22 more party-list groups disqualifiedBy Jocelyn R. Uy, Leila B. Salaverria
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Two party-list groups representing electricity consumers and 20 others have been dropped from the roster of organizations qualified to take part in the 2013 midterm congressional elections.
Announcing the second batch of groups ineligible to run for congressional seats next year, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) Monday said it had canceled the accreditation of 1st Consumers Alliance for Rural Energy (1-Care) and the Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives (Apec).
Between them, 1-Care and Apec have three seats in the House of Representatives.
The disqualification of Apec and 1-Care came following the Comelec’s vow to crack down on bogus groups to cleanse the party-list system, which critics said had been inundated with millionaires and scions of influential political families.
The announcement brought to 35 the total number of party-list groups dropped from the list of organizations qualified to participate in the party-list elections in May.
Last week, the Comelec ruled that Ako Bicol, the top vote-getter in the 2010 elections and currently represented by Christopher Co, Alfredo Garbin Jr. and Rodel Batocabe in the House could no longer participate in the party-list balloting.
The poll body also canceled the accreditation of 12 others.
Reason for delisting
At a press conference, Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. on Monday said Apec and 1-Care had both claimed to represent energy consumers, a sector not covered by Republic Act No. 7941, known as the Party-list System Act, and existing jurisprudence.
These were the main reasons the Comelec en banc cited in voting unanimously to drop
1-Care and Apec from the 2013 midterm elections, said Brillantes.
“Our basis is that, first, they are cooperatives. Second, there is no sector for electric consumers,” he added.
In the 2010 elections, Apec garnered 313,689 votes, which allowed it to earn a seat in the House currently occupied by Rep. Ponciano Payuyo.
1-Care managed to win two seats with 770,015 votes. The group is represented in the House by Michael Angelo Rivera and Salvador Cabaluna III.
Only 12 sectors
Under the party-list law, 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.
This was reiterated in a Supreme Court ruling on the case of Ang Bagong Bayani v. Comelec in 2003.
The lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender sector was allowed to run for seats in the House after the Supreme Court decided on the case of Ang Ladlad LGBT party v. Comelec in 2010. It did not win a seat.
Under the Constitution, 20 percent of seats in the House are reserved for party-list groups of marginalized sectors. Today, 44 party-list groups have 58 representatives in the 287-member House.
Brillantes announced the delisting of Apec and 1-Care ahead of an en banc resolution, which was issued later in the afternoon Monday.
“We have to come out with a resolution because we are announcing now and they might want to rush to the Supreme Court,” said the Comelec chief.
He also disclosed that aside from the two party-list groups, the Comelec en banc also unanimously agreed to cancel the accreditation of 20 other organizations. But Brillantes declined to name them because the formal resolution concerning these groups was still being prepared for signing.
To seek relief in SC
1-Care and Apec said they would challenge the poll body’s decision before the Supreme Court.
Rivera of 1-Care said his group was qualified because it stood for consumers in rural areas who are hard-pressed to access basic necessities such as electricity and water.
“We represent people in the rural areas, rural member consumers, those who live in the mountains and do not have electricity. We provide them with power,” Rivera told reporters.
“Is this what they call a not marginalized sector?” he asked.
Payuyo of Apec said his group was protecting and helping consumers and the electric cooperatives that serve them.
He said his group was pushing for electric cooperatives owned by the people, and which kept prices down. Without cooperatives, there would be no groups pushing for the welfare of electricity consumers in the provinces, he added.
“We have a good mission,” Payuyo said in a phone interview.
Payuyo said he was disheartened upon hearing of the Comelec’s decision, which came on the same day that his group and other organizations were celebrating the international year of cooperatives.
He noted that Apec, which was formed in 1997, had been working to serve consumers. Unlike his group, other party-list organizations are just creations of political families, he added.
In disqualifying Ako Bicol, the Comelec pointed out that its objective was to uplift and represent Bicolanos, who are already well represented in Congress by district representatives.
The poll body also ruled that the group “does not represent or seek to uplift a marginalized and underrepresented sector within the contemplation of the party-list system.”
Ako Bicol deplored the Comelec ruling, saying that the party was “unfairly singled out” since there were other party-list groups with virtually the same status and the same kind of representatives as the organization.
Brillantes on Monday said Ako Bicol was still lucky since the Comelec’s early announcement of their disqualification had given it time to prepare and rush to the high tribunal to seek relief.
“Isn’t it more unfortunate for those groups we have yet to announce?” asked the Comelec chair. “If we will be unfair to Ako Bicol, we would have kept this hanging until about November or December and by that time they will be rushing to secure a decision from the Supreme Court.”
He expressed the hope that the high court would soon come up with a ruling on Ako Bicol since the decision would also affect other groups.
“But we will not wait for it … we are still coming out with more cancellations,” he said.
Just half of 115
Brillantes reckoned that only half of the 115 existing party-list groups would be allowed to participate in the elections next year.
Groups, including Makabayan coalition, on Monday trooped to the Comelec to oppose moves to also disqualify multisectoral parties.
As the groups staged a rally in front of the Comelec building, Makabayan and Bayan Muna president Satur Ocampo met with Brillantes.
Ocampo wanted to be clarified on reports that in cleansing the party-list system plagued by sham organizations, the Comelec was also supposedly disqualifying groups representing several sectors.
“But it has already been explained to us that it’s not the sole basis for disqualifying a group. The Comelec would also balance its decision on other [grounds],” Ocampo said in a talk with reporters.
“As far as we are concerned, we are confident with our track record,” he said.