bicameral committee proceedings that the nominee of a party, national or regional, is not going to represent a particular district x x x. 61

Epilogue

The linchpin of this case is the clear and plain policy of the law: to enable Filipino citizens belonging to 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.

Crucial to the resolution of this case is the fundamental social justice principle that those who have less in life should have more in law. The party-list system is one such tool intended to benefit those who have less in life. It gives the great masses of our people genuine hope and genuine power. It is a message to the destitute and the prejudiced, and even to those in the underground, that change is possible. It is an invitation for them to come out of their limbo and seize the opportunity.

Clearly, therefore, the Court cannot accept the submissions of the Comelec and the other respondents that the party-list system is, without any qualification, open to all. Such position does not only weaken the electoral chances of the marginalized and underrepresented; it also prejudices them. It would gut the substance of the party-list system. Instead of generating hope, it would create a mirage. Instead of enabling the marginalized, it would further weaken them and aggravate their marginalization.

In effect, the Comelec would have us believe that the party-list provisions of the Constitution and RA 7941 are nothing more than a play on dubious words, a mockery of noble intentions, and an empty offering on the altar of people empowerment. Surely, this could not have been the intention of the framers of the Constitution and the makers of RA 7941.

WHEREFORE , this case is REMANDED to the Comelec, which is hereby DIRECTED to immediately conduct summary evidentiary hearings on the qualifications of the party-list participants in the light of the guidelines enunciated in this Decision. Considering the extreme urgency of determining the winners in the last party-list elections, the Comelec is directed to begin its hearings for the parties and organizations that appear to have garnered such number of votes as to qualify for seats in the House of Representatives. The Comelec is further DIRECTED to submit to this Court its compliance report within 30 days from notice hereof.

The Resolution of this Court dated May 9, 2001, directing the Comelec to refrain from proclaiming any winner during the last party-list election, shall remain in force until after the Comelec itself will have complied and reported its compliance with the foregoing disposition.

This Decision is immediately executory upon the Commission on Elections receipt thereof. No pronouncement as to costs.

SO ORDERED.

Bellosillo, Melo, Puno, Kapunan, Pardo, Buena, and Gonzaga-Reyes, JJ., concur .

Davide, Jr., C.J., in the result.

Vitug and Mendoza, JJ., see dissenting opinion.

Quisumbing, De Leon, Jr., and Sandoval-Gutierrez, JJ., join the dissent of J. Vicente M. Mendoza.

Ynares-Santiago, J., abroad on official business.


Endnotes:

1 Signed by Chairman Alfredo L. Benipayo and Commissioners Luzviminda G. Tancangco, Rufino S. B. Javier, Ralph C. Lantion, Mehol K. Sadain, Resurreccion Z. Borra and Florentino A. Tuason Jr.

2 Omnibus Resolution No. 3785, p. 13; rollo (GR No. 147589), p. 40.

3 Ibid., pp. 21-22; rollo, pp. 48-49.

4 Rollo (GR No. 147589), pp. 272-273.

5 Rollo (GR No. 147589), pp. 250-263.

6 Rollo (GR No. 147589), pp. 282-283.

7 See rollo (GR No. 147613), p. 223.

8 TSN (GR No. 147589 and 147613), May 17, 2001, p. 49.

9 Rollo (GR No. 147589), pp. 4-73.

10 Rollo (GR No. 147589), p. 74.

11 Comments were filed by MAD, Bagong Bayani, The True Marcos Loyalists, the Comelec, Partido ng Masang Pilipino, the Liberal Party, the Office of the Solicitor General, CREBA, Lakas-NUCD-UMDP, the Philippine Local Autonomy Movement, Aksyon Demokratiko, Citizens Drug Watch Foundation, Ang Buhay Hayaang Yumabong, Ang Lakas ng OCW, and Sports and Health Foundation.

12 Rollo (GR No. 147613), pp. 3-45.

13 Rollo (GR No. 147613), p. 46.

14 These were filed by the Office of the Solicitor General, the Comelec, the Bagong Bayani Organization, Mamamayan Ayaw sa Droga, and the Philippine Local Autonomy Movement.

15 Memoranda were filed by Petitioners Bayan Muna and Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW Labor Party; and Respondents Mamamayan Ayaw sa Droga, CREBA, the Bagong Bayani Organization, the Office of the Solicitor General, and Aksyon Demokratiko. Manifestations instead of memoranda were filed by Lakas-NUCD and OCW.

16 See the May 17, 2001 Resolution, p. 2; rollo (GR No. 147613), p. 88.

17 See, e.g., the Bagong Bayani Organizations Memorandum, pp. 3-4; Aksyon Demokratikos Memorandum, pp. 2-3; and MADs Memorandum, pp. 3-6.

18 Rules and regulations governing the filing of a petition for registration, a manifestation to participate, and the names of nominees under the party-list system of representation in connection with the May 14, 2001 national and local elections.

19 OSGs Memorandum, pp. 6-14; rollo (GR No. 147613), pp. 151-159.

20 Section 1, Article VIII of the Constitution, provides: Judicial power includes the duty of the courts of justice to settle actual controversies involving rights which are legally demandable and enforceable, and to determine whether or not there has been a grave abuse of discretion amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction on the part of any branch or instrumentality of the Government.

