Comelec pressed to probe 'religious' parties

By RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Oct 23 2012 03:11 PM | Updated as of Oct 24 2012 12:00 AM

MANILA, Philippines – An election observer believes it is high time for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to investigate party-list groups allegedly fronting for religious groups.

Prof. Prospero de Vera of the University of the Philippines-National College of Public Administration and Governance (UP-NCPAG) said the ongoing spat between leftist groups Akbayan and Anakbayan is just a peripheral issue.

“I think this problem between Akbayan and Anakbayan is a peripheral issue. To the credit of Akbayan, they represent the disadvantaged. I think the bigger problem is not Akbayan. You have party-list groups that are reincarnations of religious groups,” he said.

De Vera did not name the groups but in the 15th Congress, party-list groups Buhay, CIBAC, and Alagad allegedly have ties to the Catholic group El Shaddai of Mike Velarde, the Jesus is Lord Movement and the Iglesia Ni Cristo respectively.

Velarde’s son Rene sits as a representative of Buhay, Sherwin Tugna is a son-in law of JIL founder Eddie Villanueva whose son Joel Villanueva is TESDA Director General, and Alagad’s representative is known INC member Rodante Marcoleta.

De Vera said there are still many party-list groups who are skirting the party-list law and they should be prioritized over groups who may be allied with the sitting President.

He noted that in Germany, where the party-list system began, party-list groups could be allied with the sitting chief executive.

De Vera said the problem with the Philippine party-list system is that it was made exclusive for marginalized groups.

The professor urged Congress, specifically Akbayan, to work for amendments to the party-list law to cure its defects. Akbayan is currently fighting a disqualification complaint filed by Anakbayan.

De Vera said the ongoing purge of the party-list groups has to go beyond the groups but the law itself. He said amendments to the law should center on the definition of marginalized sectors, something which he believes should not be left to the Comelec or an executive office that could be prone to political pressure.

He said Congress should have amended the party-list law when the Supreme Court first ruled on it. De Vera believes the original intention of the law was not to reserve the party-list system for marginalized sectors since the law did not define what a marginalized sector is.  He said the problems of the party-list system should be cured in time for the 2016 elections.