Another slap on the Comelec

MANILA, Philippines — Though already implemented in 1998, 2001 and 2004, the party-list election is still hounded by unnecessary controversies. These problems could have been easily avoided if the Commission on Elections followed meticulously?as, indeed, it is duty-bound to?the two Supreme Court decisions in Veterans Federation Party vs Comelec (Oct. 6, 2000) and Ang Bagong Bayani vs Comelec (June 26, 2001), as well as the implementing resolution in the latter case dated June 25, 2003. I wrote these two decisions and resolution.

Overturning the Comelec. Veterans Federation was unanimously reiterated recently in two cases: Partido ng Manggagawa vs Comelec (March 15, 2006, written by Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno); and CIBAC vs Comelec (April 13, 2007, penned by Justice Presbitero J. Velasco Jr.). Three days ago, on May 3, the Supreme Court—speaking unanimously through Justice Cancio C. Garcia—dealt out the Comelec a new slap when, consistent with the Ang Bagong Bayani ruling, it ordered the poll body to disclose immediately the names of the party-list nominees.

Significantly, in all these cases, the Court overturned the poll body. And yet, despite these embarrassing reversals, the Comelec still insisted on its own gravely abusive interpretations of the Constitution (Sec. 5 of Article VI) and the Party-List Law (Republic Act 7941).

Consider this. During the 1998 elections, the Comelec proclaimed the victory of 52 party-list representatives, in undisguised violation of Sec. 11 (b) of RA 7941, which states that only those parties obtaining a minimum of 2 percent of the total valid votes cast for the party-list system were “qualified” to have a seat in the House of Representatives. Although only 13 of the 52 garnered the minimum 2 percent, all 52 were declared winners.

Disregarding the law. “In disregarding, rejecting and circumventing the statutory provisions, the Comelec,” said the Court in the Veterans case, “effectively arrogated unto itself what the Constitution expressly and wholly vested in the legislature.” The task of the Comelec is to administer and enforce election-related laws. “It has no power to contravene or amend them.” It cannot pretend to know better than Congress or the Supreme Court.

In the same case, the high tribunal carefully crafted a mathematical formula to determine the winners in the party-list elections. This step-by-step formula (which is detailed in the decision) was made by the Court after long and purposeful deliberations, taking into account the “four inviolable parameters” of the unique Filipino party-list system.

Despite this major setback, the poll agency repeatedly ignored the ruling and insisted on using its rejected methodologies. Thus, the Court again reversed the Comelec in the recent Partido ng Manggagawa and CIBAC cases, with the admonition “to strictly apply the Veterans formula in determining the entitlement of qualified party-list groups to additional seats.”

Disclosing the nominees? identities. Comes now the latest Comelec caper. In its Ang Bagong Bayani decision, the Supreme Court clearly required that the party-list nominees “must be Filipino citizens belonging to marginalized and unrepresented sectors, organizations and parties.” Added the Court, “The intent of the Constitution is clear: to give genuine power to the people, not only by giving more law to those who have less in life, but more so by enabling them to become veritable lawmakers themselves.”

Sec. 9 of RA 7941 lists the qualifications of nominees, as follows: (1) natural-born citizen; (2) registered voter; (3) resident of the Philippines for not less than one year immediately preceding the election day; (4) able to read and write; (5) twenty-five years of age; and (6) “a bona fide member of the party or organization which he seeks to represent for at least ninety (90) days preceding the day of the election.”

The Garcia ponencia held that the Comelec violated the people’s right to information and the constitutional mandate on transparency. How indeed can interested parties know whether the nominees truly “qualified” under these statutory and jurisprudential norms if the Comelec prohibits the disclosure of their names? By its gravely abusive resolution, the Comelec risked, and got, another spanking from the highest tribunal.

To be able to act on the urgent petition filed by former Sen. Jovito R. Salonga (on behalf of Akbayan, Kilosbayan, et al.) and to strike down this latest Comelec indiscretion, the Supreme Court had to convene during its recess. Nakakahiya! To be fair, may I just say that the rejected Comelec resolution was passed by a slim vote of three (Commissioners Rex Borra, Florentino Tuason and Nicodemo Ferrer) to two (Commissioners Romeo Brawner and Rene Sarmiento). Chair Benjamin Abalos did not cast his vote.

By making it difficult for the marginalized and underrepresented to get their due, the Comelec—to quote Ang Bagong Bayani—“would have us believe that the party-list provisions of the Constitution and RA 7941 are nothing more than a play of dubious words, a mockery of noble intentions and an empty offering on the altar of people empowerment.”

By continuously so acting, the Comelec is risking more slaps from the vigilant Supreme Court. My unsolicited advice to the poll body is to follow the rule of law at all times and to obey all decisions and orders of the highest court even if it may disagree with the justices.

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