SC to Comelec: Stop party-list proclamations

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Supreme Court (SC) yesterday stopped the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from completing its proclamation of winners in the party-list elections, granting relief to a disqualified group that garnered over 600,000 votes.

In a three-page resolution, the high court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) stopping the Comelec from proclaiming winning groups for the five remaining seats out of 58 for party-list representation in the House of Representatives.

The Comelec proclaimed 38 winning groups for 53 seats last May 24 and 28.

Five seats remained available before the SC acted on the petition of the Senior Citizens party-list group questioning its disqualification by the Comelec a few days before the May 13 elections.

The group had garnered the 10th biggest number of votes among the party-list groups.

The SC specifically directed the Comelec “to cease and desist from further proclaiming winners from among the party-list candidates” as the court took notice of the earlier proclamations of the poll body.

“Should Comelec continue proclaiming winners from among the remaining party-list candidates, grave prejudice could result, not only to the petitioner, but to other party-list candidates as well,” SC clerk of court Enriqueta Vidal explained.

The SC added the issuance of the halt order was “necessary and proper considering the allegations, the issues raised and the arguments adduced in the petitions and supplemental petition.”

Apart from the TRO, the high court also consolidated the separate petitions filed by two factions in Senior Citizens that directed the Comelec to answer the petitions within 10 days.

Since the SC is on recess, the order was issued by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno following the recommendation of the justice-in-charge of the case and subject to concurrence of a majority of justices when they resume full-court session next Tuesday.

Comelec said it would abide by the SC order and defer the proclamation of the remaining winners in the party-list elections.

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said the body will submit their position and explanation to the SC within 10 days.

Brillantes said five congressional seats allotted for party-list groups would be left vacant until the SC decides with finality whether to include the previously disqualified party-list groups.

“The TRO is okay with us so there will be no more proclamation. It’s just a pity that five party-list nominees will not be able to sit until the Supreme Court renders its final ruling,” Brillantes said.

Brillantes stressed the TRO was not yet a victory for the Senior Citizens group since the SC would still have to render a decision.

In their petitions, the two groups in Senior Citizens party-list asked the high court to reverse its second disqualification from the election process after garnering a significant number of votes to qualify for at least two seats in Congress.

The group was officially registered as Coalition of Associations of Senior Citizens in the Philippines Inc. and delisted after its nominees went into separate factions and forged a term-sharing agreement for the two seats they won in the 2010 elections.

Petitioners said their disqualification was a violation of the constitutional right to due process, saying they were not given a chance to contest the Comelec ruling.

They also argued the violation of term-sharing policy was not among the grounds for disqualification laid down by the high court in its decision last month on 52 disqualified party-list groups.

They added their disqualification would disenfranchise the over 600,000 votes they garnered in the elections.

Three other disqualified groups filed similar petitions with the high court – Binhi Partido ng mga Magsasaka Para sa mga Magsasaka (Binhi), Alliance for Nationalism and Democracy (ANAD) and Abang Lingkod – but these were not given the same relief since they were not in the winning circle. 

But even if the SC rules in favor of Senior Citizens, Brillantes explained the group could no longer get two seats because 53 of the 58 seats have been filled with the proclamation of the 53 winning party-list groups.

Brillantes maintained Comelec made the right decision in disqualifying the Senior Citizens group because it violated the rules.

“The Comelec rules do not allow term-sharing and the Senior Citizens group nominees have signed an agreement on term sharing. It was not consummated, but they have acknowledged that there was an agreement and they were about to implement it,” Brillantes said.

He said the Comelec is against term-sharing agreement within the party-list since it would mean “frustrating the will of the people.”

Lawmakers led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr., however, called on Comelec to lift the disqualification of Senior Citizens.

Maguindanao Rep. Simeon Datumanong and Giorgidi Aggabao of Isabela supported the call of Belmonte, who earlier appealed to the Comelec to proclaim Senior Citizens group.

“The people have spoken through the ballots, and they want Senior Citizens back in Congress to once again represent the marginalized sector of elderly citizens. We urge the Comelec to heed Speaker Belmonte’s reasonable appeal by lifting the disqualification of Senior Citizens and proclaim its victory in the party-list elections,” Datumanong said.

Datumanong said the 671,916 votes garnered by Senior Citizens based on the latest Comelec tally provide a convincing reason for the poll body to ease the disqualification of the group.

Aggabao said Senior Citizens should be judged on the basis of its performance and delivery of services.

“And who else can better judge its performance but the voters themselves. The overwhelming votes won by Senior Citizens provide a qualifying basis for its membership in the 16th Congress,” he said. – Mayen Jaymalin, Paolo Romero

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