“Their decision to participate in the party-list elections this year is a desperate attempt to bring their issues to the electorate: the rape of their forests, the plunder of their resources, the torching of their schools and the killing of their elders – both bearers of their culture.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – The Sulong Katribu party-list asked the Supreme Court to allow them to run in this year’s elections, by declaring as null and void a decision by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) which disqualified the party-list.
In its petition for certiorari and prohibition filed on Jan. 11, Sulong Katribu partylist asked the Supreme Court (SC) to issue a temporary restraining order against Comelec, and to stop it from deleting its name in the list of party-list candidates.
In its petition filed by lawyers from the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), Sulong Katribu said the Comelec committed “grave abuse of discretion,” and violated the Constitution and the Party-list System Law when it disqualified the said party-list based on a Comelec resolution.
The petition said the body “failed to provide guidance,” even as it put a “heavy burden” of procedural requirements on the party-list.
In a Sept.15 decision, the Comelec en banc denied Sulong Katribu party-list’s application for registration and accreditation, saying the group failed to comply with the requirements under Comelec Resolution 9366, particularly, section 7, which requires them to submit a list of all the party-list officers and members. The Comelec said Sulong Katribu also failed to submit proof of existence in the areas they claim to represent.
The body said the complete list of party-list members is needed to determine if the majority of them belongs to the sector the party-list claims to represent. Such is not a requirement for political parties.
Sulong Katribu argued that they fully complied with the requirements under Republic Act 7941, the Party-list System Law, and that Comelec did not ask for any of the said documents when they submitted their application, nor during the oral hearing in May.
In another en banc decision dated Dec. 16, 2015, Comelec dismissed Sulong Katribu’s motion for reconsideration.
Sulong Katribu’s petition cited difficulties, as the Comelec resolution only allows them three days to submit a motion for reconsideration, and to comply with the requirements, which in their case, meant the list of tens of thousands of members, located in hinterland villages, and under attack in conflict areas.
Sulong Katribu said it submitted a list of sworn certificates of their membership from eight regions, 24 provinces and two cities. Some of the certifications were even from local government units and officials.
The petition said the requirement under Comelec resolution violates the spirit of the Party-list System Law, as it “places a huge burden on party-list organizations, one that is not required of the more organized, better-funded political parties.
“This is in direct contradiction with the spirit of the law and the Constitution, which allowed for the party-list system of elections, precisely so that the marginalized and underrepresented sectors, which are not as well-organized and well-funded as the major political parties, could participate in law-making,” said the petition.
The petition also asked the SC to allow them more time to submit documents to the Comelec and to prove their qualifications.
Giving voice to the marginalized
Sulong Katribu’s members come from the major Philippine indigenous cultural communities. Their petition said the indigenous peoples decided to join the elections, as they “stand on the edge of the precipice.”
“Their decision to participate in the party-list elections this year is a desperate attempt to bring their issues to the electorate: the rape of their forests, the plunder of their resources, the torching of their schools and the killing of their elders – both bearers of their culture — the hamletting, the forced occupation of their communities, the never-ending harassment and accusations, made brazenly by no less than military officers, that they are rebels or rebel sympathizers and the sneering conclusion that they have no right to exist,” said the petition.
The petition said it is not easy for indigenous peoples to join the electoral race, due to their poverty, location, lack of connections and familiarity with the law. It also mentioned the killings and attacks on Lumád schools and communities in Mindanao, and subsequent forced evacuation.
“The decision to participate was prompted by first-hand experience of how national policies, however well-intentioned they may be, when carried out on the ground could lead to disenfranchisement, dislocation, and killings,” said the petition.
The petition also cited Spanish-era Maura Law, which disqualified Filipino peasants from owning the land they till because they did not know the law and failed to comply with requires for registration.
Sulong Katribu said that just like the Manilakbayan ng Mindanao, the indigenous peoples’ desire to join the elections was “their way of bringing their plea directly to the electorate.”
“They could have retreated further into the mountains, and finally become what the military accuse them of being: rebels. Instead they have decided to work within the system and take advantage of the law that works with the people,” the petition said.
“We plead with the Court to rule as a court of equity, overlooking matters of procedure to allow the spirit of the law to give justice to the marginalized. Let not the law be the instrument that deprives the Lumad of their voice in the coming elections,” Sulong Katribu said.