Comelec's first: Purging the party-list system

MANILA, Philippines – At the Commission of Elections (Comelec), it is a season of firsts when it comes to party lists.

“This is the first time that we're taking out existing party lists. And this is also the first time that we are disallowing the participation of so many, among the new applicants,” Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr told reporters in an interview Wednesday, November 28.

The Comelec is expected to accredit only 100 of the 289 applicants, or a third of the total, for the 2013 elections.

This is due to a new procedure that made it more difficult for groups to get the Comelec's nod, said Brillantes. For the 2013 elections, groups approved by Comelec divisions had to go through the en banc as well.

Brillantes said this system of automatic review aimed to streamline the criteria in accrediting party-list groups. In previous elections, he said, Comelec divisions had varying standards.

Kung papabayaan lang natin na grant tayo nang grant diyan, deny tayo nang deny, walang consistency,” Brillantes explained. (If we will just continue granting and granting, and denying and denying, we wouldn't have consistency.)

Those disapproved by Comelec divisions, on the other hand, could file motions for reconsideration. The en banc would then put this to a vote.

'It's too much'

Brillantes said the Comelec implemented these new rules to preserve the party-list system. He cited the huge number of unqualified groups applying to join the party-list race. “The party-list system has gone out of bounds,” Brillantes said.

Mabuti siguro, we better send a message already, na hindi naman biruan itong party-list. Sige, mag-apply kayo. Okay lang sa amin. Tatanggapin namin ang P10,000 filing fee n'yo, pero hindi kayo nakakasiguro. Malamang hindi kayo ma-accredit,” he added.

(It might be good to send a message already, that this party-list system is not a joke. Okay, apply. It's okay on our part. We will accept your P10,000 filing fee, but you cannot be certain. You won't likely get accredited.)

Brillantes said unqualified groups degrade the party-list system. (Watch more in the video below.)

Bumababa na masyado ang kuwan eh, ang public position. Congressman ka, party list, pero parang napakababa na ng pagtingin. At saka you will notice naman, hindi ba nakikita ninyo kung sino-sino. Ni hindi natin kilala kung sinu-sino ang mga congressman na nandiyan,” he explained.

(It is degrading the value of the public position. You're a congressman, from a party list, but there is low regard for you. And you yourself will notice, it's practically anyone. We don't even know who these congressmen are.)

He said Comelec's move will serve as a “warning” for future party-list elections, especially if Congress will not yet amend the Party-List Law to clear its vague provisions. “Talagang hihigpitan na nang hihigpitan,” Brillantes said. (We will be stricter and stricter.)

In another interview Tuesday, November 27, Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento attributed the party-list purge to the poll body's commissioners.

“The commission is more critical this time, and I think that it contributed a lot – and our desire to trim down the number of party-list organizations," Sarmiento said in a mix of English and Filipino. (Watch more in the video below.)

Some groups, however, still express disappointment.

The election watchdog Kontra Daya, for instance, said disqualifying the pro-Aquino group Akbayan was the Comelec's biggest test. The poll body, however, decided to allow it to run in 2013 despite criticisms that its members have close ties with the Aquino administration, and therefore no longer marginalized.

Brillantes, who dissented from this majority decision, however, said Akbayan went through a stringent screening by the Comelec. "May track record naman 'yan," he said, quoting the majority decision. (It has a track record.) – Rappler.com