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Soce extension abets impunity

THE COMMISSION on Elections, voting 4-3, has extended the deadline for filing the statement of contributions and expenditures (Soce) of political parties and candidates from June 8 to June 30, thereby abetting impunity and virtually granting amnesty, beyond its authority, to offenders of the election laws it is mandated by the Constitution to “enforce and administer.” Why?

Final and non-extendible. First, Section 14 of Republic Act No. 7166 clearly requires the filing of the Soce “within the period prescribed by law,” which is “within thirty (30) days after the day of the election,” on May 9, 2016, in this case. It does not provide for any extension.

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Second, the Comelec, via its Resolution 9991 dated Dec. 16, 2015, correctly set June 8, 2016 (the 30th day after the election), as, to quote the Comelec itself, the “final and non-extendible” deadline for filing the Soce. Third, the Comelec repeatedly reminded everyone about this “final and non-extendible” deadline.

Fourth, no cogent reason was given by the Liberal Party (LP) why it was not able to file within the prescribed period, given that others were able to do so. What are the cogent reasons to justify equitably such extension?

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Cogent would be reasons that differentiate the LP’s situation from other parties and that make it impossible for the LP to file its Soce on time, like (a) a fortuitous event befell it (say, a fire gutted the office containing the records needed to complete its Soce), or (b) the party treasurer, who is legally required to prepare the filing, suddenly fell seriously ill and no other officer was capable of replacing him or her, or (c) its “duly-authorized representative” bringing the completed Soce met an accident and was thus unable to file on time.

I believe the Comelec has the power in equity to grant an extension only on a case-by-case basis, to specific applicants for specific cogent reasons like those cited. To repeat, the Comelec has no power to grant a virtual amnesty for all offenders.

Penalty for nonfiling. Under the law, a candidate who fails to file his or her Soce within the prescribed period, whether as a late filer or a nonfiler, will be fined and/or barred from “enter[ing] upon the duties of his office until he has filed” the required Soce. In either or both cases, the additional penalty of “perpetual disqualification to hold public office” will be imposed on a repeat offender. Political parties which fail to file their Soce within the required period are also liable to pay a similar fine.

Hence, in my humble opinion, the Comelec should have denied the plea for extension and simply imposed the required penalty: a fine ranging from P1,000 to P30,000.

True, Section 14 of RA 7166 prescribes a harsh additional penalty when a political party is unable to comply, worded as follows: “The same prohibition shall apply if the political party which nominated the winning candidate fails to file” the Soce “within the period prescribed by this Act.”

Does this mean that Vice President-elect Leni Robredo, and the LP-nominated winners in the senatorial, congressional and other races cannot assume their respective offices even if they had filed their individual Soce?

No, I believe that this harsh legal proviso infringes due process in relation to the winners’ right to hold public office and the voters’ right of suffrage. These rights cannot be trashed by the malfeasance or negligence of the treasurer of the political party which nominated them. They had nothing to do with such inaction. If at all, only the winners who connived or conspired with the treasurer should be so punished.

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On the other hand, these Soces should not sleep in the dead files of the Comelec. Pilar vs Comelec (July 11, 1995) held that they should be used as aids in determining whether the contributions came from legitimate sources and whether they were spent properly.

Report by donors. Unknown to many, the Corporation Code bars all corporations from giving “donations in aid of any political party or candidate or for purposes of partisan political activity.”

Under Section 95 of the Omnibus Election Code, “[n]o contribution for purposes of partisan political activity shall be made directly or indirectly by … (a) Public or private financial institutions… [Natural and juridical persons] (b) operating a public utility or in possession of or exploiting any natural resource… (c) who hold contracts or subcontracts to supply the government… with goods or services or to perform construction or other works… (d) who have been granted franchises, incentives, exemptions, allocations or similar privileges or concessions… (e) who, within one year prior to the date of the election, have been granted loans or other accommodations in excess of P100,000 by the government… (f) Educational institutions which have received grants of public funds amounting to no less than P100,000… (g) Officials or employees in the Civil Service or members of the Armed Forces… and (h) Foreigners…”

Like candidates and political parties, donors, under Section 99 of the same code, are also required, “not later than thirty days after the day of the election, [to] file with the [Comelec] a report under oath stating the amount of each contribution, the name of the candidate, agent of the candidate or political party receiving the contribution, and the date of the contribution.”

A violation of these two sections is deemed an “election offense” punishable by, among others, imprisonment and disqualification to hold public office.

Will the Comelec also grant donors a virtual amnesty for their violations of these provisions?

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TAGS: Comelec, extension, LP, opinion, soce, statement of contributions and expenditures
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