De Lima cites possible lapses in SOCE rules

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) could be blamed for violations of the rules on Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) during the elections last May, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said yesterday.

De Lima noted that a memorandum of agreement (MOA) signed by the Comelec and the DILG in March 2012 provides that “no person elected to any public office shall enter upon the duties of his office until he has filed the Statement of Contributions and Expenditures herein required.”

“Why that MOA was not complied with should be determined. These elected officials should have not been allowed to assume their positions in the first place if there were violations,” she said.

De Lima, an election lawyer before joining the government, said she believes the poll body is aware of the SOCE rules.

“That requirement is mandatory because Republic Act 7166 (Synchronized Election Law) uses the term ‘shall submit.’ The Comelec then should have not allowed such violations,” she said.

“It should have been clarified in the guidelines that these elected officials would not be allowed to assume their positions,” she added.

De Lima said the Comelec should have come up with the guidelines before or immediately after the elections for the guidance of concerned agencies such as the DILG and Congress.

“I’m afraid they did not do that because they are just doing it now,” she said.

All candidates should have filed the SOCE, a report of candidates on their donors and expenditures during the campaign and poll period, within 30 days after election day.

The Comelec listed a total of 422 officials – 20 congressmen, four governors, 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 – who did not file their SOCEs and ordered them to temporarily vacate their posts.

Among them are former President and now Pampanga second district Rep. Gloria-Macapagal Arroyo, Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos-Recto, Laguna Gov. ER Ejercito, Ilocos Sur Gov. Ryan Luis Singson, and Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon.

De Lima said the Comelec should run after elected officials with SOCE violations, but it has no power to order even their temporary removal from office.

She confirmed a report of The STAR that she has submitted a legal opinion to President Aquino and DILG Secretary Manuel Roxas II on this issue.

She said cases should first be filed in the appropriate court or tribunal before elected officials could be compelled to vacate their posts.

“For city and provincial elected officials, the Comelec has jurisdiction to take cognizance of quo warranto cases. But for congressmen, it’s with the HRET (House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal), for the senators, it’s the SET (Senate Electoral Tribunal), and for municipal, it’s the RTCs (regional trial courts),” she said.

Election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, however, believes that quo warranto cases against elected officials might not prosper because SOCE rules are not enforceable.

“Those SOCE rules were not published as required under the law. For me, those rules are not yet final and executory and are not enforceable,” he said.

He said the resolution could only take effect seven days after publication in two newspapers of general circulation.

No plan to unseat execs

However, the Comelec said it does not intend to unseat any of the elected officials who failed to file their SOCE.

“We respect the opinion of the Secretary of Justice but we just like, at this point, to refresh everybody’s memory about what exactly the Comelec tried to do. The Comelec is not trying to unseat anyone,” Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said.

He said the Comelec was “simply invoking, especially in the case of the DILG, the memorandum of agreement that says that if you have not filed SOCE,” you cannot assume office.

“That’s the reason why we sent the letters to the secretary of the DILG and the Speaker of the House (of Representatives) because we need them to do something about it, not us,” he said. – With Sheila Crisostomo










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