Akbayan hits back, seeks ouster of Red party-listersBy Jocelyn R. Uy, Michael Lim Ubac and Philip C. Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer
The rivalry continues.
Groups allied with the Akbayan party-list group are urging the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to disqualify “communist party-list groups” from the 2013 elections, claiming that some P770 million in pork barrel funds were being channeled to the operations of the communist New People’s Army (NPA).
In the latest escalation of the increasingly acrimonious quarrel between the well-connected Akbayan on one hand and rival progressive groups, the People’s Advocacy for Collaboration and Empowerment (PEACE) Friday reiterated a letter-complaint it filed in the Comelec last month calling for the delisting of Bayan Muna and other groups that it said were creations of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP).
Where’s the beef?
In Sydney, Australia, where he is on an official visit, President Benigno Aquino III said he saw nothing wrong with Akbayan being part of his administration and with receiving P14 million in campaign contributions during the 2010 party-list elections from his three sisters.
“They are allied with us but it doesn’t make them any less a representative of marginalized sectors,” Aquino said of Akbayan, which as of last count has nine of its members serving as officials of the Aquino administration, two members in Congress as party-list representatives and countless others allied with the ruling Liberal Party.
“It’s one thing to ask for a delisting (of Akbayan), it’s another to prove it,” the President said.
No presidential restraint
Fr. Joe Dizon of the Kontra Daya election watchdog group said Aquino’s defense of Akbayan showed that he “did not understand the party-list system” and that he might even be pressuring the Comelec to favor that group.
“Lastly, (it shows) he cannot exercise any form of presidential restraint,” Dizon said.
Mockery of democracy
PEACE was joined in its petition in the Comelec by the New Guardians for Freedom and Democracy, People’s Advocacy for Collaboration and Empowerment and Pro Democracy Foundation of the Philippines.
Noting Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr.’s recent cleansing of the party-list system of “dubious” groups, they said he should demonstrate the same courage by similarly delisting “communist party-list groups that are not only bastardizing the system but also making a mockery of our democracy.”
The groups identified the party-list organizations Gabriela, Anakpawis, Alliance of Concerned Teachers, Kabataan and Katribu Indigenous Peoples Sectoral Party as some of the CPP fronts that “as part of their political struggle, to infiltrate, manipulate and exploit the country’s free and democratic institutions.”
According to PEACE president Agnes Lopez, the number of “communist” party-list groups in the House of Representatives has increased to 11, allowing them to corner some P770 million of pork barrel funds every year.
“If one congressman gets P70 million, these groups will be able to channel at least P770 million yearly to support the operations of the NPA or other allied organizations of the CPP,” said Lopez.
The allegations followed reports that Akbayan had received P112 million in political contributions during the May 2010 elections, which included P14 million from the three sisters of the President.
Akbayan’s rivals, which it has described as from the “extreme Left,” regard the political contributions from the Aquinos as proof that Akbayan was the administration’s “favored party-list” group, enjoying an unfair advantage over the genuinely marginalized and under-represented organizations.
Last Wednesday, several of these so-called “extreme Left” groups led by the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) filed a formal complaint in the Comelec, the second such petition, asking for Akbayan’s disqualification claiming that it had ceased to become a marginalized group when many of its members and personalities were appointed to government posts.
But PEACE and the groups allied with Akbayan said it is these groups and their affiliates like Bayan Muna that should be disqualified as these organizations allegedly support violence against the state in violation of the Party-List System Act.
“How can party-list groups that support the overthrow of the government and the country’s political system be allowed to participate in the party-list elections? The mere fact that they made no public announcement condemning NPA atrocities or its bloody armed struggle is already a giveaway,” said Lopez.
Lopez said the Comelec was already in the right direction when it disqualified the labor-based Courage party-list group from participating in the 2013 party-list polls.
“We hope the disqualification of the Courage party-list will pave way for the total delisting of all communist party-list groups. Disqualifying one party-list will not discourage the CPP in spawning more groups. The more effective approach is to disqualify them all, including those that are currently sitting in Congress,” Lopez said.
Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes dismissed the allegations, saying these were rehashed and had been debunked before.
“These are old allegations that were already answered in the past in the Comelec, and will not prosper,” he said.
“While totally untrue, these allegations open up Bayan Muna to attacks and harassment by the (military). That is the problem. It’s the same old red-tagging,” he added.
In the letter-complaint they submitted to the Comelec in September, Lopez’s group said Bayan Muna, Gabriela, Anakpawis, Alliance of Concerned Teachers (ACT), Kabataan, and Katribu Indigenous Peoples Sectoral Party (Katribu) party-list groups were part of the communists’ plan “to infiltrate, manipulate, and exploit the country’s free and democratic institutions to support their violent and inhuman armed struggle in the countryside.”
Lopez claimed that the objective of the CPP in fielding these groups was to eventually wield substantial influence over Congress “to help in its armed revolution by providing resources and other forms of assistance.”
“It’s not a coincidence that at a time when the NPA’s numbers were dwindling because of lack of resources and the success of the (military’s) anti-insurgency operations these communist party-list groups multiplied to about 11,” she said.
Lopez warned that these leftist groups could use the NPA to “easily intimidate other party-list groups in NPA-infested areas.”
“The Bayan Muna consortium is practically assured of votes during elections because the NPA campaigns for them whereas other party-list organizations and even politicians have to pay a permit-to-campaign fee to visit NPA-controlled areas,” Lopez said.
Asked about his sisters’ donations to Akbayan, the President said that as long as they were not violating “spending limits,” this was not illegal.
“Is that an issue? If you’re a marginal party, or a party representing a marginalized sector, you’re not entitled to have supporters? How does a political party exist without supporters?” he said.
But he quickly added that on the issue of his sisters’ donations, he would have “to check the records.”
In the election expenditure document it submitted to the Comelec, Akbayan disclosed that it received a total of
P112 million in political contributions during the May 2010 elections.
It showed that Maria Elena “Ballsy” Aquino-Cruz and Victoria Elisa “Viel” Aquino-Dee each contributed P2 million while TV host Kris Aquino, or Kristina Bernadette, gave P10 million.
Kris’ contribution was the biggest among individual contributors. Richard Dee, Viel’s husband, gave P3 million.
Sign of public confidence
According to the statement, Akbayan received a total of P112,183,000 in contributions from individuals and political parties while its election expenditures reached P112,174,008.70.
Barry Gutierrez, Akbayan national spokesperson, explained that the contributions indicated the public’s confidence and support for Akbayan advocacies.
He said that Akbayan’s campaign during the 2010 elections was funded mainly by contributions from individual sympathizers.
“Unlike our accusers from the extreme Left, contributions to Akbayan’s electoral campaign did not come from illegal ‘taxes’ forcibly extracted from logging and mining companies under pain of their installations and equipment being burned and their personnel harmed,” he added.
In a statement, Akbayan explained that its campaign in 2010 was funded primarily by contributions from individuals who believed and supported Akbayan’s reform platform and its collaboration with then Liberal Party presidential bet, Noynoy Aquino
It said 90 percent of the total campaign expenditures went to radio and TV ads, which promoted Akbayan as Aquino’s partner.
“These contributions simply allowed us to run a more effective national campaign that ensured the continued representation of the interests of the marginalized within the corridors of government,” Akbayan stressed.
“That we received such contributions, we believe, does not take away the character of Akbayan as a party-list that represents the interests of the marginalized, but in fact indicates the confidence and support our advocacies enjoy from the broader public,” it said.