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Mockery upon mockery

/ 04:07 AM October 20, 2020

Among the very first official acts of the reconstituted House under new Speaker Lord Allan Velasco, hours after he replaced Alan Peter Cayetano, was to proclaim a controversial party list representative. On the first day of the special session called by President Duterte to tackle the 2021 national budget on Oct. 13, Ducielle Cardema was sworn in as representative of the party list group Duterte Youth, which has been hounded by issues of legitimacy since it won one seat in Congress during the 2019 elections.

The Duterte Youth’s many infractions and legal shortcuts have been the subject of protests at the Commission on Elections (Comelec), and its entry into Congress seemed to follow that disgraceful pattern: Cardema, it turned out, was included in the roll call of House members earlier in the day even before she was sworn into office that evening.

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Election lawyer Emil Marañon, one of those challenging the validity of the Duterte Youth’s registration, questioned why Cardema assumed the position prior to taking the oath, which he said was a crime called “anticipation of duties of a public office” under the Revised Penal Code. “They breached a basic procedure in administrative law that you take an oath first before assuming office,” said Marañon. The premature move, he pointed out, was just another of a “series of illegalities and unconstitutional acts” that the Duterte Youth has done since it sought to become a party list group. “From the moment they filed their petition to register until now, they cannot seem to follow very simple rules. I don’t understand why they seem to feel that they are always exempted from the rules, all laws, including the taking of the oath.”

Marañon’s observations are not without basis. Since the 2019 elections, the Duterte Youth had been unable to take its seat because of myriad issues it faced at the Comelec. First was the group’s alleged failure to comply with the requirement for publication of its registration as a party list group, and then the sly move of its leader Ronald Cardema to substitute his name as the group’s first nominee, instead of his wife Ducielle, at the last minute—after office hours on a weekend before election day. The Comelec, in a later resolution, called this out as an act “undoubtedly with the clear intent of depriving the electorate the opportunity to be informed and to examine the qualifications and credentials of the nominees.’’

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Cardema was not even qualified to represent the youth, defined as aged 25 to 30. The Duterte loyalist was 34 years old, and when challenged later on, amended his qualification to “young professional’’ when it was also found out he did not have a college degree or a profession. He held on to his post as chair of the National Youth Commission up to the very last minute despite the requirement that officials running for public office must resign for the campaign period, and presumptuously branded himself an “incoming congressman’’ even while his nomination was still in limbo.

When the Comelec’s first division finally ruled that Cardema was ineligible to be a youth representative, the public thought the farce was over. But then it cleared the way for another Duterte Youth nominee to be given a seat in Congress. Enter once again Ronald’s wife Ducielle. But wait—as Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon pointed out, hadn’t she withdrawn her nomination?

And yet, wonder of wonders, the Comelec en banc—voting 4-1 (the four all appointees of President Duterte, Guanzon the lone dissenter)—decided to issue a certificate of proclamation to the group, enabling Ducielle to claim the seat.

In her dissenting opinion, Guanzon said the ruling was a “betrayal of the Constitution,’’ pointing out that the certificate of proclamation should only be issued when there is no more legal impediment for the issuance.

With two cases still pending against the group—one seeking the cancellation of its registration for failure to comply with statutory publication requirements, and the other to disqualify Ducielle for failure to comply with election laws—Guanzon’s position was that these are “constitutional and threshold matters’’ that must be settled first before a certificate of proclamation is issued.

The Comelec resolution, made on Sept. 9, was released to the public only on the night of Oct. 13, after Ducielle Cardema officially took her seat as a member of the House. Marañon and his fellow lawyers described the ruling as the “most unconstitutional act ever done by Comelec in its 80-year history.’’

The Duterte Youth’s unbridled ambition, enabled by this administration and the Comelec itself, has led to mockery upon mockery—of party list and election laws, of the people’s right to qualified candidates, of fair play and due process. This naked bastardization cannot be made to stand, and should be challenged all the way to the Supreme Court.

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