SC orders Comelec: Name party-list nominees
By Leila Salaverria, Jerome Aning
Last updated 04:19am (Mla time) 05/04/2007
MANILA, Philippines -- Upholding the people’s constitutional right to information and the need for transparency in government, the Supreme Court ordered the Commission on Elections to immediately disclose the names of the party-list nominees or face contempt.
In a unanimous decision reached Thursday following a special en banc session, the high tribunal rebuffed the poll body’s attempts to keep the nominees’ names under wraps until after the ballots are cast on May 14.
“The court said the nondisclosure by the Comelec is against the right to information enshrined in the Constitution under Section 7, Article 3. Also, Section 28, Article 2 enunciates the policy of full disclosure and transparency in government more so where public interest is involved,” Supreme Court spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez told reporters.
Justices Renato Corona and Alicia Austria-Martinez were on leave during the en banc session. Justice Romeo Callejo retired last week.
Marquez said the decision would be promulgated on Friday after all the justices had signed it, and would then be delivered to the Comelec for compliance.
But he said Chief Justice Reynato Puno had authorized the disclosure of the decision Thursday given the urgency of the issue.
The decision, penned by Associate Justice Cancio Garcia, is immediately executory, and the poll body has to report its compliance to the high court within five days of receiving the directive, according to Marquez.
Marquez also said the Comelec would have to comply with the directive even if it decides to file a motion for reconsideration.
In refusing to disclose the names of the party-list nominees, the Comelec said it was not required to do so because the selection of party-list groups should not be personality-oriented.
It also issued a resolution stating that it would only release the names of the nominees at 3 p.m. on Election Day.
But the high court, in directing the Comelec to release the names of party-list nominees, said the nondisclosure of the names was tantamount to propagating “blind voting.”
The tribunal added that the people need to know the nominees so that they could make an informed decision when they choose a party-list group on May 14.
“It has been repeatedly said in various contexts that the people have the right to elect their representatives on the basis of an informed judgment.
“Hence, the need for voters to be informed about matters that have a bearing on their choice. The ideal cannot be achieved in a system of blind voting, as veritably advocated in the assailed resolution of the Comelec,” the high court said, according to a statement from its public information office.
The Supreme Court also said there was no national security concern involved in the disclosure of the names of the party-list nominees.
The high court also junked the Comelec’s argument that the party-list law, Republic Act No. 7941, did not require it to disclose the names.
The tribunal said the Comelec “misread” the law, pointing out that the prohibition imposed on the poll body extended only to the certified list that is required to be posted in polling places on Election Day.
It also said that to stretch the coverage of the prohibition to the absolute was to read into the law something that was not intended.
“As it were, there is absolutely nothing in RA No. 7941 that prohibits the Comelec from disclosing or even publishing through mediums other than the ‘Certified List’ the names of the party-list nominees. The Comelec obviously misread the limited nondisclosure aspect of the provision as an absolute bar to public disclosure before the May 2007 elections,” the Supreme Court said.
The high court issued the directive to the Comelec in response to the two petitions filed by Akbayan party-list Rep. Loretta Ann “Etta” Rosales, Kilosbayan Forum and Bantay Katarungan Foundation, and by the Bantay Republic Act 7941 and Urban Poor for Legal Reforms.
But the high court turned down the plea of Bantay Republic Act 7941 and the Urban Poor for Legal Reforms to disqualify 34 party-list groups for not representing marginalized sectors.
Among the 34 is Biyaheng Langit, which represents tricycle drivers and has for its nominee Dr. Arsenio Abalos, the brother of Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos.
The high court said the issue concerned factual matters that were beyond its ambit.
“The Supreme Court said these are factual issues which the court cannot decide because it could not know if these organizations do not represent the marginalized sectors. It is for the Comelec to decide on this,” Marquez said.
The Sanlakas party-list group welcomed the Supreme Court decision, saying the next challenge now to the Comelec is to “swiftly” disqualify from the party-list race Malacañang “fronts.”
Judy Ann Miranda, Partido ng Manggagawa nominee, praised the high court for backing the people’s right to know the nominees of the party-list group they would be voting for.
The Gabriela Women’s Party Thursday asked the Comelec to disqualify four party-list groups it claimed were “Malacañang fronts.”
