As I See It

Whom will House recognize as Marinduque rep?


09:08 PM July 21st, 2013

By: Neal H. Cruz, July 21st, 2013 09:08 PM

It would be interesting to see who of the two contending parties for the position of representative of Marinduque would be accepted by the House of Representatives during the opening of Congress today to hear the State of the Nation Address of President Aquino.  Regina Ongsiako Reyes won by 4,000 votes over Lord Allan Jay Velasco in the May elections.  She has already taken her oath of office before Speaker Feliciano Belmonte.

In October last year, one Joseph Socorro Tan filed a disqualification case against her, alleging that Reyes is an American citizen. Based on the complaint, the First Division of the Commission on Elections canceled Reyes’ certificate of candidacy last March, which decision was upheld by the Comelec en banc on May 14, one day after the elections.

Reyes appealed to the Supreme Court which dismissed her appeal by a majority vote. Four associate justices dissented. Justice Arturo Brion wrote the dissenting opinion, joined by Justices Antonio Carpio, Marvic Leonen, and Martin Villarama.  Based on the Supreme Court decision, the Comelec proclaimed Velasco as the representative of Marinduque. Early on, Chair Sixto Brillantes also dissented from the Comelec majority opinion.

What was the evidence against Reyes? One was a copy of an online article posted on Jan 8, 2013, by a certain Eli Obligacion alleging that Reyes used a US passport in June 2012. The complainant also presented a photocopy of a certification from the Bureau of Immigration (BI) that she holds a US passport.

The dissenting opinion said the evidence against Reyes was “double hearsay” as the author was not verified nor the photocopy authenticated.

When Reyes tried to submit pieces of evidence of her citizenship, including her work as provincial administrator of Marinduque in 2011, the Comelec refused to accept them, yet the same Comelec accepted Tan’s new “evidence” which was the photocopy of a BI record.

The Court accepted the Comelec resolution completely. Many legal minds find suspicious the Court’s roughshod way of overlooking Reyes’ evidence and at the same time accepting the complainant’s evidence. Velasco is the son of Supreme Court Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco who did not participate in the deliberations and voting on the case. Some suspect the blog itself was tailor-made just for the case.

As Brion pointed out, “How the law on evidence would characterize Obligacion’s blog article or, for that matter, any similar newspaper article, is not hard for a law student answering the Bar exams to tackle the article as double hearsay evidence that is twice removed from being admissible.”

Marinduque now has two representatives: one, Reyes, who has already taken her oath before the Speaker as a member of the House of Representatives; the other, Velasco, who was proclaimed as the representative by both the Comelec and the Supreme Court. As the song goes, which one will the (fountain) House bless?

Reyes’ camp says that having been sworn in as a member of the House, the case now belongs to the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal. The Velasco camp says, No, the Comelec and the Supreme Court have the last say.

We will see who will prevail in today’s opening session of Congress.

Here’s a parting question: Won’t the high court decision set a dangerous precedent?  A government official can now be removed or impeached based on a single, unverified blog.

* * *

Here is the latest development in the ongoing struggle between the Quezon City Hall and the Manila Seedling Bank Foundation (MSBF) over the latter’s plant nursery on Quezon Avenue.

Background: The MSBF was given a 50-year usufruct on a property on Quezon Avenue to be used as a nursery. The MSBF was tasked to produce tree seedlings for the government’s reforestation program.

Several years ago, the city government hatched a plan to convert the North Triangle Area, including the MSBF nursery, into a business center with Ayala Land as the developer. With Ayala’s Trinoma already there, City Hall tried to grab the MSBF nursery but the foundation resisted as it still has many years to go before the expiration of its usufruct.

On July 10, 2012, City Hall sent city workers, aided by 100 armed policemen, to grab the MSBF compound. They padlocked the compound, including the gardens of its tenants, without any court order.

The MSBF went to court to secure an injunction against City Hall but in spite of the urgency of the matter, the court took 10 long months to decide the case. RTC Judge Luis Cenon Maceren dismissed the petition for injunction even with the public admission by Mayor Herbert Bautista that the property does not belong to the city but to the National Housing Authority which is not contesting the MSBF’s usufruct over the property. In spite of such admission, City Hall has kept the gardens under City Hall control.

The MSBF moved for Judge Maceren to inhibit himself from the case which he granted. The case was reraffled to the sala of Judge Lita T. Genilo. Because of persistent reports that certain individuals had been lobbying with Judge Genilo, the MSBF again petitioned for her voluntary inhibition. Judge Genilo also inhibited herself from the case.

In its latest harassment tool, City Hall ordered the MSBF to produce a building permit for its offices. The MSBF replied that the administration building was built in 1977 by the Department of Public Works and Highways, and that it occupied the building as part of its usufruct over the property. It is surprising that for the past 35 years that the MSBF has been using the building, no city official inquired about its building and occupancy permits—until now that City Hall is trying every trick to eject the MSBF from the property and hand it over to Ayala Land.

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