Why Comelec should disqualify Akbayan

In February 2010, a statement was sent to the media calling for the disqualification of “Palace-backed party-lists.” According to the statement, packing the party-list contenders with “Palace fronts” and “puppets disguised in emasculated party-list robes” can be interpreted as an attempt to “fill up the Congress with Palace lapdogs.”

The press release was from the office of then Akbayan party-list representative Etta Rosales. She was assailing “pro-administration” party-lists of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Two years after, it is now Akbayan at the receiving end of the same complaints. To defend itself, Akbayan has changed its tune and said it is alright for Malacanang officials to run as party-list nominees as long as they represent the marginalized.

Last Wednesday, multi-sectoral groups led by Archbishop Oscar Cruz, Renato Reyes Jr. of Bayan and Fr. Joe Dizon of Kontra Daya filed the latest among the petitions calling on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to disqualify Akbayan Party-list.

This came a few weeks after youth group Anakbayan and Kilusang Mayo Uno filed a petition of their own calling for the disqualification of what was described as “Malacanang’s favorite party-list” from the 2013 polls.

The Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), through its chairperson Henrieta De Villa, also called for the disqualification of Akbayan saying it is plain to see that the group is at the helm of the government and is no longer marginalized.

In their petition, the parties gave compelling legal arguments why the Comelec should disqualify Akbayan from the party-list race: first, Akbayan is a party in power and no longer marginalized and underrepresented; second, its nominees do not belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors that Akbayan claims to represent; and third, Akbayan enjoys government support and funding which gives it undue advantage oner other party-list groups.

Marginalized

The parties cited the Bagong Bayani case in 2001, in which the Supreme Court (SC) said that the party-list system was included in the Constitution as a “social justice tool designed not only to give more law to the great masses of our people who have less in life, but to also enable them to become veritable lawmakers themselves, empowered to participate directly in the enactment of laws designed to benefit them. It intends to make the marginalized and the underrepresented not merely passive recipients of the State’s benevolence, but active participants in the mainstream of representative democracy.”

For this reason, the SC has ruled against the participation of major political parties in the party-list race. It compared the party-list system to a student dormitory “open house,” which by its nature allows “outsiders only, not the dormers themselves” to enter.

Currently, Akbayan members and nominees occupy high positions in government, including cabinet-level appointments. These include:

  • Ronald Llamas, former AKBAYAN president, is the Presidential Political Affairs Adviser of President Aquino;
  • Joel Rocamora, former AKBAYAN president and ideologue, is currently the Chairperson of National Anti-Poverty Commission, and appointee of President Aquino;
  • Loretta Ann Rosales, former AKBAYAN president and representative, is currently the Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, and appointee of President Aquino;
  • Mario Agujo, former AKBAYAN representative, is currently a member of the GSIS Board of Trustees;
  • Percival Cendena, former AKBAYAN chairperson, is currently the National Youth Commission commissioner-at-large, appointee of President Aquino;
  • Daniel Edralin, chairperson of the AKBAYAN’s Alliance of Progressive Labor, is now a Commissioner of the Social Service System;
  • Ibarra A. Gutierrez III, Akbayan’s 2nd nominee for the 2013 elections is Undersecretary for Political Affairs;
  • Angelina Ludovice-Katoh, Akbayan’s 3rd nominee is a Commissioner in the Presidential commission for the Urban Poor,
  • Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, Akbayan president and representative, is Spokesperson of the National Anti-Poverty Commission.

The groups note that the positions Akbayan take on various issues are consistent with the Aquino line. For instance, 15 petitions were filed vs the Cybercrime Law, but not one was filed by Akbayan. They were not seen in the rallies and in fact tried to shield the Palace by attacking Tito Sotto exclusively.

Akbayan was also silent regarding oil price hikes, demolition of urban poor communities, extrajudicial killings and many other issues.

Does this not include them among the “lapdogs,” “Palace fronts” and “puppets” that they previously railed against?

Certainly, Akbayan’s being well-entrenched in government puts them in a position of power and provides them unfair advantage over other party-list organizations. The fact that the president himself, the most powerful man in the country, has defended Akbayan tells much about its influence.

Akbayan’s Risa Hontiveros tried to understate this by saying that they cannot automatically get the President’s approval and are only one of several voices in Malacanang. But isn’t her excuse an admission that they are indeed among the few privileged voices in the Malacanang inner circle? That if they have any agenda on policy in mind, they can go directly to the president?

