Quezon City court won't stop poll surveys

- Reinir Padua -

MANILA, Philippines - Citing lack of jurisdiction, a Quezon City court denied yesterday a petition of Bagumbayan Party standard-bearer Sen. Richard Gordon for a temporary restraining order to stop the release of survey results on presidential candidates by pollsters Social Weather Stations (SWS) Inc. and Pulse Asia Inc.

Judge Bayani Vargas of the Quezon City Regional Trial Court Branch 219 said it is the Commission on Elections (Comelec) that should determine whether the conduct and publication of surveys on voters’ preference violate the Fair Election Act.

“Considering that the authority to enforce and implement the said law pertains to the Comelec, to the court’s mind, the jurisdiction to rule on the issue brought before this court also belongs to the said body,” said the three-page order dated April 30.

The court canceled the scheduled hearing yesterday afternoon.

The court, however, said Gordon’s filing for P650,000 damages because the surveys had allegedly prejudiced his campaign, falls under its jurisdiction.

“In action for the damages, the amount of claim shall be considered in determining the jurisdiction of the court. In this case, the amount involved puts this action clearly within the jurisdiction of the Regional Trial Court pursuant to Section 19(8) of Batas Pambansa Blg. 129 known as the Judiciary Reorganization Act of 1980 as amended by Republic Act 7691,” the order said.

SWS and Pulse Asia have argued before the court that the petition to ban the conduct and publication of the election surveys falls under the jurisdiction of the Comelec.

Gordon, who ranks fifth in the surveys, earlier filed the complaint, citing alleged misleading surveys that use “obsolete methodologies.”

His complaint stated that the surveys have reduced the elections into a popularity contest with the survey results purportedly conditioning the minds of voters to favor candidates based on what surveys say and not based on platform.

The court said, “The jurisdiction of the court over the other primary cause of action which is injunction is highly doubtful.”

It also cited that even if it had jurisdiction over the injunctive sought by Gordon, it would still be “constrained to deny the same” because of the Supreme Court (SC) ruling in May 2001 that invalidated provisions of the Fair Election Act that imposed a ban on survey results.

The SC ruling said that such a ban would impose a prior restraint on the freedom of expression.

“In light of this jurisprudence, the court is convinced that it will be an exercise in futility to still proceed with the hearing to determine whether the conduct of surveys and publication thereof may be barred, since this issue has already been settled by no less than the Supreme Court,” the order said.

Gordon said yesterday he would file a motion for reconsideration before the Quezon City RTC.

Christian Diaz, head of Gordon’s legal team, said they would file the motion for reconsideration because they have a valid ground to ask for the issuance of the TRO.

Diaz said the TRO they are asking for is linked to the P650,000 civil case against pollsters SWS and Pulse Asia.

He said the Quezon City RTC violated a rule of court when it treated the petition for the issuance of the TRO as a separate cause of action from the civil case.

“It is illegal to split causes of action,” he said.

While the RTC has denied their petition for the issuance of a TRO, Diaz said they have not lost the case since the court will continue to hear the damage suit.

Diaz said the case has yet to reach its pre-trial stage as SWS and Pulse Asia still have to submit their respective affidavits.

“We are not questioning state regulation in this case. This is an action by a private individual against another private individual,” Diaz said.

Gordon said he is also asking for a TRO against SWS and Pulse Asia to prevent them from conducting more pre-election surveys as these are “conditioning the minds of voters.”

“We asked for a TRO on all surveys. It is robbing the people of their right to be able to engage in a mental exercise where they can gauge their candidate’s capability,” he said.

“It is mental conditioning in no uncertain terms and serves no public purpose that is useful except to try and get more money for the candidates to pay for the surveys who are now leading,” he added.

If he wins the case, Gordon said the P600,000 will be donated to the Philippine National Red Cross while P50,000 will pay for attorney’s fees. - With Mike Frialde










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