Ako Bicol, 3 others get SC relief
Ako Bicol and three other party-list groups, which the Commission on Elections (Comelec) earlier disqualified from taking part in the elections next year because they do not represent marginalized sectors, have been given a reprieve by the Supreme Court.
The high tribunal on Tuesday stopped the implementation of a Comelec resolution disqualifying Ako Bicol, Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives (Apec), 1st Consumers Alliance for Rural Energy Inc. (1-CARE) and Alliance of Rural Concerns (ARC).
The court also ordered the Comelec to comment on the petition filed by the four groups.
Ako Bicol, 1-Care, Apec and ARC said the Comelec violated their right to due process when the poll body barred them from taking part in the coming elections.
Ako Bicol, the topnotcher in the 2010 party-list elections, has three seats in the House of Representatives held by Rodel M. Batocabe, Christopher S. Co and Alfredo A. Garbin Jr.
1-Care has two seats and is represented by Salvador P. Cabaluna III and Michael Angelo C. Rivera, while Apec has one seat held by Ponciano D. Payuyo. ARC did not win a seat in the elections for the 15th Congress.
Batocabe said the tribunal’s issuance of the status quo ante order was “the best possible scenario” that the party-list group got.
“We are humbled by the Supreme Court order which we received from media. We have yet to get a copy of the order. The order would revert us back to our status before the Oct. 10 decision of the Comelec disqualifying us. It is much better than a TRO (temporary restraining order),” Batocabe said in a phone interview.
He reckoned that the justices had taken into consideration the possible disenfranchisement of the 1.5 million voters of Ako Bicol because of the Comelec ruling when the court issued the order.
“With this order, we are optimistic that our party-list will be included in the ballot for the 2013 elections,” Batocabe said.
Garbin said one of Ako Bicol’s lawyers, Alfredo Molo, had informed the group of the high court’s order. “It is a great relief for the Bicolanos to know that AKB will still be part of the upcoming 2013 election by virtue of the said order,” Garbin said.
Comelec to follow order
The Comelec said it would obey the Supreme Court order. “We will follow it, of course. There is no problem with that,” Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. said in an interview with reporters.
But in the same breath, Brillantes said the Comelec en banc would announce today that at least 15 more groups would not be allowed to participate in the party-list system elections next year.
So far, the Comelec has delisted 69 organizations, some of which were newcomers hoping to be accredited as party-list groups, as the poll body cleanses the party-list system of sham entities, especially those represented by multimillionaires and members of powerful political clans in the country.
“We will come out with resolutions on the motions of reconsideration [filed before the en banc],” Brillantes said.
He said the new batch of delisted groups were mostly new applicants whose requests for accreditation had been denied at the Comelec division level.
The perks of a party-list lawmaker, including P70 million in pork barrel every year, have attracted various groups to join the party-list system.
Currently, there are 43 party-list groups with a total of 56 seats in the House. At stake in the 2013 elections are 58 party-list seats.
The Constitution sets aside 20 percent of the seats in the House of Representatives for party-list groups, each of which can hold up to a maximum of three seats.
Ako Bicol, through its lawyer, retired Supreme Court Associate Justice Vicente Mendoza, told the high court in a petition that the Comelec acted beyond its power in determining the qualification of a party-list group.
Like Ako Bicol, Apec said in its petition that the poll body violated its right to due process.
Apec lawyer Yeshter Donn Baccay said the Comelec, converted the process of determining the continuing compliance of every party-list group with Republic Act No. 7941, or the party-list law, into a disqualification case without even getting Apec’s side.
Baccay noted that there was no petition asking for his group’s disqualification.
1-CARE, for its part, said the Comelec committed grave abuse of discretion when it issued a resolution on Oct. 16 disqualifying it on the grounds that the group was not a marginalized and underrepresented sector.
The group representing electricity users said the Comelec was not allowed to create a new definition of a marginalized sector and to reverse its already final and executory ruling.
“Republic Act No. 7941 does not authorize respondent Comelec to revisit, at its whim and caprice and reverse at this point in time its 2010 final and executory decision, which resolved the issue of petitioner’s representation of ‘the marginalized and the underrepresented rural energy consumers,’” 1-Care said.
It pointed that under the law, “any party, organization or coalition already registered with the commission need not register anew. Hence, for the 2013 party-list elections, the only requirement for petitioner 1-CARE, an already registered party-list organization, is to file a manifestation of its desire to participate in the party-list system.”
“Nothing in RA 7941 would suggest even by mere implication that the Comelec may re-determine compliance by an already registered party-list organization,” 1-CARE said in its petition.
ARC joined the three groups in assailing the Comelec resolution disqualifying them.
Earlier, Brillantes said that announcements on disqualified party-list groups were being made early to give them ample time to go to the Supreme Court to seek relief.
But the Comelec chief wondered yesterday why a TRO was issued when such orders should only be given involving “urgent matters.”
Brillantes pointed out that there was no urgency in issuing a TRO on the Comelec’s case against the delisted party-list groups since the election body had yet to begin the configuration of the voting machines and the printing of the official ballots to be used next year.
“I think there is no urgency in stopping us since we have yet to begin the configuration and printing of official ballots,” he said.
Brillantes said the Comelec would finalize the configuration of the voting machines and the printing of official ballots in January.
The chair of the electoral reforms committee of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, meanwhile, said the process adopted by the Comelec in disqualifying party-list groups might be seen as a form of “witch hunt” because it was not done in accordance with existing laws.
“While the Comelec’s perseverance is to be admired and commended, it should not be amiss to uphold the basic tenets of due process and equal protection, lest its zealousness be interpreted as a form of witch hunt or inquisition,” Vincent Pepito Yambao Jr. said in an interview.
Edna Co, dean of the National College of Public Administration and Governance, said the poll body’s motu propio review that resulted in the disqualification of more than 60 party-list groups could be described as arbitrary and chaotic.
Co said there was no clear mechanism to determine which sectors were covered by the party-list system, “thus the arbitrariness and the seeming chaos of the Comelec’s process of disqualifying party-list groups.” With a report from Jerome Aning
Originally posted: 3:07 pm | Tuesday, November 13th, 2012