Confusing purge

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If the aim was to separate the chaff from the grain, so to speak, then all it did was to muddy the waters. And yes, those mixed metaphors are deliberate, if only to highlight the confusing absurdity, or the absurd confusion, arising from the Commission on Elections’ recent purge of the party-list groups accredited to run in the 2013 elections.

The objective, of course, was not only valid but long overdue: to rid the party-list system of dubious, fly-by-night cliques and associations that have made a mockery of the Constitution’s mandate to provide representation in Congress to “marginalized and underrepresented” sectors of society. A subsequent law, Republic Act 7941, identified these sectors as “labor, peasant, fisherfolk, urban poor, indigenous cultural communities, elderly, handicapped, women, youth, veterans, overseas workers, and professionals”—but otherwise left open any strict definition of “marginalized and underrepresented.”

That clumsy oversight has led in recent years to the grotesque sight of various political parties and quarters organizing ersatz party-list groups to secure seats in Congress for their own vested ends. Two easily come to mind: Bantay, which billed itself as an anticommunist advocacy group, ran and managed to snag a seat for its nominee, former general Jovito Palparan (before he became a fugitive from the law in the wake of an arrest warrant issued against him). Unless the entire country itself had turned rabidly Red, how could a gaggle of anticommunists describe themselves as “marginalized”—and get the Comelec’s approval?

Farce No. 2 was the Ang Galing Pinoy, said to be an association of security guards and tricycle drivers. Its designated first nominee was former Pampanga representative Mikey Arroyo, whose net worth was P99.95 million.

To its credit, the Comelec has disqualified Ang Galing Pinoy for the 2013 polls, on the grounds that it has supposedly done nothing for the sector it represented while it sat in Congress (a qualification, one might add, that if strictly imposed, would obliterate not only most party-list groups, but also a large swath of congressmen distinguished only for their middling work, perennial absenteeism and penchant for disappearing into the woodwork once elected to their seats).

Bantay, too, has been disqualified, except that it has managed to win a reprieve for now via a status quo ante ruling from the Supreme Court ordering the Comelec to keep Bantay’s slot, along with 14 others, in the poll body’s list of qualified party lists for the 2013 elections. Among those covered by the Supreme Court’s order is another controversial group, Ako Bicol, whose disqualification occasioned much hue and cry from a raft of Bicolano solons who said it would deprive residents of Bicol—one of the country’s biggest regions in terms of voter population, by the way, and thus in no way “marginalized”—of adequate representation in Congress.

So the Comelec has seen through Ako Bicol’s flim-flam—and yet, it has renewed the accreditation of An Waray, obviously another regional grouping, which bills itself as a “democratic multisectoral party-list organization that envisions a just, progressive and peaceful Filipino society characterized by its principles ‘katilingban’ [sense of community], ‘kahimyang’ [peace] and ‘kauswagan’ [progress] through the adoption of a community-based and peace-oriented development agenda.” A grandiloquent statement, but who wants to quarrel with that? And how exactly is it an advocacy for a disempowered sector?

Among the 79 groups recently approved or re-accredited by the Comelec are other oddities such as the LPG Marketers Association Inc. (a group of independent LPG refillers and distributors—a lobbying group, in short); ACT-CIS or Anti-Crime and Terrorism Community Involvement and Support Inc. (where is the pro-crime and pro-terrorism majority they’re up against?); OFW Family Club Inc. (if the tens of millions of OFW households in this labor-exporting country also see themselves as “marginalized,” then who isn’t?); Ang Prolife (which the Comelec should have required to produce studies or surveys showing that the “anti-life” side, whatever that means, is now about to push these “pro-life” crusaders into the margins); and something as ridiculous-sounding as Ading, or Advance Community Development in New Generation.

“We attempted the best that we can,” said Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. And, to be fair, next year’s polls will have the lowest number of party-list groups accredited to run in the last six years. Still, as purges go, this is not even halfway good enough.

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