21 SECTION 1. What pleadings are not allowed. The following pleadings are not allowed:

x x x

d) motion for reconsideration of an en banc ruling, resolution, order or decision except in election offense cases;

x x x

22 Docketed as SPA 01-113. As earlier noted, Akbayan also filed before the Comelec a similar Petition, docketed as SPA-01-109. See Annexes 1 and 2, Comment of the Office of the Solicitor General; rollo (GR No. 147589), pp. 250 et seq. and 266 et seq.

23 Section 1, Rule 65. See Filoteo v. Sandiganbayan, 263 SCRA 222, October 16, 1996; BF Corporation v. CA, 288 SCRA 267, March 27, 1998; GSIS v. Olisa, 304 SCRA 421, March 10, 1999; National Steel Corporation v. CA, GR No. 134437, January 31, 2000; Sahali v. Comelec, GR No. 134169, February 2, 2000

24 Republic v. Sandiganbayan, 269 SCRA 316, March 7, 1997, per Panganiban, J. See also ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation v. Commission on Elections, GR No. 133486, January 28, 2000; Central Bank v. Cloribel, 44 SCRA 307, April 11, 1972.

25 Salonga v. Cruz Pao, 134 SCRA 438, February 18, 1985, per Gutierrez, Jr., J. See also Taada v. Angara, 272 SCRA 18, May 2, 1997; Guingona v. Gonzales, 219 SCRA 326, March 1, 1993.

26 ABS-CBN v. Comelec, GR No. 133486, January 28, 2000, per Panganiban, J.

27 Petition of Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW Labor Party, p. 15; rollo (GR No. 147589), p. 18.

28 Petition of Bayan Muna, p. 18; rollo (GR No. 147613), p. 20.

29 OSG Comment, p. 18; rollo (GR No. 147589), p. 244.

30 Emphasis supplied. See also 17 and 18, Article VI of the Constitution.

31 It may be noted that when the Constitution was being drafted in the early days of the post-Marcos era, UNIDO was the dominant political party.

32 Record of the Constitutional Commission, Vol. II, p. 86.

33 Record of the Constitutional Commission, Vol. II, p. 570.

34 Record of the Constitutional Commission, Vol. II, p. 86.

35 Record of the Constitutional Commission, Vol. II, p. 561.

36 Infra.

37 Azarcon v. Sandiganbayan, 268 SCRA 747, February 26, 1997; Ramirez v. CA, 248 SCRA 590, September 28, 1995.

38 82 C.J.S. Statutes 331.

39 OSG Comment, p. 18; rollo (GR No. 147589), p. 244.

40 Infra.

41 TSN, May 17, 2001, pp. 147-148.

42 Counsel of Aksyon Demokratiko.

43 TSN, May 17, 2001, pp. 178-180.

44 Supra. See also 6, Article IX (C) of the Constitution, which reads: A free and open party system shall be allowed to evolve according to the free choice of the people, subject to the provisions of this Article.

45 Section 2 of RA 7941 states in part as follows: x x x. 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.

46 JM Tuason & Co., Inc. v. Land Tenure Administration, 31 SCRA 413, February 18, 1970; cited in Ruben C. Agpalo, Statutory Construction, 1990 ed., p. 311. See also Gold Creek Mining Corp. v. Rodriguez, 66 Phil 259, 264 (1938).

47 See Agpalo, ibid., p. 313.

48 194 SCRA 317, February 22, 1991, per Fernan, CJ; quoting Commonwealth v. Ralph, 111 Pa 365, 3 Atl 220.

49 Taada v. Angara, 272 SCRA 18, May 2, 1997. See also Santiago v. Guingona, 298 SCRA 756, November 18, 1998; Miranda v. Aguirre, 314 SCRA 603, September 16, 1999; Garcia v. HRET, 312 SCRA 353, August 12, 1999.

50 Veterans Federation Party et al. v. Comelec et al., GR No. 136781, October 6, 2000.

51 See Valmonte v. Court of Appeals, 303 SCRA 278, February 18, 1999; Inciong Jr. v. CA, 257 SCRA 578, June 26, 1996; Palomado v. NLRC, 257 SCRA 680, June 28, 1996; Heirs of the Late Teodoro Guaring Jr. v. CA, 269 SCRA 283, March 7, 1997; Sesbreo v. Central Board of Assessment Appeals, 270 SCRA 360, March 24, 1997; PCGG v. Cojuangco Jr., 302 SCRA 217, January 27, 1999.

52 TSN, May 17, 2001, p. 180.

53 Petition of Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW Labor Party, p. 16; rollo (GR No. 147589), p. 19.

54 Record of the Constitutional Commission, Vol. I, p. 636.

55 Record of the Constitutional Commission, Vol. II, p. 589.

56 2 (5), Article IX (C).

57 Christian S. Monsod.

58 Record of the Constitutional Commission, Vol. I, p. 634

59 See also 11, Comelec Resolution No. 3307-A.

60 See 2 (4), Article IX (B) of the Constitution. See also Article 261 (o), BP 881.

61 The bicameral conference committee on the disagreeing provision of Senate Bill No. 1913 and House Bill No. 3040, January 31, 1994, p. 4.




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