It should be added that Akbayan has admitted to being backed by the Aquino-Cojuangco family during the 2010 campaign season. They received P18M — part of that scandalously huge P112M total which it managed to collect in campaign contributions. Doesn’t this show that they are in fact the party-list of the owners of Hacienda Luisita, the nation’s most powerful landlord clan? Doesn’t it say much about how truly “marginalized and underrepresented” they are?

Nominees

The SC has also ruled that the nominees of a party must also belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sector which the party purportedly represents.

Akbayan second and third nominees Gutierrez and Ludovice-Katoh were high-ranking officials of the government when they accepted the nomination and “could not by any stretch of imagination” be considered as underrepresented and marginalized. The joke was that they must have mistaken “underrepresented” for “undersecretary.”

Usec Gutierrez tried to make a fool out of the public by issuing the excuse that he already resigned from his post. But being a lawyer, he should know that all government officials are deemed resigned from their post once they submit their certificates of candidacy making his supposed resignation without merit.

The petitioners also pointed out that their first nominee, Walden Bello does not represent any sector that Akbayan claims to represent in its constitution. In a summary evidenciary hearing, the representative for Akbayan claimed that Bello belongs to the sector of “overseas Filipino.” They note that “overseas Filipino” is not included among the marginalized and underrepresented sectors, but rather, overseas Filipino workers or migrant workers, because even “ambassadors, multimillionaires and businessmen” can be considered overseas Filipinos.

Government-backed

The SC also prohibited any party or organization which gets assistance or funding from the government. In Bagong Bayani vs Comelec, the SC said “the party or organization must not be an adjunct of, or a project organized or an entity funded or assisted by, the government… It must be independent of the government.”

It also said that the “participation of the government or its officials in the affairs of a party-list candidate is not only illegal and unfair to the other parties, but also deleterious to the objective of the law.” Take note that the SC has included participation of “government officials” in its prohibition.

Akbayan’s influence and access to government resources is clearly illegal and is in fact fatal to the party-list system. Their influence and access also gives them undue advantage over other party-list groups.

If they could collect P112 million, a scandalously huge amount of money, in 2010 when they were not yet in power, how much more now that they hold key government offices?  Compare this amount to other party-lists like Kabataan, Gabriela, Bayan Muna, and Anakpawis with only P12.1 million, P1.7 million, P1.26 million and P750,000 respectively,

They could claim that they are not using funds from these government offices to favor their party, but then who would be so naïve as to buy that? And even if we grant them that, it would be missing the point. The mere fact that they are in office and are government officials gives them undue advantage.

In any case, the COA report questioning Joel Rocamora’s NAPC for spending P27M on consultants should be looked into. Apparently, among the consultants are Akbayan members and known affiliates.

Dirty tricks

Hontiveros misses the point when she says that even as they are in the Palace, they still represent the marginalized and underrepresented. Following this logic, ES Ochoa, Mar Roxas, Ronnie Puno can say that they are and have been representing the poor and thus run for party-list.

Hontiveros also claims that their members are from the marginalized sectors and that the “marginalized sectors cannot be overrepresented.” True, but again she is either missing the point again or deliberately muddling the issue. It is Akbayan that is being disqualified and not the marginalized sectors they claim to represent. These sectors can be better represented by other party-lists truly belonging to such sectors.

Akbayan responded to these claims by resorting to name-calling, red-baiting, and dirty tricks. Its various spokespersons and “political analysts” are trying to frame the issue as a Leftist rivalry in order to muddle the issue and avoid legitimate questions hurled against them. But their spin cannot dispute the fact that they are no longer fit to run as a party-list.

Akbayan paints the various groups against them as “extreme Leftists” wanting to “eliminate” them in order to have a “monopoly.” But the petitioners are not asking Akbayan to disband. Akbayan as a political party can still run for elective positions (in fact their current representative Kaka Bag-ao is running as a district representative), and continue to lobby for positions in government. But they cannot be a party in power and run for party-list. As the saying goes, they cannot have their cake and eat it too.

It is as clear as day: Akbayan is no longer fit to run as party-list and should be disqualified. It will reflect poorly on Comelec’s integrity and credibility if it fails to disqualify Malacanang’s favorite party-list.

Originally posted at Why Comelec should disqualify Akbayan

Vencer is national chairperson of Anakbayan and spokesperson and former secretary general of Kabataan Partylist. He was national also chairperson of the League of Filipino Students. He is also a web designer and an internet enthusiast. He blogs at vencercrisostomo.com

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