Switch party, lose seat: Can party-list reps jump ship?

RG Cruz, ABS-CBN News

MANILA - (UPDATED) Some party-list congressmen running for other elective positions insist they can stay at their posts until the end of their terms on June 30 this year.

On Wednesday, lawyer Harry Roque pointed to a provision of Republic Act 7941 or the Party-list Law in his petition to annul a recent ruling of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) because it included the vote of an incumbent party-list congresswoman, Gabriela's Luz Ilagan.

Ilagan is running for city councilor in Davao under the party of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

Section 15 of the law provides that "any elected party-list representative who changes his political party or sectoral affiliation during his term of office shall forfeit his seat: Provided, That if he changes his political party or sectoral affiliation within six (6) months before an election, he shall not be eligible for nomination as party-list representative under his new party or organization."

In a statement on Thursday, OFW Family Club Party-list Rep. Roy Señeres said the law cited by Roque "only affects the validity of an incumbent party-list congressman's nomination under a different party."

"If an incumbent party-list congressman did not resign from his current party-list 6 months before the next election then gets nominated by a new party-list, that new nomination is void precisely because he is still an incumbent congressman under his current party list."

"The law says that incumbent party-list congressmen may not be nominated by a different party-list for the next election unless they resign from their current party-list (and by operation of law, resign as congressman) 6 months before the next election. Resignation must be expressed. It is never implied. A party-list congressman may run for another position under a political party (not party-list) and complete his term under his present party list.

"There are precedents. Satur Ocampo, Liza Maza, Teddy Casiño and many others. Besides, a party-list congressman's incumbency can only be challenged thru quo warranto by one who seeks to replace him. Roque is wrong," added Señeres, who is running for president in this year's elections.

Gabriela party-list also stood by Luz Ilagan, saying the statements made by Roque were "incorrect."

"We fully support her (Ilagan) bid for a local post and this does not in any way affect her stature and current position within our organization as national president and party-list representative in Congress," the group said.

Atty. Minerva Lopez, GWP legal counsel, also reiterated that the provisions cited by Roque in his allegations apply only to those who intend to run under the party-list system and not to candidates seeking elective office outside the party-list system.

"It is our hope that this clarifies and consequently corrects any misconceptions made by Atty. Roque as we further our advocacies and embark yet again in the 2016 national election," Lopez said.

Meanwhile, Roque clarified that the provision he cited may not apply to those who filed as independents.

READ: 16th Congress may get 11 new party-list representatives 

Belmonte said there are a number of party-list representatives who have filed COCs for other positions.

"Hindi lang si Cong. Ilagan. There are a number of congressmen, party-list congressmen who have applied for, who has filed their COCs for some other positon. Theoretically, they are also covered by the same rule. We have written the Comelec to furnish us the copy of any (certificate of candidacy) that has been filed by a party list congressman," Belmonte said.

"At any rate, it would seem na alam mo kasi yung party-list ang miyembro, the party can replace them. They can only be replaced through the Comelec, in accordance with the current practice unless you can produce a proclamation from the Comelec," Belmonte added.

Rep. Catalina Leonen-Pizarro disagreed with Roque, noting that Section 10 of Comelec Resolution 9984 dated August 18, 2015 states that "any person holding an elective office or position shall not be considered resigned upon the filing of a COC whether for the same or any other elective office or position."

During the plenary session Wednesday, Ilagan, who represents the minority in the HRET, was replaced by fellow Gabriela lawmaker, Emmy de Jesus, in a manifestation by House Minority Leader Ronaldo Zamora.

Asked about Roque's argument, House Speaker Sonny Belmonte said: "Yes, l think he's right. We are checking with Comelec and getting copies of their COCs."

Asked if the House will implement it, Belmonte said, "Yes, after we verify."

Based on information reaching ABS-CBN News, as many as 11 congressmen may be affected by the law. This, however, only affects the congressman, and not the party-list he or she represents. The party-list gets to keep the congressional seat which will be transferred to the party-list group's next nominee in line.

These congressmen are:

- Roy Señeres - OFW Family Club, running for president under the Partido ng Manggagawa at Magsasaka or Workers and Peasants Party

- Catalina Leonen-Pizarro - ABS Party-list, running for mayor of Sudipen, La Union under National Unity Party (NUP)

- Neri Colmenares - Bayan Muna Party-list, running for senator under Makabayan

- Nicanor Briones - Agap Party-list, running for governor of Batangas under AGAP PMB

- Cresente Paez - COOP NATCCO Party List, running for senator as independent

- Irwin Tieng - Buhay Party-list, running for city councilor in Manila under United Nationalist Alliance (UNA)

- Luz Ilagan - Gabriela, running for city councilor under a local party in Davao

- Francisco Emmanuel Ortega III - ABONO Party-list, running for governor as independent

- Samuel Pagdilao - ACT CIS, running for senator as independent

- Michael Rivera - 1Care Party-list, running for mayor Padre Garcia Batangas under LP

- Johnny Revilla, OFW Family Club Party-list, running for city councilor of Quezon City as independent