HRET reopens case vs Singson

Jess Diaz (The Philippine Star) - November 7, 2013 - 12:00am

Tribunal gives due course to Muhlach poll protest

MANILA, Philippines - The House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) has reopened the electoral case against Ilocos Sur Rep. Ronald Singson, who was convicted of drug trafficking by a Hong Kong court in 2011.

The reopening was prompted by the filing of a motion for reconsideration by lawyer Bertrand Baterina asking the tribunal to reverse its dismissal of the complaint on a mere technicality.

The HRET also gave due course to the election protest filed by actor Aga Muhlach against Camarines Sur Rep. Felix William Fuentebella.

The tribunal has thrown out the case against Singson on the ground that it was filed “out of time,” beyond the 15-day deadline counted from the time he was proclaimed last May 14.

The quo warranto petition, which challenges the proclaimed winner’s qualification to hold an elective office, was filed on June 27. In contrast, an election protest questions the way a candidate won.

In his motion for reconsideration, Baterina, who lost to Singson, cited Supreme Court (SC) rulings under which he said a petition questioning the qualification of a congressman does not prescribe.

He said it is public knowledge that his opponent was sent to jail by a Hong Kong court for drug trafficking.

He said Section 12 of the Omnibus Election Code provides that “a person who was sentenced by final judgment of conviction of an offense involving moral turpitude is disqualified for elective position.”

“An offense involving moral turpitude is defined as everything which is done contrary to justice, modesty or good morals… In Office of the Court Administrator vs Vicente Librado, the Supreme Court categorically stated that drug possession is a crime involving moral turpitude,” he said.

He argued that since the election law bars Singson from seeking an elective office due to his drug conviction, his certificate of candidacy was not valid from the beginning.

As for the time element in the filing of his quo warranto petition, Baterina asked the HRET to revise its rules in light of a recent SC decision that the House electoral tribunal acquires jurisdiction over a congressional winner only when such winner has been proclaimed, has taken his oath of office before the Speaker in open session and has assumed office on June 30 following his election.

He argued that under such a decision, the earliest the HRET acquired jurisdiction over a congressional winner in last May’s elections was on June 30.

In fact, he said he filed his petition three days ahead of the time when the tribunal’s jurisdiction over disqualification cases and electoral protests involving House members started.

In Muhlach’s case, the HRET ordered the collection of disputed ballot boxes and their safekeeping at its offices near the Commission on Audit in Quezon City.

Fuentebella said the tribunal’s order was a “matter of course.”

“They always do that in these cases. There’s nothing significant about it,” he said.

He beat the actor by 2,205 votes. Muhlach tried but failed to get the Commission on Elections to annual Fuentebella’s proclamation.

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