ELECTIONS Commissioner Ma. Rowena Guanzon yesterday told senators some party-list groups “sell their seats” to unscrupulous nominees.
Guanzon made the claim during the Senate electoral reforms committee hearing on Senate Bill No. 372, a bill authored by Sen. Leila de Lima which seeks to strengthen the party-list system.
“I’m personally against the gaming of the party-list rules because, I’m sorry to say that in truth, a lot of party-list, or some of them, sell their seats,” Guanzon said.
“After they win, they (party-list groups) change their representatives or nominees,” she added.
She did not elaborate, but this was apparently an allusion to the case of the Duterte Youth party-list.
In the May 2019 elections, the group changed its list of nominees multiple times, as former National Youth Commission chairman Ronald Cardema attempted to slot himself in at the last minute.
On August 8, the Comelec First Division, in which Guanzon is a member, voted to cancel the 34-year old’s nomination for being over-aged and unqualified to represent the youth sector.
The group then sought the substitution of its list of nominees, still with Cardema as the first nominee. Following a word war with Guanzon, he withdrew his nomination on September 13 as a “personal sacrifice.”
Guanzon noted that under the current Party-list Act, the withdrawal, replacement or revision of the order of party-list nominees can only be done until the closing of precincts on election day.
“It’s not correct to say that the rule is they can change anytime of the year…,” she said.
“Why? Because the people have a right to information. The people have a right to know who they are voting for.”
Guanzon said that party-list groups may only change their nominees after election if the House of Representatives declares a vacancy when the original nominee is dropped from the rolls.
The Senate committee, chaired by Sen. Imee Marcos, was tackling De Lima’s bill seeking to redefine the term “bona fide member” to ensure that the nominees of party-list groups genuinely belong to marginalized sectors.
The bill also seeks to disqualify a party-list group from the elections if all of its nominees become unable to assume the seats they win after the beginning of the campaign period, apparently in response to Duterte Youth’s tactics.
The senator also wanted to prohibit nominees from being related by affinity or consanguinity within the third degree to any incumbent public official.
At the House of Representatives, Agusan del Norte Rep. Lawrence Fortun said party-list lawmakers should have no term-limits if the Comelec’s ruling on the appointment of AA Kasosyo nominee Margaux “Mocha” Uson as deputy administrator of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration (OWWA) stands.
Fortun was referring to the Commission’s position that Uson was not covered by the one-year appointment ban on individuals who lost in the previous election because the prohibition applies only to the party-list and not to the nominee.
“So, the one-year appointment ban on losing candidates does not apply to Miss Mocha because she was, technically, not a candidate in the last elections, but her party-list. The ban applies to the party-list, not her, because she was only a nominee. Kailan po ba kayo nakarinig ng party-list na inappoint sa isang posisyon sa gobyerno? (Have you ever heard of a party-list group being appointed in the government?)” Fortun told dzMM.
Following the Comelec’s position on the issue, Fortun said the three-term limit for members of the House of Representatives should not apply to a party-list nominee who has served a third term.
“He or she can be a nominee for a fourth consecutive term because the candidate in the previous three elections was not him or her, but the party-list. Hence, he or she is not a candidate for a fourth term,” he said.
Elections spokesman James Jimenez, after Uson’s appointment, has said that party-list nominees are not actual candidates “so the rule does not apply to them.”
He cited Comelec Resolution 9366 which states that “nominees holding appointive or elective offices may continue to hold office even after acceptance of their nomination, and the one year prohibition from being hired or rehired in a public office after their party-list organizations fail to secure the needed votes to qualify them for a seat in the House of Representatives, will not apply to them.”
The same resolution provides that incumbent party-list representatives who are nominated in the party-list race will not be deemed resigned.
“Applying the same principle, does it follow that a party-list nominee holding a public post need not resign, or cannot be deemed resigned, because he or she is not a candidate?
Hindi niya kailangang mag-resign, o hindi siya considered resigned, dahil hindi naman siya kumakandidato (The nominee does not have to resign or not deemed resigned since he or she is not a candidate),” Fortun said.
Article 9b, Section 6 of the 1987 Constitution states that “no candidate who has lost in any election shall, within one year after such election, be appointed to any office in the government or any government-owned or controlled corporations or in any of their subsidiaries.”
Poll watchdog group Kontra Daya convenor Danilo Arao said the Comelec should review its rule on the applicability of the one-year ban in the appointment to any government position of losing party-list nominees.
Arao said the uproar caused by the appointment of Uson should already prompt action from the poll body.
“That losing party-list nominee Mocha Uson ended up as Deputy Administrator of the OWWA around four months after the May 2019 elections necessitates a review of the one-year ban in the appointment to any government position of losing candidates,” Arao said.
“While it is commendable for Commissioner Guanzon to push for the inclusion of losing party-list nominees, the Comelec, as an institution, should follow suit toward the harmonization of election rules,” he said.
Arao said the Comelec’s position on the issue is “bereft of logic.” “Even at the risk of stating the obvious, a party-list group can never be appointed to any government position,” he said.
He also said that it is questionable that losing party-list nominees are not covered by the one-year ban but that winning nominees are covered by the three-term rule.
“If the party-list representatives are covered by the same rules as their district representatives, then it should follow that the losing party-list nominees should also be treated in the same manner as the losing district representative candidates,” Arao said.
According to Comelec Minute Resolution No. 19-0677, the commission en banc ruled to contradict the opinion of its own law department stating that the one-year prohibition from being appointed in government is applicable to nominees of losing party-list groups.
“After due deliberation, the Commission resolves that the one-year prohibition from being appointed to a government position is not applicable to nominees of losing party-list groups as the nominees are not the candidates but rather the party-list itself,” said the Comelec resolution dated June 19, 2019. – With Wendell Vigilia and Gerard Naval