In its petition, Gabriela said that Agbiag! Timpuyog Ilocano (Agbiag), Babae Para sa Kaunlaran (Babae Ka), the League of Youth for Peace and Development (Lypad) and the Kalahi-Advocates for Overseas Filipinos (Kkalahi) “were not created to represent the interest of marginalized and/or underrepresented sectors but the political interest and ambition of those already in power.”
The four groups were mentioned in an alleged two-page memorandum to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo dated Oct. 16, 2006, seeking funds from the government. The memo was said to have been signed by Malacañang’s Office of External Affairs chief, Assistant Secretary Marcelo Fariñas II.
Gabriela party-list Rep. Liza Maza, one of the complainants, said the petition was “a way of digging deeper into the existence of a counter-plan to frustrate the Left and opposition from gaining additional seats in Congress through the party-list elections.”
Pro-Arroyo bets among 499 in 91 party-lists
By Nikko Dizon
Last updated 01:16am (Mla time) 05/05/2007
MANILA, Philippines -- The Akbayan party-list group yesterday said that just as it feared, people and groups allegedly closely associated with the administration appeared in the list of party-list nominees finally released by the Commission on Elections.
Following a Supreme Court order handed down the other day, the Comelec law department yesterday released the names of the party-list nominees to Akbayan Rep. Loretta Ann Rosales and Walden Bello, the Akbayan’s second nominee.
It showed that the Comelec has accredited 91 party-list organizations which submitted a total of 499 party-list nominees.
“Our fears have come true that many of these people are closely associated with the Arroyo administration through the Office of External Affairs,” Bello told reporters after going through the list.
The Supreme Court was acting on a petition filed by Rosales, among others, asking the high court to compel the poll body to immediately disclose the names of the party-list nominees.
The high court rejected the Comelec’s argument that the party-list law did not require that it release the names of the nominees. The Supreme Court said the people’s constitutional right to information and the need for transparency in government required otherwise.
Akbayan said it would immediately work on filing disqualification petitions against the party-list organizations and their nominees that it alleged were administration fronts, and urged the Comelec to also act expeditiously on these soon-to-be-filed cases.
“We could have saved a lot of time. We lost about three weeks because of the Comelec’s obstructionist policies here. But now, this [list] is the basis of filing disqualification cases against these organizations,” Bello said.
In early April, Rosales alleged that a number of party-list organizations were acting as fronts for Malacañang and urged the Comelec to re-assess the accreditations given to them.
Rosales identified these party-list organizations as Ahon Pinoy!; Babae Ka!; Ang Kasangga; Akbay Pinoy; Aksyon Sambayanan (Aksa); Agbiag!; Biyaheng Pinoy; Aangat Tayo; Aangat ang Kabuhayan (Anak); Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy (Anad); and Kakusa.
The concerns eventually zeroed in on the party-list nominees themselves as other concerned groups alleged that a group supposedly operating out of Malacañang’s Office of External Affairs was running a campaign to get pro-administration party-list groups into Congress.
It was also alleged that “big-time fixers” from the OEA were offering to ensure the accreditation and victory of party-list groups for fees ranging from a low of P100,000 to a high of P10 million.
The supposed purpose of this campaign was to boost the majority numbers in the House of Representatives to quash another possible impeachment attempt against President Macapagal-Arroyo.
Bello said the high court decision “derailed” the purported plan of the administration to create a House of Representatives favorable to the President.
“Politics has become arithmetic. What they want to do is to make sure there is a critical mass in Congress to keep her in power. That is why they are willing to bastardize the party-list system,” he said.
It was learned yesterday that of the five Comelec commissioners who signed an en banc resolution rejecting the release of the names of party-list nominees, two did not agree with the decision.
Commissioner Rene Sarmiento yesterday confirmed that he and Romeo Brawner voted to have the list released as they believed that access to information was a fundamental, constitutional right.
“It is in Article 3, Section 8 of the Constitution that we have the fundamental right to access to information,” Sarmiento said in an interview.
Sarmiento said he scribbled his dissenting opinion beside his signature in Resolution 0724 that was approved on April 3. Brawner wrote beside his signature that he agreed with Sarmiento.
The three other election commissioners—Resurreccion Borra, Florentino Tuason Jr. and Nicodemo Ferrer—stuck to the non-disclosure provision of the party-list law prohibiting the Comelec from revealing the names of the nominees.
The Supreme Court shot down this argument, saying that the Comelec had misread the provision which it said extended only to the certified list that is required to be posted in polling places on Election Day.
Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos Sr. was on official business when the en banc resolution was signed.