Let public identify fake party-list reps, lawmakers say
Lawmakers on Tuesday said syndicates peddling party-list accreditations and nominations were flourishing because of the lack of transparency in the Commission on Elections’ approval process.
ACT Teachers party-list Representative Antonio Tinio said the Comelec could easily weed out bogus groups if it allowed the public to scrutinize the applications of organizations seeking accreditation to run in elections.
“The people can help the Comelec identify bogus party-lists but they have to be armed with information which right now is mostly in the hands of the Comelec. If this information is hidden from the public then bogus party-lists could slip into Congress more easily,” said Tinio.
Tinio said persons who could prove some party-list groups were fake were frustrated by the Comelec’s unreasonable and uneven application of its rules on securing copies of petitions for registration, manifestations of intent and other documents filed by party-list applicants.
“Some restrictions like letters of request and nominal photocopying fees are reasonable but the lengthy processes and requirements are not,” he said.
“Genuine members of organizations that truly represent marginalized sectors are in the best position to tell which among those groups that filed petitions and manifestations are fake,” Tinio said. “They could for example confirm to the Comelec that the groups’ track records prove that they are actually working against their sectors’ interest, or that those persons are not really members of the sectors and had never advocated for them.”
Rich and powerful
Bayan Muna party-list Representative Neri Colmenares said the Comelec should realize that the takeover by rich and powerful individuals of party-list groups bolstered the claims of rampant bribery in the approval process.
“That’s why we’re calling for a congressional investigation. The suspicion of bribery is strong due to the lack of standards or logic in previous Comelec decisions to accredit party-list groups that could not be deemed marginalized by any stretch of the imagination. I’m glad the new Comelec chairman has announced that they will cooperate with the investigation if only to cleanse the party-list system of the undeserving rich and powerful and give it back to the poor and marginalized,” Colmenares said.
Poll watchdog Kontra Daya on Tuesday also criticized the Comelec for allowing the party-list system to be dominated by people who could not be considered marginalized and who had links to established political families and big business interests.
Kontra Daya said the poll agency accredited “questionable” party-list groups in 2007 and 2010, citing “as glaring cases of violations of the spirit of the party-list system” the approval of Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo of Ang Galing Pinoy, businessman Teodorico Haresco of Ang Kasangga and Catalina Bagasina of Ale as examples of nominees with no ties to the sectors they represent.
“The three do not come from the sectors they claim to present (security guards, workers, small entrepreneurs) and are financially capable to compete in the regular congressional district elections,” the watchdog said.
Arroyo, Haresco and Bagasina were also the top three richest party-list representatives as of 2011 with a combined net worth of P326.7 million, according to Kontra Daya.
Bagasina, whose group claims to represent laborers and employees, had a net worth of P133 million as of 2011, while Arroyo, whose party represents security guards and tricycle drivers, was worth P99.95 million.
Haresco represents small entrepreneurs and has net worth of P92.8 million. He was initially disallowed as a party-list representative by the Comelec.
Kontra Daya said the Comelec only had itself to blame after several congressmen pushed for an inquiry into the alleged “sale” of party-list accreditations by “fixers” within the poll agency.
“The Comelec cannot wash its hands of the problem. The Comelec accreditation process is highly questionable. It is no surprise that party-lists for sale is happening because interest groups see that there is a big chance for moneyed candidates to gain a seat in Congress via the party-list system,” the watchdog said.
It called on the Comelec to “clean up this mess” by reviewing the accreditation of organizations before they are allowed to run again and “make a mockery “of the party-list system.
Kontra Daya published a list showing the 2011 net worths of the party-list representatives in the House of Representatives. Of the 56 party-list lawmakers, 48 were multimillionaires.
‘Marginalized’ but rich
The watchdog listed Ako Bicol Representative Christopher Co as the fourth richest party-list representative with a net worth of P91.06 million, followed by resigned 1-Utak Representative Homer Mercado, who was worth P65 million.
Other rich party-list lawmakers, according to Kontra Daya, included businessman David Kho of Senior Citizens with P59.5 million; Patricio Antonio of Agbiag and a former Cagayan district congressman, P55.642 million; Mariano Velarde of Buhay and son of El Shaddai evangelist Bro. Mike Velarde, P53.3 million;
Acmad Tomawis, Alif, P48.5 million; Nicanor Briones, Agap, P46.6 million; Catalina Leonen-Pizarro, ABS and wife of Court of Appeals Justice Normandie Pizarro, P40.37 million, and Daryl Grace Abayon, Aangat Tayo and wife of Northern Samar Representative Harlin Castillo Abayon, P23.44 million.
Brillantes, for his part, said the Comelec was continuing to scrutinize the qualifications of current and hopeful party-list groups and their nominees.
“Our first step is to screen them, if they really represent marginalized groups and if their nominees are really qualified as required by the Supreme Court. If a group represents security guards, should its nominees also be security guards, for example. Those that we questioned during the accreditation the last time, we want to make sure they will not be accredited again,” he said.
Brillantes said reforms in the party-list system were being implemented one by one, beginning with the ban on term-sharing. He pointed out that on June 27, the Comelec disallowed Senior Citizens’ Kho’s resignation in December in favor of the group’s fourth nominee, Remedios Arquiza.
“Public office is not a commodity that can be shared, apportioned or be made the subject of any private agreement. Public office is vested with public interest that should not be reined in by individual interest,” said the Comelec decision penned by Brillantes.