Supreme Court tackles party-list appeals

By Edu Punay, The Philippine Star

Posted at Nov 13 2012 01:09 AM | Updated as of Nov 13 2012 07:24 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Disqualified party-list group Ako Bicol (AKB) asked the Supreme Court (SC) Monday  to immediately act on its petition questioning its disqualification by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in the 2013 polls.

The high court is set to tackle Tuesday AKB’s petition, along with similar requests filed by three other disqualified party-list groups – the Association of Philippine Electric Cooperatives (APEC), 1st Consumer’s Alliance for Rural Energy Inc. (1CARE), and Alliance of Rural Concerns (ARC).

AKB’s lead counsel, retired SC Justice Vicente Mendoza, said there is “extreme urgency” for the High Tribunal to look into their case and issue a temporary restraining order (TRO).

Mendoza said AKB would be deprived of its fair chance to prepare for a nationwide campaign should the high court fail to stop Comelec from disqualifying it, and eventually grant their petition.

“The assailed resolution denied participation to petitioner AKB in the coming May elections, just seven months from now. The preparation and printing of official ballots, and other election paraphernalia will commence before the said date, thereby necessitating a preservation of the status quo in order that petitioner AKB’s rights be preserved,” he pointed out.

The former magistrate also cited the upcoming public holidays, saying it lessens the time to resolve the issues without effectively depriving petitioner AKB of a fair chance to prepare for a nationwide campaign.

He pointed out that the Comelec had already set the date for the printing of ballots starting on Jan. 20, 2013, after finalizing the list of candidates for the next elections.

Mendoza argued that AKB “stands to suffer tremendous and irreparable injury, and will continue to suffer such, if the implementation of the resolution is not restrained.”

“A temporary restraining order and/or a writ of preliminary injunction is urgently needed by petitioner AKB because unless restrained, the Comelec will prepare a list of parties entitled to participate in the May 13, 2013 election without petitioner AKB pursuant to the Comelec’s void resolution,” he explained.

He lamented that the Comelec’s ruling had put AKB in a “situation fraught with complications if not perils and attended by extreme urgency,” warranting issuance of a TRO.

Mendoza also argued that AKB’s legislative and advocacy programs and its beneficiaries would be jeopardized if the Comelec order would not be restrained. He said the petitioners have the burden to pursue the 270 bills and 73 resolutions it filed in Congress as well as hundreds of its projects nationwide.

The former SC justice stressed that AKB is fighting not only for its right to represent its constituents in Congress, but also the right of the 1,522,986 people who voted for the party-list in the 2010 polls.

He said disqualifying AKB was tantamount to disenfranchising the overwhelming mandate of voters it earned in the previous election and, more importantly, would deprive them of the right to again choose the same party-list group in next year’s polls.

AKB topped the party-list elections in May 2010 and earned three seats in the House now occupied by Reps. Rodel Batocabe, Christopher Co and Alfredo Garbin Jr.

In disqualifying AKB, the Comelec said the group’s accreditation is for a regional political party and not for party-list.

It ruled that the AKB does not represent any of the marginalized sectors listed in the Constitution and Republic Act 7941. It stressed that the group representing the Bicol region is a redundancy of the functions of district representatives.

However, Mendoza debunked Comelec’s claims, saying the AKB represents the women, children, youth, farmers, people with illnesses, people with disabilities, less engaged senior citizens, teachers, public officials, soldiers, victims of calamities and disasters, OFWS, and all other sectors in the Bicol region.

The high court has yet to act on AKB’s petition filed last Oct. 30, since it went on a two-week break in observance of the All Saints’ and All Souls’ days.

The SC resumes session this week with AKB’s petition expected to be tackled in a full court deliberation today. It will go on a long holiday break again next month for the Christmas season and session will resume on Jan. 7, or just two weeks before the Comelec starts printing the ballots.

Disqualification ‘a witch hunt’ – IBP

The Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP)’s committee on electoral reforms described yesterday the Comelec’s disqualification of several party-list groups as a “witch hunt.”

Vincent Yambao Jr., chairman of the IBP-committee on electoral reforms, said the Comelec’s disqualification of various party-list groups is also a form of “inquisition” 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,” he said.

Yambao, also consultant to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, said the Comelec should have adopted separate standards and procedures in assessing the fitness of new organizations applying for party-list registration as opposed to those whose groups had already been accredited.

He said new applicants “should be subjected to more rigid scrutiny than the registered party-list groups that have previously undergone the process” and have been found to have complied with the 8-point guidelines set by the high court in the case Ang Bagong Bayani vs. Comelec.

Yambao said either by way of a third party petition or by motu proprio action, the previous ruling of the Comelec with respect to the nature of a registered party-list organization should stand unless there is a supervening cause that changes the concerned group’s character or there is strong justification to support a contrary finding.

“It would be the height of injustice not only to the party-list groups but also to the electorate should the Comelec absolve itself of any accountability on this matter,” he said.

Yambao said the Comelec should also have treated separately the disqualification of nominees and the disqualification of the party-list organization, noting it was the poll body itself, through its Resolution No. 9366, that provided for a separate vetting processes for party-list organizations and for nominees.

University of the Philippines-National College of Public Administration and Governance (UP-NCPAG) dean Edna Co said the Comelec’s motu proprio review that has resulted in the disqualification of more than 60 party-list groups can be described as “arbitrary” and chaotic.

Co said there is no clear mechanism to determine which sectors are covered by the party-list system, “thus the arbitrariness and the seeming chaos of the Comelec’s process of disqualifying party-list groups.”

Co said if the poll body, led by its chairman Sixto Brillantes, is bent on purging the party-list groups, it should not be done simply based on their “new” definition of marginalized and under-represented.

“The party-list law certainly needs amendment, and such amendment should emanate from the spirit of the Constitution, which is to provide representation for the under-represented,” she said.

An Waray party-list closes offices

Starting today, and for the rest of the week, the An Waray party-list will close all its offices nationwide and stop extending assistance to its constituents to protest another organization’s move calling for its disqualification.

An Waray Rep. Florencio Noel issued the statement over the weekend in reaction to claims made by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan Sinirangan Bisayas (Bayan SB) that An Waray does not really represent the marginalized sector.

While their offices are closed, Noel said they would place signage redirecting the people to go and ask help from the Bayan SB offices or the city hall, Noel said. – With Jose Rodel Clapano, Fred Padernos