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Esperon sees ouster of Gabriela

By Dempsey Reyes / The Manila Tmes

National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. on Tuesday expressed confidence that progressive Gabriela Women's Party (Gabriela) will be disqualified from participating in next year's elections.

Esperon made the statement after testifying in a hearing called by the Commission on Elections on the petition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-Elcac) against the party-list group.

Gabriela is an alliance of grassroots organizations that advocate social issues such as human rights, poverty, globalization, militarism, violence, rape culture, health, sex trafficking, censorship and other issues affecting women.

The party-list traces its roots to the Gabriela alliance which was founded by women street parliamentarians in 1984 amid the snowballing dissent against the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos. The group was spun-off into a party-list and managed to win a congressional seat in the 2004 elections. It has consistently won representation in Congress in the last six national elections.

Liza Maza, who was Gabriela's representative in the 13th and 14th Congress (2004-2010), had served under the Duterte administration as chairman of the National Anti-Poverty Commission. She stepped down in 2018 after President Rodrigo Duterte cut political ties with the Left.

Esperon, who is vice chairman of the NTF-Elcac, accused Gabriela of getting funds from a foreign government and from non-government organizations, particularly those based in Belgium.

"We certainly pray, and I hope and I'm confident that the Comelec will resolve this petition because, by my recollection from other reports, there are many applicants for party-lists numbering more than a hundred," he told reporters.

The NTF-Elcac argued that Gabriela violated section 2, paragraph 5 and article 9 (c) of the 1987 Constitution, which prohibits party-list groups or any political parties from receiving foreign financial assistance.

According to Esperon, parties found guilty of violating the constitutional prohibition could face cancellation of their accreditation with the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Another rule he cited that was allegedly violated by Gabriela was the Comelec's Rules of Procedure, particularly its Rule 32 section (D), which states that receiving financial support from any foreign government "is one of the grounds for the cancellation of the registration of any political party."

The NTF-Elcac, citing officials from the Anti-Money Laundering Council (AMLC), claimed that Gabriela received financial assistance from the Belgian government, as well as from Viva Salud VZW, a non-government organization (NGO) accredited in Belgium.

Esperon claimed that Viva Salud "sent" P1.8 million in March 2019, citing findings from the international accounting firm Mazars which he said was contracted by the Belgian government to audit the NGO's programs.

Another AMLC finding that he cited was the fund remittances said to have ranged from P1 million to P2 million from the London-based INTL FCStone Ltd. from September 2015 to March 2019.

"This petition for the cancellation of Gabriela is something serious. And so, I believe in the uprightness of the Comelec. Like what we said, this is crunch time," he added.

Another party-list group that the anti-communist task force was targeting for disqualification is the Kabataan party-list, a youth group represented in Congress by Rep. Sarah Elago.

Marlon Bosantog, the NTF-Elcac spokesman for legal affairs, said the case of Kabataan "is centered on the Constitution of Kabataan party-list as a creation of the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People's Army-National Democratic Front.

"It is an organization that is made to infiltrate the legislative bureaucracy of the government," Bosantog claimed.

He said that the task force already got nine witnesses against Kabataan before the Comelec.

"If the Comelec would request more, then we would furnish more," he said. "And we hope in the coming days there will be a setting of the hearing particularly on this case."



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