It is the supreme irony that the richest man in Congress today is the representative of a party-list group.
Originally conceived by the drafters of the 1987 Constitution as a way to grant representation to marginalized and under-represented groups, the party-list system has become a shortcut for the rich and powerful to gain a seat in Congress, and for politicians who have hit upon the three-term limit to park themselves for a term, before running again in their legislative districts.
Based on a report of congressmen’s statement of assets and liabilities and net worth released last week, 1-Pacman Rep. Michael Romero is the richest man in Congress, with a declared net worth of P7.86 billion as of Dec. 31, 2018.
This is the third consecutive year that the port tycoon has been declared the richest among 291 members of the House of Representatives. He was worth 7.29 billion in 2017 and 7 billion in 2016. The reelected lawmaker is also chairman and president of Globalport 900, Inc., which develops and operates various port facilities in the country, including the Manila North Harbor.
Another party-list lawmaker who made it to the chamber's top 10 richest is Manila Teachers Rep. Virgilio Lacson, with a net worth of 794 million.
Republic Act 7941, An Act Providing For The Election Of Party-List Representatives Through The Party-List System, says the state shall promote proportional representation in 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.”
1-Pacman, which stands for One Patriotic Coalition of Marginalized Nationals, claims to be an advocate for the marginalized and displaced sectors in the country. How, we are compelled to ask, is the richest man in Congress representing the marginalized and displaced sectors?
In a recent TV interview, Romero rationalizes that party-lists do not only represent the marginalized but also “various sectors.” Which “various sectors,” we wonder, do 1-Pacman and Romero specifically represent?
This is hardly the only example of the open abuse of the party-list system, of course, and there are probably even more egregious ones. Only recently, a 35-year-old man insisted he could faithfully represent the youth in his party-list group, even though the law sets the limit at 30 years old. Then, when called out on the matter, suggested he was representing “young professionals.”
Perhaps we lack some honesty in the way party-list groups are represented. We could set aside the notion that we want the poor, laborers and farmers to be represented in Congress and call party-lists what they really are—lobby groups with voting privileges.
We could even form a new party-list called Representatives In Constitutional Hypocrisy or RICH for short. Then we could, in good conscience, gather Romero, Lacson and other well-heeled congressmen and women to represent the under-represented interests of the affluent.