Can Akbayan rep still be ousted?
MANILA, Philippines - A petition that could have forfeited Akbayan Rep Kaka Bag-ao's role as caretaker of the Dinagat Islands' congressional district has been dismissed.
But while Bag-ao can continue serving the rest of her term, and faces no obstacle to her congressional bid in her home province after this, questions about her qualifications remain.
After all, the decision of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) to dismiss the disqualification case against Bag-ao was based on a technicality -- "being out of time," or not filed within the prescribed period. It did not resolve the issues raised by the petitioner.
Bag-ao maintained that she did not change political parties when she filed her certificate of candidacy, clarifying that she has not taken oath as a member of LP. "It's clear to me that I'm a guest candidate [of the Liberal Party]," she told Rappler.
Bag-ao is running with Dinagat Vice Gov Jade Ecleo, who is challenging her mother, incumbent governor Glenda Ecleo, in the gubernatorial race. Bag-ao's opponent in the congressional race, on the other hand, is Jade's sister Gwendolyn.
Gwendolyn, a mayor, denied the petition was her handiwork but shares the contention of the petitioner.
"Change affiliation kasi yun (pag central to district). Akbayan party siya to Liberal, so hindi siya pwedeng maging caretaker kasi nga sa batas ifo-forfeit niya na yung seat niya," Ecleo told Rappler. (What she did was changing affiliation. If you change affiliation from central to district…she changed affiliation from Akbayan to Liberal, so she can't be the caretaker because she will forfeit her seat under the law.)
The militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), a strong critic of Akbayan, urged Bag-ao to step down, suggesting that upholding the Party-List Law is more important than her appointment as caretaker and the PDAF that came with it.
"There is nothing wrong in stepping down now, just before the campaign period. When she steps down, the group’s next nominee can simply take her place. That is the proper thing to do. That is the principled thing to do. That is what the law requires," Bayan secretary General Renato Reyes Jr said in a blog post.
But Bag-ao is standing her ground, vowing that her critics will not succeed.
"Hindi nila ako mapipigilan na ituloy yung pagtanggap ng hamon bilang cartaker. Ngayon nakikita ng mga tao na nagdidi-deliver ng projects for a short time ang isang caretaker. Inaalok ko ng options ang mga tao na mamili." (They can't stop me from accepting the challenge of being the caretaker. The people now see that a caretaker can deliver projects even for a short time. It's up to the people to choose.)
Election lawyer George Garcia told Rappler that the petition filed against Bag-ao could have been a test case if it was decided on its merits. This is the first time a question was raised about a party-list representative running in a congressional district.
He cited how the Commission on Elections was split evenly years ago over the disqualification case against Eduardo Pilapil, the number one nominee of the top party-list vote-getter Veterans Federation Party who filed his candidacy for mayor of a town in Camarines Sur.
Half of the commissioners said Pilapil merely abandoned his party-list seat and was qualified to run for mayor; the other commissioners said Pilapil should be disqualified from both his party-list nomination and his mayoral bid.
Garcia said Bag-ao's case is defensible. "There's no Comelec rule, there's nothing in the party-list law" that prohibits a person from seeking a congressional seat under different parties. What's prohibited, he said, is a nominee of a sectoral group transferring to another sectoral group to seek a party-list seat.
While Akbayan is not a sectoral organization -- it is officially registered as a political party -- the election lawyer said there should be no problem with Bag-ao running under another political party, the LP, since the latter is not in the party list. If any other issues arise, he believes the by-laws of either parties should prevail.
Garcia said a petitioner in a case like this should have filed for the politician's disqualification with both the HRET, questioning the representative's continued stay in office, and the Comelec, to seek the candidate's elimination from the congressional race. Since different grounds are being cited, the cases should not be considered a form of forum shopping.
- With a report from Miriam Grace Go/Rappler.com