Can Akbayan rep still be ousted?

Voltaire Tupaz
The disqualification case vs Akbayan Rep Kaka Bag-ao is dismissed on a technicality but this does not settle the issues raised by the petitioner

DINAGAT CARETAKER. Akbayan Rep Kaka Bag-ao (in black) with Dinagat Vice Gov Jade Ecleo (in yellow) meets her new constituents in the newly created Dinagat province. Photo from Kaka Bag-ao's Facebook page

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.

HRET Resolution, Ontua v. Bag-Ao by Rappler Philippines

Bag-ao, although a party-list representative, was appointed by the Speaker as caretaker of a district, Dinagat, after the latter’s congressman was convicted of graft and dropped from the House roster. The role, which gave Bag-ao the power to allocate the district’s Priority Development Assistance Fund, was seen to help boost her (Bag-ao’s) candidacy in the congressional district under the ruling Liberal Party (LP).

In a petition for quo warranto filed on January 28, Dinagat resident Rogelio Ontua cited Section 15 of the Party-List System Law, which states that “any elected party-list representative who changes his political party or sectoral affiliation during his term of office shall forfeit his seat.” 

Since Bag-ao filed her Certificate of Candidacy for Dinagat’s congressional post under the LP, she therefore should be dropped as Akbayan representative in the House. “Bag-ao sealed her affiliation with Liberal Party when, on October 1, 2012, she voluntarily accepted the Certificate of Nomination signed by LP President Mar Roxas on September 20, 2012.”
LIBERAL OR AKBAYAN? Rep Kaka Bag-ao's certificate of candidacy is being used by her critics in questioning her status as Akbayan representative and caretaker of Dinagat Islands. Photo from

‘Political harassment’

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.

The Akbayan lawmaker said the case was meant to harass her, claiming that the petitioner is an employee of a municipal councilor allied with Gwendolyn and Glenda Ecleo. The case was dismissed February 7, but Bag-ao got a copy of the HRET decision only this week.

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.)

Party matter

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.

Petition for Quo Warranto by Rappler Philippines

 – With a report from Miriam Grace Go/

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