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Philippines: Presidential son is above poll laws

by Alexander Martin Remollino Sunday, May. 09, 2010 at 7:08 PM

In the Philippines, being a presidential son allows you to be a party-list nominee without possessing any of the qualifications for being one.

In the Philippines, being a presidential son allows you to be a party-list nominee without possessing any of the qualifications for being one.

Or at least that is what is shown by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) ruling dismissing the disqualification petitions filed by senatorial candidates Satur Ocampo and Liza Maza and the party-list group Bayan Muna against presidential son and Pampanga Rep. Juan Miguel "Mikey" Arroyo.

Arroyo is running for a seat in the House of Representatives as the first nominee of Ang Galing Pinoy Partylist (AG), which claims to represent security guards, tricycle drivers, and small businessmen. Ocampo, Maza, and Bayan Muna have sought his disqualification, arguing that Arroyo does not represent the marginalized and underrepresented sectors that AG claims to represent.

The party-list system is a mechanism through which marginalized and underrepresented sectors can have direct representation in Congress. It came into being through Art. VI, Sec. 5 of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, which provides for sectoral representation in Congress for labor, peasant, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, women, youth, "and such other sectors as may be provided by law, except the religious sector."

Republic Act No. 7941 (An Act Providing for the Election of Party-List Representatives through the Party-list System, and Appropriating Funds Therefor), which serves as the enabling law for Art. VI, Sec. 5 of the Constitution, was passed in 1995. It provides, among other things, that "the State shall promote proportional representation in the election of representatives to the House of Representatives through a party-list system of registered national, regional and sectoral parties or organizations or coalitions thereof, which will enable Filipino citizens belonging to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties, and who lack well-defined political constituencies but who could contribute to the formulation and enactment of appropriate legislation that will benefit the nation as a whole, to become members of the House of Representatives."

In its landmark decision on the 2001 case Ang Bagong Bayani-OFW Labor Party v. Commission on Elections, et al, the Supreme Court reiterated the nature and intent of the party-list system as a mechanism that should clearly serve marginalized and underrepresented sectors. Ruled the Supreme Court: "(The) party or organization must not be an adjunct of, or a project organized or an entity funded or assisted by, the government. By the very nature of the party-list system, the party or organization must be a group of citizens, organized by citizens and operated by citizens. It must be independent of the government. The participation of the government or its officials in the affairs of a party-list candidate is not only illegal and unfair to other parties, but also deleterious to the objective of the law: to enable citizens belonging to marginalized and underrepresented sectors and organizations to be elected to the House of Representatives." The Supreme Court stated in the same decision that not only the candidate party-list group, but also its nominees, must represent marginalized and underrepresented sectors.

This ruling is reinforced by the Comelec's own Rules on Disqualification Cases Against Party-List Groups/Nominees, promulgated last March 25, which states that to qualify as a party-list nominee, one must "(belong) to the marginalized and underrepresented sector/s, the sectoral party, organization, political party or coalition he seeks to represent."

The country's current laws and jurisprudence, as well as the Comelec's own rules, clearly reserve the party-list system for marginalized and underrepresented sectors.

The Comelec, however, in its resolution last May 7, disregarded all these -- including its own rules -- and allowed Arroyo to continue his bid for Congress.

The resolution stated that Arroyo has been a bona fide AG member since November 2009 and has "actively supported and advanced the projects and programs of the party."

"Evidently, therefore, the respondent had clearly immersed himself with the hopes and aspirations of the party and the sector it represents," the resolution further read. "He has as much right to be a nominee as any other member of the party."

Arroyo is not a security guard, tricycle driver, or small businessman, nor does he have a track record of actively advocating for these sectors. None of the bills he sponsored, whether as principal author or as co-author, has anything to do with security guards, tricycle drivers, and small businessmen -- nor did he make any public statement promoting their interests and welfare since November 2009. Just because he claims to have "actively supported and advanced the projects and programs of the party" does not mean that he is qualified to represent AG.

And yet the Comelec chose to look the other way -- showing that in the Philippines, a presidential son is above election laws.

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