Akbayan allowed to run in 2013 – Comelec

Paterno Esmaquel II
But Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr votes against the majority, saying he favored the disqualification of Akbayan

IN POWER. Akbayan leaders during the party-list's 2011 victory party. Photo from Akbayan's Facebook account

MANILA, Philippines (3rd UPDATE) – Voting 4-2-1, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has allowed the pro-Aquino group Akbayan to run in the May 2013 elections amid criticisms that the group is no longer marginalized due to its political ties.

Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr and Commissioner Lucenito Tagle dissented from the majority ruling and favored Akbayan’s disqualification. Commissioner Grace Padaca, on the other hand, abstained from voting.

The poll body also allowed the activist group Bayan Muna to run as a party-list group in 2013, with the same breakdown of votes.

The majority said Akbayan meets the requirement that party-list candidates should come from marginalized groups. “They have a long track record of representing the marginalized. It can be seen from the bills and laws passed in Congress,” said Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, who voted with the majority.

Sarmiento also cited a 2001 Supreme Court ruling, Bagong Bayani vs Comelec, that said Comelec should encourage “underground” groups to come out. 

“The party-list system… is a message to the destitute and the prejudiced, and even to those in the underground, that change is possible. It is an invitation for them to come out of their limbo and seize the opportunity,” the Supreme Court ruling said. (Watch more in the video below.)

‘Conscience vote’

Sarmiento called his decision a “conscience vote.” “My decision is for them to participate, provided both of them will participate, Akbayan and Bayan Muna. Hindi puwedeng isa lang.” (It cannot be just one of them.)

Asked why the Comelec had to decide on both at the same time, Sarmiento explained: “Ito po ang kontrobersyal na dalawa eh. Eh ‘di isabay na namin. Ito po ang nag-iiringan, eh ‘di resolve both.” (These are the two controversial groups, so we did it at the same time. They are the two warring parties, so let’s resolve both.)

Dissenters, like Brillantes, said Akbayan was “similar to Ako Bicol.” He explained: “It’s multisectoral, a political party, although it is said to have a track record,” Brillantes said in a mix of English and Filipino.

The other dissenter, Tagle, said Akbayan is no longer marginalized due to its close relations with the Aquino administration. (Watch more in the video below.) 

Padaca said she abstained from voting because she was not part of initial discussions on Akbayan. She was appointed Comelec commissioner only last October 2.

The decision indicates how the poll body was divided over the matter. Various groups associated with a rival party-list group, Bayan Muna, earlier asked the Comelec to disqualify Akbayan on grounds that its leaders now hold key positions in government and are closely allied with Aquino administration. Akbayan campaigned for President Benigno Aquino III in the 2010 presidential race. Among its prominent campaign funders are the sisters of the President.

Akbayan is fielding one senatorial bet in 2013, Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel, who is part of the administration-led senatorial coalition. The President’s political adviser, Secretary Ronald Llamas, is former president of Akbayan.

In a statement, Akbayan said the decision “effectively dismisses the baseless disqualification complaints filed against us.” It added: “From the beginning we have supported Comelec’s efforts to cleanse the party-list system of bogus and fake party-list groups. It is precisely for the same reason that we have fully complied with the processes and decisions made by Comelec regarding this issue.”

The party said that while “we beg to differ” with Brillantes’ dissenting opinion, “we see it as an opportunity for the public to engage in a meaningful exchange of ideas regarding the issues that surround the party-list law and the reforms needed to ensure that the end goals of the party-list system are met.” – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.