The House’s ‘veiled threat’ against Comelec
While the country was busy debating about Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano’s controversial P55-million cauldron, the Southeast Asian (SEA) Games’ main man and his allies at the House of Representatives quietly filed Resolution No. 552 on Nov. 25, 2019.
The two-page resolution was “urging’ the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to issue certificates of proclamation (COPs) to party list groups Duterte Youth and Senior Citizens.
Just like the certificate of canvass and proclamation (COCP) for regular district representatives, COPs are required for winning party list nominees to assume office and avail themselves of the perks and benefits.
Both party list groups have pending legal issues before the Comelec, which prevented the issuance of their respective COPs. Apart from Ronald Cardema’s misrepresentation charges regarding his age, the Duterte Youth also faces a cancellation proceeding for having been registered without publication and without undergoing public hearing.
Both requirements are supposedly mandatory under the Constitution and Republic Act No. 7941 or the Party-List System Act. The Senior Citizens leadership, on the other hand, is being claimed by three different factions, respectively led by Francisco Datol, Milagros Magsaysay and Godofredo Arquiza.
In Resolution No. 552, the signatories even chastised the Comelec chair and commissioners not only for failing to resolve the two cases six months after the end of the canvassing, but also for allegedly denying the party list groups due process. It further claimed that the “continued absence” of the groups at the House violates the Constitution, which mandates that 20 percent of its members must be party list representatives.
While calls for immediate resolution are normal in litigations, such a call coming officially from Congress, more so from the Speaker himself, carries a different tone and an entirely different meaning.
Under the Constitution, the Comelec is a constitutional body guaranteed independence from other branches of government. Aside from fiscal independence, that guarantee also covers freedom from being dictated or influenced on how it should run its affairs, including how it should decide cases pending before it.
The act of the House of publicly “urging” the Comelec to decide a case is a brazen interference in the poll body’s quasi-judicial powers. While the resolution may seem neutral or impartial on its face, the fact that the alliances of the litigants and the leanings of the signatories are openly known make it not. In other words, it was an obvious call made for specific litigants.
The public must understand that the chair and the six commissioners constituting the Comelec can be removed solely by impeachment, which is commenced in the House.
Second, this resolution comes at the time when the national budget — including the Comelec’s — awaits bicameral deliberations where budget entries can still be deleted or modified.
Third, with the anticipated vacancies in the Comelec next year, the Commission of Appointments — half of which would come from the House — would also have some sort of pull on the agency. In other words, the undercurrent is clear and the stakes are clearer.
In fact, the message was received clearly, albeit unpalatably, on the other end. The popular Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, who has around 15,000 Twitter followers, publicly rebuked the Resolution on her social media account, asserting that it “encroaches on our independence as an independent constitutional Commission…” and that it was “a veiled threat to impeach us…”
Interestingly, last Nov. 28, 2019, the Comelec en banc came out with a decision in the Senior Citizens party list case, resolving it in favor of Francisco Datol’s wing, who is openly aligned with Cayetano.
While the timing of the decision could have been pure coincidence, it does not erase the fact that this public “flexing,” to use millennial language, sets not only a terrible precedent, but also unavoidably affects the publicְ’s perception of the Comelec’s independence.
Instead of politicking this way, Cayetano should keep his eye on the ongoing SEA Games as its lead organizer (a role he has yet to explain), and the various issues hounding the event, apart from his expensive cauldron.
Emil Marañon III is a former Comelec official and now a practicing election lawyer. He is the counsel of the youth petitioners who questioned the eligibility of Ronald Cardema and the legality of the registration of Duterte Youth. He also represented the Milagros Magsaysay “wing” of the Senior Citizens party list.