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Poll watchdog calls on Comelec to scrutinize party-list groups, nominees

An election watchdog on Monday called on the Commission on Elections to thoroughly scrutinize party-list groups and nominees and not allow the entry of those that do not belong or truly represent the marginalized or underrepresented.

Kontra Daya said that based on their initial research, 182 party-list groups in the 2019 elections may be classified as those with links to political dynasties or officials already elected in other positions; those representing special business interests; and those with questionable advocacy and nominees.

“We call on the Comelec to do all it can to ensure whatever integrity is left in the party-list system will not be further eroded by the entry of more party-list groups and nominees that do not belong to nor truly represent the interests of the marginalized and underrepresented,” the group said in a press statement.

It also called on the people to be extra-vigilant with groups claiming to represent the voiceless but in fact, are representing dynastic interests.

Kontra Daya said five years after the Supreme Court opened the party-list system to nominees who need not belong to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors they claim to represent, more and more political dynasties and vested interests have joined the party-list race.

“Their inclusion has made it harder for party-list groups genuinely representing marginalized sectors to gain seats in Congress,” it said.

The group is referring to the Paglaum vs. Comelec ruling wherein the SC stated that Republic Act 7941 or the Party List System Act does not require national and regional parties to represent marginalized sectors. The SC listed the "new parameters" it has decided to adopt in the qualification of national, regional and sectoral parties under the party-list system.

The SC decision was based on the petitions filed by 54 groups disqualified by the Comelec from participating in the 2013 elections for failing to prove they represent the marginalized sector, having nominees who do not belong to the sector they seek to represent, and do not have a track record.

Kontra Daya said the party-list system has been bastardized and corrupted, becoming an extension of the political dynasties in many provinces and undermining its original goal of providing representation to marginalized sectors such as workers, farmers, women, youth and indigenous peoples among others.

It said among the party-list groups that have links to political dynasties are:

- Probinsyano Ako whose first two nominees are related to Ilocos Norte Representative and former Majority Leader Rodolfo Fariñas. First nominee Rudy Ceasar is Fariñas' son. Second nominee Lira Fariñas is also related to the congressman through Laoag City administrator Jami Fariñas.

- Tingog Sirangan whose first nominee is Yedda Romualdez, an incumbent Leyte first district representative and part of the Romualdez dynasty in Tacloban.

- Abono party-list. Its first nominee is Conrado Estrella III and its second nominee is Vini Nola A. Ortega who is also the wife of La Union Governor Pacoy Ortega.

- Ang Mata’y Alagaan’s first nominee, Tricia Nicole Velasco, is the daughter of former SC Justice Presbiterio Velasco and is part of the Velasco political clan in Marinduque. Her brother Lord Allan Jay Velasco is a Marinduque congressman. Her mother Lorna Velasco was also a past nominee and representative of the same party-list.

- Ako An Bisaya is linked to the Uy and Tuazon political clans of Samar and the Velosos of Leyte. Its first nominee is Ramp Nielsen S. Uy, a former vice-governor of Northern Samar. He ran for a congressional seat in 2013 but lost. The group's second nominee is Rodolfo T. Tuazon, Jr. Its third nominee is former Leyte Representative Eduardo Veloso, who was indicted by the Ombudsman for graft in relation to the pork barrel scam.

- AAMBIS-OWA is linked to the Garin and Biron political dynasties of Iloilo. Its first nominee is Sharon Garin while its second nominee is former Iloilo Representative Hernan Biron, Jr.

- Aangat Tayo’s nominee is Harlin Neil J. Abayon III, related to the Abayon political clan of Northern Samar.

- 1 Alliance Advocating Autonomy Party has the daughter of former Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez, Ana Emelita, as its first nominee.

- Adhikain Tinaguyod ng Kooperatiba has Marjorie Ann Teodoro, wife of Marikina Mayor Marcy Teodoro as its first nominee.

- Serbisyo sa Bayan party-list, linked to QC Representative Sonny Belmonte, has end-termer Quezon City councilors Ranulfo Zabala Ludovica and Vicente Eric De Guzman Belmonte Jr. as its nominees.

- PBA Party-list is represented by Jericho Nograles of the Nograles dynasty in Davao.

- Abe Kapampangan’s first nominee is Angeles Mayor Ed Pamintuan.

Family affair

Kontra Daya said some nominees of party-list groups are spouses or children of current nominees.

“These groups' nominations have become a family affair,” the group said.

It said Agbiag Party-list’s nominee, Michaelina Antonio, is the wife of former Agbiag Representative Patricio Antonio, while Abante Mindanao’s nominee, Mary Grace Rodriguez, is the wife of its former representative Maximo Rodriguez. On the other hand, Ako Bicol’s second nominee is Justin Caesar Anthony D. Batocabe, son of incumbent Ako Bicol Representative Rodel Batocabe.

The group said some nominees already had their stint as district representatives. It mentioned Tingog Sirangan’s Yedda Romualdez of Leyte; Inang Mahal’s first nominee, former congresswoman Gina de Venecia, wife of former Speaker Jose de Venecia of Pangasinan; and LPGMA’s first nominee, former Representative Rodolfo B. Albano of Cagayan.

Business interests

The election watchdog also noted that some party-list groups seem to represent big business interests.

It cited Construction Worker’s Solidarity which is represented by former Department of Public Works and Highways Undersecretary Romeo S. Momo, Sr. who is facing an investigation for alleged anomalous road projects. Other nominees of his group belong to the Gardiola family who owns several construction firms that have been previously implicated in questionable projects according to reports by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. The party-list that claims to represent construction workers is actually a group representing construction firms.

It further said another similar group, Sandigan ng mga Manggagawa sa Konstruksyon, has real estate developer and contractor Enrique Olonan as its first nominee.

ACTS-OFW has two sets of nominees, with one set led by Representative John Bertiz who heads a manpower recruitment agency and became controversial with his statements on Bong Go and actuation at the airport. Its third nominee, Francisco Aguilar, is the president of another recruitment agency. 

Kontra Daya said Anakalusugan has for its second nominee former congressman and Environment secretary Mike Defensor. Ako Padayon Filipino, on the other hand, has for its nominees Adriano Ebcas, Reynaldo Sindo, and Juancho Chong who are high-ranking officials of electric cooperatives in Camiguin, Surigao del Sur, and Bukidnon.

The group said a glaring example of how the party-list system has been used by the rich and powerful is the One Patriotic Coalition of Marginalized Nationals, Inc. (1 PACMAN). Its first nominee Michael Romero happens to be the richest member of the House of Representatives with a reported net worth of P7 billion.

“His wealth does not come as a surprise since he is said to be the chief executive officer (CEO) or chair of, among others, the Harbor Centre Port Terminal, Mikro-tech Capital, Manila North Harbor Port, Pacific Inc. and 168 Ferrum Mining. We believe that having multi-billionaires as party-list representatives were not the original intent of the party-list law as these billionaires can easily seek congressional seats through the regular district representation,” it said.

Poll body spokesperson James Jimenez said the Comelec "assures the public that it will be faithful to the guidance provided by the SC in Atong Paglaum c. Comelec." —KG, GMA News