Leonen: Abang Lingkod should not get party-list seat

MANILA, Philippine – Not all Supreme Court justices approved of the recent awarding of one congressional seat to previously disqualified Abang Lingkod.

The SC has ordered the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to proclaim the party-list group as one of the winners in the May elections, saying the poll body "gravely abused its discretion in cancelling the registration of Abang Lingkod under the party-list system."

However, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, who wrote the dissenting opinion, defended the Comelec in disqualifying the group. Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno and justices Antonio Carpio and Arturo Brion joined Leonen in his dissent.

Leonen said Abang Lingkod falsified the documents it submitted to the poll body, which is a clear ground for cancelling their registration.

Abang Lingkod was disqualified after submitting to Comelec photographs of its activities – all with the group's name and logo digitally superimposed – as proof of their track record as a party-list group.

"Allowing a party-list organization that willfully presents false credentials betrays the public trust, and we should not be party to its countenance," he said.

Leonen said that this photo manipulations speaks of the "genuineness and existence of the party-list group," which is a "continuing requirement of the law and goes into the qualifications of the party list."

The final SC decision, though, stated that the party-list law does not require groups to submit proof of their track record as a group, as "it is enough that their principal advocacy pertains to the special interest and concerns of their sector."

Track record

Leonen claims that party-list groups are still required to present proof of track record, but "that the track record that would have to be presented would only differ as to the nature of their group/organization."

He said a national or regional party must prove its official existence, while a sectoral group like Abang Lingkod must prove its links with the marginalized and underrepresented.

Abang Lingkod claims it represents the farmers.

"It is important for the groups to show that they are capable of participating in the elections and that they will not make a mockery of the electoral system, specifically the party-list system," Leonen said.

The High Court, however, ruled that the "varying track record requirement…would result into an absurd and unjust situation," as national or regional parties only have to present documents like by-laws and list of members, while sectoral groups have to present evidence of actual activities to prove their links to represented sectors. 

"The imposition of an additional burden on sectoral organizations, i.e. submission of their track record, would be plainly unjust as it effectively deters the marginalized and underrepresented sectors from organizing themselves under the party-list system," the decision said.

Abang Lingkod was among the groups that were earlier disqualified by Comelec, but were retained as candidates by the Supreme Court.

The official tally of votes shows that the group garnered 260,215 votes, or 0.91% of the total number of votes for party-list groups.

Nominee

Based on the computation for party-list seat allocation, the group managed to secure one seat, allowing its number one nominee, Joseph Stephen Paduano, to join Congress.

Groups Karapatan and the Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) have earlier sought for the disqualification of Abang Lingkod, as Paduano was reportedly the national commander of the Revolutionary Proletarian Army-Alex Boncayao Brigade (RPA-ABB). The group is said to be responsible for various cases of human rights violations.

In a petition filed by Karapatan and KMP in 2012, they said the group does not represent farmers, and that its leaders and nominees "possess interest in conflict and adverse to the interests of peasants/farmers."

The SC decision, however, stated that 3 out of the group's 5 nominees are farmers, and that the 2 other nominees who don't belong to the same sector "is immaterial and would not result in the cancellation of Abang Lingkod's registration as a party-list group." – Rappler.com