Ako Bicol, 12 other party-list groups axed
Cracking down on sham organizations seeking congressional seats, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Wednesday dropped Ako Bicol and 12 other party-list groups from the 2013 midterm balloting.
In a six-page resolution, the Comelec en banc ruled that Ako Bicol, the topnotcher in the 2010 party-list race, could not participate in next year’s elections for failure to pass strict scrutiny “through the lens” of existing laws and jurisprudence governing the party-list system.
“Ako Bicol does not represent or seek to uplift a marginalized and underrepresented sector within the contemplation of the party-list system,” the Comelec stated.
The decision against these organizations will be promulgated Thursday, said Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr., adding that the commission was looking at a total of 30 to 40 groups, which will lose their accreditation in the upcoming elections. More than 120 party-list groups have applied for renewal of their accreditation.
The delisting of these groups was part of the ongoing efforts of the Comelec to cleanse the party-list system, which over time has been dominated by sham organizations or by groups whose nominees are either multimillionaires, former government officials or members of powerful political clans.
Ako Bicol party-list representatives said they would challenge the Comelec decision in the Supreme Court.
Rep. Alfredo Garbin Jr. said the Commission on Elections (Comelec) upheld his group’s accreditation twice—before the 2010 balloting and after it won when several groups disputed the election of three Ako Bicol representatives.
Garbin noted that four of the incumbent Comelec commissioners—Rene Sarmiento, Elias Yusoph, Lucenito Tagle and Armando Velasco—had voted in favor of the group.
“We are deeply saddened by the Comelec decision. It’s not only disheartening for the three representatives of Ako Bicol but especially for the 1.525 million voters who voted for Ako Bicol, more than 1.1 million from the Bicol region,” Garbin said.
The Comelec pointed out Ako Bicol’s expressed objective was to uplift and represent Bicolanos, who already are well represented in Congress.
“If this commission were to allow Ako Bicol’s continued participation in the party-list system, this commission is condoning the continued and blatant violation of the proportional representation of ‘provinces, cities and Metropolitan Manila in accordance with the number of their inhabitants, and on the basis of a uniform ad progressive ratio,’” the Comelec said.
Brillantes announced that the poll body had also decided to cancel the registrations of 12 other party-list groups, most of which ran in the 2010 elections but failed to win congressional seats.
They were 1-Aani, 1-Bro Philippine Guardians Brotherhood Inc., 1Guardians Nationalist of the Philippines Inc. (or 1Ganap/Guardians), First People’s Initiative for Indigent Student Athletes, A Blessed Party-list, Alliance for National Urban Poor Organizations Assembly Inc., Alliance for Rural Concerns, Association for Righteousness Advocacy on Leadership, Atong Paglaum, Organization of Regional Advocates for Good Governance Onward Nation-Building, United Movement Against Drug Foundation Inc., and Yes We Can.
These groups supposedly represent farmers, former military men advocating peace and justice, anti-illegal drugs advocates, urban poor groups, among others.
The 1-Bro Philippine Guardians Brotherhood Inc. lists on its website Sen. Gregorio Honasan as its national chairman and president. Yes We Can named Sen. Manuel “Lito” Lapid’s son Maynard as its first nominee in the 2010 elections.
Accreditation as political party
Under the Party-list System Act, only 12 marginalized and underrepresented sectors can seek congressional representation: labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, elderly, handicapped, women, youth, veterans, overseas workers and professionals.
In its ruling Wednesday, the Comelec said that while it was denying Ako Bicol, which had three representatives sitting in Congress, participation in the May 13 elections, its accreditation as a political party under the Comelec Rules of Procedure was being retained.
The entire commission voted for the disqualification of Ako Bicol to run in the 2013 elections. Newly appointed Commissioner Grace Padaca took no part in the decision since the deliberations were carried out prior to her appointment.
“The strongest point [in denying them to run in the elections] is that they are a duly accredited political party but they are trying to run in the party-list without representing any particular sector,” Brillantes told reporters.
He said the group, which garnered 1.522 million votes in the 2010 party-list derby, also did not file any special petition to run in the midterm elections next year as a political party.
