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Commentary

Puzzles in election cases

Three essentially similar election cases puzzle profoundly. In each of them the Commission on Elections cuts as many different, if not directly conflicting, figures. In one, it looks like a company supervisor lost in a corporate maze where his words carry no weight and everybody takes him no better than a nobody. In another, it comes forth as a strong, purposive ruler, in control of the situation and quick to make decisions, like a real leader should. But then in the next breath, it behaves like a captain of a boat lost at sea, seeming not to care with what’s happening.

All three cases involve candidacies canceled or denied due course by the Comelec; in other words, noncandidates. What is strange is that two of them are now in office.

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How could this have happened?

For allegedly being an American citizen and lacking the one-year residency, Regina Ongsiako Reyes’ candidacy was canceled by the Comelec in two resolutions. The Supreme Court affirmed the Comelec rulings against her. Still, the House of Representatives recognized her as its legitimate member and, citing “jurisprudence,” claimed the case is now under the jurisdiction of its electoral tribunal.

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But in South Ubian, Tawi-Tawi, the noncandidate, Gamal S. Hayudini, was not as successful. The Comelec successfully barred him, through a division resolution, from assuming office just for having been excluded from the town’s voters’ list, not even for being a foreigner. And in a remarkable display of leadership and decisiveness, in that same resolution the Comelec directed its deputy executive director for operations “to constitute a Special Board of Canvassers for the purpose of proclaiming the lawful winner for mayoralty position….”—an order the Comelec en banc reaffirmed last July 10.

But then in Calbiga, Samar, the Comelec appears not as sure of itself. In two resolutions, it has declared Nicasio Abaigar a noncandidate for being an American citizen and lacking the residency requirement—very much like Reyes. And the Supreme Court, like in the Reyes case, has dismissed also the petition for certiorari filed by Abaigar assailing the Comelec resolutions.

Yet, it is Abaigar who now struts around Calbiga, insisting he is the lawful mayor, making both the Supreme Court and the Comelec look like toothless tigers, except that the Department of

Interior and Local Government refuses to certify his legitimacy.

Abaigar has not officially denied his American citizenship (nor has he shown proof that his citizenship is dual)—unlike Reyes who has disclaimed publicly hers. In fact, instead of renouncing his American citizenship as required by law, Abaigar, on May 15, or a mere two days after the elections, left for the United States using an American passport (No. 208986310); then he came back on June 26, 2013, with a  renewed  one (No. 505681814)—as if to say, “To hell with you, Calbiganons and Filipinos, and your laws, your Comelec and your Supreme Court, I don’t give a damn!”

Adding to the mystery is the seeming hesitance—or is it inability?—of the Comelec to proclaim the legitimate candidate and lawful winner in the Calbiga mayoralty race, Melchor Nacario—like it did in the Hayudini case.

The Comelec decision against Hayudini was issued only on June 20, 2013, or more than a month  after  the election. Whereas, Abaigar’s candidacy was canceled by the Comelec  before  the elections—in two resolutions at that (the first issued on Jan. 28, 2013, the second on May 3, 2013. And that ruling has been upheld by the Supreme last June 25. The Comelec’s failure to proclaim Nacario is thus aggravating an already highly political and emotionally charged atmosphere. In a July 19, 2013 letter-appeal, concerned local officials and residents sought the help of the Comelec chair and commissioners, to please act fast on the case, noting that: “Bitterly divided and confused, our town is now in a highly charged state of agitation like a tinderbox ready to blow up at the slightest spark of provocation, all because Commission rulings have still to find force and effect, or are simply flagrantly ignored,” the letter stated.

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Driven by their self-interests and partisan prejudices, Abaigar’s men are spreading the lie that Nacario’s followers are sore losers. Nothing could be more misleading.

The core issue here is: A foreigner whom a higher authority (Comelec en banc) had previously ruled as a noncandidate, a lower authority (municipal board of canvassers) later proclaimed winner. Has the lower authority the power to overturn the decision of the higher authority? Besides, how can Abaigar, a noncandidate in the eyes of the law, win? Those who support Abaigar want illogic to rule over logic, and insanity over sanity.

As shown in the Hayudini case, the Comelec is not entirely powerless to remedy the situation. And given the Philippines’ vast and rich jurisprudence on election cases, it has absolutely no reason to drift around like a boat lost in an uncharted ocean.

The issue of foreigners, or even dual citizens, holding important Philippine government offices is a matter of justice or legality not just for the affected voters or residents but for all Filipinos. For it assaults to the core our national pride and sense of patriotism—the more reason the case should be resolved with urgency. It would be a monumental betrayal of public trust for any government agency to allow such travesty to persist.

Some legal minds like to imagine that “jurisdiction” or “proclamation” have primacy over “citizenship.” This is legal gobbledygook that even a lay mind can easily give the lie to, just by using simple common sense. To them we say: The fundamental principle about governing in a democratic setting has always been—“If you don’t belong here, you can’t rule here.”

Domingo D. Bacsal Jr. heads the Office for Senior Citizens Affairs in the municipality of Calbiga. A

retired public high school master teacher, he is known as a staunch human rights activist dating back to the Marcos era.

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