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A decision that took too long in coming

It’s about that time where we once again talk about judicial delay, and the saying, “justice delayed is justice denied.” Well, Reader, with all the delays our justice system has been experiencing, there is no question that justice has been denied to the Filipino people.

The case that illustrates this point is the Marcos versus Robredo case filed with the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). Ferdinand Marcos Jr. filed his case on June 29, 2016. The case was decided a few days ago, the PET deciding in favor of Vice President Leni Robredo.

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The decision elicited sighs of relief from the Vice President, who treated her staff to pizza in celebration, and congratulatory messages from the business community to the Supreme Court, which was applauded for its “rare unanimity” in junking Marcos’ claims. In the general euphoria, everybody politely overlooked the fact that the decision took too long in coming.

Consider, Reader. What if indeed there was cheating, and the choice of the people in the 2016 elections had not been seated? The PET would have decided the case in favor of the people’s choice after more than four years and seven months, in which case the people’s choice would have had the opportunity to serve the people for only 17 months of a six-year term. The electorate, you will agree, was in effect cheated of its choice for 55 months.

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And who would be responsible for cheating the electorate? The PET, which took its own sweet time, with absolutely no sense of the urgency of the situation, the distortion of the people’s will.

Section 3 of Republic Act No. 1793, which created the PET in 1957 (AN ACT CONSTITUTING AN INDEPENDENT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTORAL TRIBUNAL TO TRY, HEAR AND DECIDE PROTESTS CONTESTING THE ELECTION OF THE PRESIDENT-ELECT AND VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT OF THE PHILIPPINES…) is absolutely clear about it: “The Presidential Electoral Tribunal shall decide the contest within twenty months after it is filed, and within said period shall declare who among the parties has been elected…”

I know there are those who will say “shall” in the above section is only directory, not mandatory—the usual legal mumbo jumbo. But folks, doesn’t that make eminent sense? If a person has been cheated of the position, it gives him 52 months to work at his proper job, and more important, it gives the electorate the sense that their choice will be obeyed. It doesn’t make a mockery of the electoral process.

And if it makes eminent sense, I say that the PET set a deadline for its decision for 20 months from the time a petition was filed, and work backwards from there. That shows that the people’s will is not to be thwarted. This should hold true also for the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) and the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET). In the case of the HRET, the decision should be made within 10 months of the filing of a case, for the obvious reason that the term of a congressman is 36 months, not the 72 months of a senator or the president/vice president.

That the PET, the SET, and the HRET have not taken their jobs seriously has resulted in decisions of the HRET coming out just before the next elections. In the case of the SET, one recalls that Sen. Koko Pimentel took office only 20 months before the next elections—as Miguel Zubiri resigned from the contested position on Aug. 3, and the SET decision proclaiming Pimentel came out on Aug. 11. Smart move on Zubiri’s part.

In the case of the PET, let’s look at some of the cases it has handled. Miriam Defensor Santiago filed a case against Fidel Ramos in 1992, and the PET dismissed the case because she ran for the Senate in 1995 (before they could make a decision). Mar Roxas filed a case against Jojo Binay in 2010, and the PET dismissed the case in 2016 because Binay’s term had ended, so the case was never resolved. In the case of Fernando Poe Jr. versus Gloria Arroyo in 2004, it was resolved in record time, but that was not because of the PET, that was because Poe died in December of 2004, so the case was dismissed.

So, actually, the Marcos versus Robredo case was the only one in which the dismissal was not because of withdrawals of the parties concerned. Decided on the merits, as they say. And I think we can all agree that if the PET had made all its decisions “on the merits” within that 20-month period mandated/directed by the law, the people would have known once and for all whether they were cheated or not.

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All members of the PET receive P100,000 a month honoraria for their work. From the Filipino people. The least they should do is show us that they are worth that much.

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TAGS: court decision, marcos, opinion, pet, Presidential Electoral Tribunal, Robredo, Supreme Court, vice presidency
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