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20 lawmakers, 4 govs told to vacate posts

Sheila Crisostomo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has ordered 422 elected officials to vacate their posts for failing to submit their Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) within the deadline as required by election laws.

Among the 422 are former President now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos-Recto, Laguna Gov. Emilio Ramon “ER” Ejercito and Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon.

The other governors included Ryan Luis Singson of Ilocos Sur and Amado Espino Jr. of Pangasinan.

Ejercito is also facing disqualification for overspending in the last May elections.

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said the 422 poll winners are barred from assuming office under Republic Act 7166 or the Synchronized Election Law of 1991.

“They are considered not to have validly assumed office and that’s why we want them to vacate their offices. The provision in the law is very clear – you cannot assume if you did not file your SOCE,” Brillantes said in a press briefing yesterday.

He said the 422 officials elected in the May 13 elections were ordered to stay away from office “until they have complied with the campaign finance disclosure requirements provided by our election laws.”

Brillantes said the law was clear but lamented it had not been implemented in previous elections.

“Under our watch, we won’t tolerate this anymore. The more important message is they cannot disregard the law because we intend to implement it,” he said.

Under the law, “every candidate and treasurer of the political party shall, within 30 days after the day of election, file in duplicate with the offices of the commission the full, true and itemized statement of all contributions and expenditures in connection with the election.”

This means the SOCE should have been filed by June 30. The Comelec had also required the documents to be filed in prescribed forms with receipts attached and signed personally by the winning candidates.

Based on the report of the Comelec’s campaign finance steering committee headed by Commissioner Christian Robert Lim, the 422 local officials also included a vice governor, 12 provincial board members, three city mayors, nine city vice mayors, 47 city councilors, 23 municipal mayors, 26 municipal vice mayors, and 277 municipal councilors.

Of the violators, 143 belong to the ruling Liberal Party (LP) while 44 were from National Unity Party; 38 from Nationalist People’s Coalition; 32 from Nacionalista Party; 30 from Lakas; and 29 from the United Nationalist Alliance.

Topping the violating legislators is Arroyo who “did not personally sign” her SOCE, thus it was “deemed as not filed.”

The other legislators are Manila Reps. Naida Angping and Trisha Bonoan-David; Roland Singson of Ilocos Sur; Tet Garcia of Bataan (2nd district); Arthur Robes of San Jose del Monte City in Bulacan; Ma. Victoria Sy-Alvarado of Bulacan; Eileen Ermita-Buhain, Nelson Collantes and Dong Mendoza, all of Batangas; Wilfrido Mark Enverga of Quezon; Romeo Acop of Antipolo City, Rizal; Joel Roy Duavit of Rizal; Al Francis Bichara of Albay; Sal Fortuno of Camarines Sur; Henry Oaminal of Misamis Occidental; Nancy Catamco of North Cotabato; Arnulfo Go of Sultan Kudarat and Pangalian Balindong of Lanao del Sur.

One of the councilors in violation of SOCE was actor and television host Anjo Yllana of Quezon City.

Brillantes said the Comelec had written Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. and Interior Secretary Manuel Roxas II “for assistance... to order the officials to vacate from their respective offices.”

Brillantes said that if there were no successors, the position would be vacant temporarily until the requirements are completed.

“For congressmen, there is no succession so, in the meantime, there will be a temporary vacancy,” he said.

Brillantes warned the erring officials would face administrative fines, depending on their elected position and the number of days that their SOCE has not been filed.

“So they have to check, rectify and those who did not file could still file but that would be late filing. Those who did not comply with the prescribed form, they can file a new form. Only after that will they be considered compliant with the requirements of the law. That would entitle them to assume office,” he said. 

‘Overacting’

Recto, for her part, said she was able to file her SOCE even before the deadline.

“We followed the laws, rules and regulation of the Comelec, actually we have a certificate of compliance dated June 6 from Batangas Comelec office,” Recto said.

She said they were surprised by the announcement, including the Batangas Comelec office.

“We did not get any letter from the Comelec. If there was a problem they should have informed me so that I could make the necessary correction,” she said.

Recto said she is now consulting her lawyers on why she was included by the Comelec in the list.

Pangasinan Gov. Espino also insisted he filed his SOCE on time.

Espino showed documents, certified by the Comelec provincial office in Dagupan City, that his SOCE was received by the Pangasinan provincial Comelec on June 10 at 3:40 p.m.

Espino said his SOCE was sent to the Comelec main office in Manila, along with the SOCEs of the winning candidates in the province.

Pangasinan provincial election supervisor Marino Salas confirmed sending the SOCEs of Espino and other winning candidates to the Comelec head office.

“It was complete. We received it. We sent it through the fastest mail courier to Comelec Manila and we have receipt of transmittal,” he said.

Belmonte, for his part, said nearly all members of the House of Representatives have filed their respective SOCEs.

He chided the Comelec for being “overacting” on the issue.

Belmonte said his office called up those in the list and only two – Manila Rep. Ma. Theresa Bonoan and Bulacan Rep. Ma. Victoria Sy-Alvarado – have not yet filed their respective SOCEs, which they will submit to the Comelec on Monday.

“I think there’s a problem in the record keeping of the Comelec,” Belmonte said. “I was flabbergasted when I heard that (order to vacate their offices). They’re OA (overacting) on that thing.”

Belmonte said he will comply with the Comelec order “and I’m confident that by Monday this will have no basis,” he said.

He said most of those in the list have either had their accountants or lawyers sign their SOCEs or used the wrong format.

“If the SOCE was not signed by the guy (lawmaker), it doesn’t mean there’s bad faith,” Belmonte said.

He said Bonoan tried to submit her SOCE at the Comelec office in Manila but no one was there to receive it since the poll employees were having their Christmas party.

In the case of Arroyo, she simply did not properly sign her SOCE.

“We’ll just ask her to sign,” Belmonte said.

Arroyo’s office issued a statement that the Pampanga lawmaker has properly complied with the Comelec’s requirements since she was issued a certification of compliance on June 10, 2013 signed by Fernando Cotom, the provincial election supervisor of Pampanga.

Except for Arroyo, the lawmakers cited by the Comelec all belong to the pro-administration bloc.

Belmonte said he called on the House committee on suffrage and electoral reform to work on possible amendments to the Omnibus Election Code to update its provisions regarding limits to campaign expenses. – With Paolo Romero, Arnell Ozaeta, Eva Visperas, Cesar Ramirez

 

 

AL FRANCIS BICHARA OF ALBAY ANJO YLLANA OF QUEZON CITY ARNELL OZAETA BATANGAS COMELEC BELMONTE BRILLANTES COMELEC ELECTION OFFICE SOCE
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