Cardema says Duterte Youth nominees quit for fear of debating ‘leftist party-lists’

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 23) — Former National Youth Commission (NYC) chair Ronald Cardema said fear of debating “leftist party-lists” pushed five original nominees of Duterte Youth to quit which led to his last-minute substitution.

“During the campaign trail, napagitgit na tayo, nadikit tayo nang todo with the leftist groups. Kahit ‘yung wife ko natatakot na. Natatakot sila sa leftist party-list groups at gusto nila kayang ipagtanggol ang side natin lagi sa debate, sa plenary hall,” Cardema told CNN Philippines New Day on Thursday.

[Translation: During the campaign trail, we went head to head with the leftist groups. Even my wife got scared. They got scared of leftist party-list groups and they want to be able to defend our side in the debate, in the plenary hall.]

Cardema said his wife and other nominees decided that he take their place because he is “more experienced” in debating with leftists.

However, documents obtained by youth group Youth Act Now Against Tyranny show that the nominees did not cite fear of debating left-leaning party-lists as reason for their withdrawal.

Cardema's wife, Ducielle Marie Suarez, said she withdrew her nomination because she wants to pass the group's leadership to someone more fitting. Another nominee, Joseph de Guzman, said he would rather work unnoticed and support Duterte Youth away from public opinion.

Benilda de Guzman, the party-list's third nominee, cited her passion for teaching. Meanwhile, Arnaldo Villafranca and Elizabeth Anne Cardema cited family obligations and employment opportunities abroad, respectively.

"Hindi pa man nauupo sa pwesto ay hindi na nagsasabi nang totoo," Kabataan party-list Rep. Sarah Elago said.

[Translation: He's not yet even seated, yet he's already lying.]

But Rep. Carlos Zarate of the progressive Bayan Muna party-list, which is among the groups tagged by Cardema as communist supporters, called the former NYC chair’s statement a “poor excuse” to cover up his “subversion” of the party-list system.

Bakit sila matatakot sa left? Bakit takot silang makipag-debate, eh kami nga ang subject to relentless attacks and vilification from them, from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police and their minions,” Zarate told CNN Philippines in a text message.

[Translation: Why would they be scared of the left? Why are they afraid to debate, when we are the ones who are subject to relentless attacks and vilification from them, from the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police and their minions.]

Under the Party-list System Act, no changes in the order of nominees are allowed unless a nominee dies, withdraws their nomination in writing or becomes incapacitated. In that case, the substitute will be placed last in the list.

However, with all Duterte Youth nominees opting out, Cardema becomes its first nominee and may get to sit in the next Congress if the Commission on Elections rules that he is eligible to represent the youth sector, despite being 33 years old. The party-list law mandates that representatives of the youth sector must be aged 25 to 30.

READ: COMELEC OKs Cardema’s party-list substitution bid, clarifies eligibility issue not yet tackled

The poll body has ruled that Cardema’s petition to substitute as a Duterte Youth nominee was filed within the deadline, but it is yet to tackle whether he is qualified.

Cardema said he is qualified as Duterte Youth represents both the youth and professional sectors.

But COMELEC Commissioner Rowena Guanzon told CNN Philippines' Balitaan that Cardema should not be speaking about his case in media interviews pending a resoution by the poll body.

"He is already creating in the mind in the public that he is qualified. Nasaan siya? Pagalitan ko siya [Where is he? I will scold him,]" Guanzon said.

COMELEC chair Sheriff Abas said Wednesday that this issue may also be tackled by the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal, where poll protests may take years to be resolved. A congressman only sits for three years.

Critics have assailed Cardema’s substitution as “abusing” and “railroading” the party-list system.

But Cardema just laughed off these criticisms, while evading from answering them directly.

Diyos ko. Alam niyo sa Pilipinas sangkatutak ang kurakot ng pulitiko, sangkatutak ang gumagamit sa party-list system na wala namang nangyayari sa party-list nila,” he said.

[Translation: My God. You know there are a lot of politicians in the Philippines who are corrupt, there are a lot of people who are using the party-list system even if nothing happens to their party-list.]

READ: Group: Political dynasties taking advantage of party-list system

He said Duterte Youth is the only party-list fighting leftist rebels, adding that they are ready to die and be killed by members of the communist New People’s Army.

Makabayan ‘vindicated’

Cardema kept his position as Duterte Youth national chair even while at the helm of the NYC. He also sent out press releases promoting his group during the elections, with his last statement saying that Duterte Youth will neutralize the recruitment of communists in schools and communities.

READ: Cardema may face possible charges over questionable youth meeting – DOJ

Cardema also joined other government officials in accusing left-leaning party-lists as communist sympathizers.

These accusations against the Makabayan bloc hurt them in the elections, Zarate said, with Anakpawis party-list losing its seat.

However, with Bayan Muna getting three seats and Gabriela, ACT Teachers and Kabataan getting one seat each, Zarate said they were “vindicated.”

“I think people, naniniwala pa rin doon sa ating legislative agenda at ‘yung ginawa natin for nearly two decades in Congress na nagdadala ng politics of change sa loob ng Kongreso,” he told CNN Philippines’ The Source.

[Translation: I think people still believe in our legislative agenda and what we have done in Congress for nearly two decades, bringing the politics of change in Congress.]

CNN Philippines Senior Digital Producer Lara Tan contributed to this report.