Brillantes said the commissioners came out with the decision on the Ako Bicol case early to give the party an opportunity to contest the ruling in the Supreme Court.
“We want the Supreme Court to actually pass upon the validity of our resolution disallowing them to participate from the 2013 elections,” he said.
“Despite the fact that they received the highest vote in 2010 and they have three congressmen currently in Congress, we want the Supreme Court to rule on it and I hope Ako Bicol will take the necessary step,” he said, noting that the Comelec ruling was already final and no longer subject for reconsideration.
Ako Bicol is currently represented in Congress by Garbin, Christopher Co and Rodel Batocabe.
Brillantes said the three may complete their term until June 30 next year but they would be barred from running in the 2013 polls as party-list nominees.
Co, a businessman, has been listed by poll watchdog Kontra Daya as one of the wealthiest party-list lawmakers with a net worth of P91.063 million based on his 2011 statement of assets, liabilities and net worth.
In its ruling, the Comelec also took note of the profession of its other nominees. Both Batocabe and Garbin are lawyers, the Comelec pointed out.
The group also listed Jack Gonzales Arroyo Jr., an ophthalmologist, and Mark Louie Gomez, a lawyer, as the fourth and the fifth nominees, respectively, for the upcoming elections.
“As to how lawyers, businessmen and ophthalmologists are marginalized and underrepresented is not shown by Ako Bicol and its nominees,” the resolution stated.
The Comelec said the decision against Ako Bicol hinged on Republic Act No. 7941, otherwise known as the Party-list System Act, the eight-point guidelines enumerated in the Ang Bagong Bayani v. Comelec case in 2003 and the pronouncement of the Supreme Court in the case of Ang Ladlad in 2010.
In the Ang Bagong Bayani case, the Supreme Court issued guidelines ensuring that only those who belong to marginalized and underrepresented sectors can run for party-list seats in Congress.
Unfairly singled out
Garbin pointed out that records would show Ako Bicol had worked for marginalized and underrepresented sectors in the last three years.
He noted that his political party was unfairly singled out because there were other party-list groups with virtually the same status and the same kind of representatives as Ako Bicol.
Garbin said the groups seeking Ako Bicol’s ouster were jealous of the massive support for the group because it directly affected their chances of landing seats in the House.
“I am a lawyer and I believe that other party-list groups are represented by lawyers. So why are we being singled out?” Garbin said.
He refused to comment on whether the Comelec was targeting groups allied with former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, specifically businessman Zaldy Co, a member of Ako Bicol and a major government contractor during the previous and current administrations.
He said Ako Bicol was considering taking other actions against the Comelec, including the possibility of impeaching the Comelec officers as suggested by House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez.
“A party-list group can file an impeachment case if they feel they are being singled out. At the end of the day, it’s the electorate who will decide whether they want their organization to be represented in the House or not,” Suarez said.
Albay Gov. Joey Salceda said he was “dismayed” by the Comelec decision.
“The Bicol region is the fourth poorest region in terms of percentage at 41 percent but has the highest number of poor families. The geographic persistence of poverty in Region V can only be structural in character and, thus, could only be resolved by structural remedies—one of which is greater representation in Congress,” Salceda said.
“While it may argue that Ako Bicol is not the only group that could provide such representation, nonetheless, it is one of the more politically viable vehicles especially considering this late stage of electoral process. Since Comelec has based its decision (quite apparently) on the qualifications of AKB nominees, then what it could have done is to keep disqualifying the nominees of Ako Bicol until such time that they meet Comelec criteria, thus properly qualified to represent the poor people of Bicolandia,” Salceda said.
In a separate concurring opinion, Election Commissioner Christian Robert Lim noted that based on its constitution, Ako Bicol appeared to be devoted to the concerns of the local governments in the Bicol Region.
“In other words, Ako Bicol’s nominees seek to represent not the concern of a specific marginalized sector but the general concern of a predetermined local government units,” Lim said, adding that the group’s nominees, if elected, would assume the character of regular district—not sectoral—representatives. “This setup erodes the very purpose and reason behind the party-list system.”
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