Incomplete victory

MANILA, Philippines — The Supreme Court decision in “Bantay Republic vs Comelec” (May 4, 2007), ordering the Commission on Elections “to immediately disclose and release the names of the nominees” of the party-list candidates, was greeted with jubilation. By knowing the nominees, the voters would be more “informed” in making their choices when they troop to the polling places tomorrow.

No ruling on qualifications. However, the battle may have been only half-won. While the high court readily ordered the publication of the nominees? names, it also summarily denied the petition of Bantay Republic (BA-RA 7941) to disqualify 31 party-list candidates.

Among other things, BA-RA 7941 alleged that the Comelec “granted accreditations without the simultaneous determination of the qualifications of the nominees as part of the accreditation process of the party-list organization itself.” To demolish this argument, the decision simply intoned, “Nowhere in RA 7941 is there a requirement that the qualification of the party-list nominee be determined simultaneously with the accreditation of an organization.”

Sadly, the decision focused only on the “simultaneous” timing of the accreditation; it totally ignored the alleged failure of the 31 respondents ?to comply with the guidelines prescribed by the Honorable Supreme Court and RA 7941.? The Court did not discuss the essential qualifications of whether respondents truly belonged to the marginalized and underrepresented sectors, and whether they were funded by the government.

History of ruling on qualifications. Recall that six years ago, on March 26, 2001, the Comelec accredited 154 organizations and political parties for the party-list election. The accreditation was challenged in “Ang Bagong Bayani vs Comelec,” on the ground that the party-list system was reserved only for the “marginalized and underrepresented sectors.”

Voting 9-5 (one member was abroad), the high court upheld the petitioners. Citing Secs. 2 and 5 of RA 7941, the Court ruled that only those organizations and their nominees “who belong to marginalized and underrepresented sectors, organizations and parties” were qualified to hold party-list seats. It added that the candidate “must not be an adjunct of, or a project organized or an entity funded or assisted by, the government.”

To the dissenters’ claim that the Constitution reserved in favor of the poor sectors only one-half of the party-list seats and only for “three consecutive terms after the ratification of this Constitution,” the majority held that RA 7941 did not contain any limitations. This law did not conflict with the Charter, because the Constitution itself plainly says that the mechanics of the system shall be “provided by law.” Pursuant thereto, Congress enacted RA 7941 which in turn clearly stated, without any limitations, that the party-list was intended for the marginalized and underrepresented.

I quote the Court further: “The law crafted to address the peculiar disadvantages of the Payatas hovel dwellers cannot be appropriated by the mansion owners of Forbes Park … and a group of bankers, industrialists and sugar planters could not join the party-list system as representatives of their respective sectors.”

Remand to ascertain facts. After holding that the Filipino-style party-list system was reserved for the poor, the Court remanded the case so the Comelec could factually determine which of the 154 parties qualified. For the purpose, it issued eight guidelines, “culled from the law and the Constitution to assist the Comelec in its work.” It also directed the poll body “to refrain from proclaiming any winner” until the Court has acted on the Comelec’s factual assessments.

The foregoing directives were necessary to enable the tribunal to render speedy justice to the parties. You see, once congressmen are proclaimed, the Supreme Court loses jurisdiction over election cases filed against them. Jurisdiction passes, by operation of law, to the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET). Although decisions of the HRET are assailable by certiorari to the Supreme Court, the transfer of jurisdiction will merely delay the final resolution of the problem.

On June 25, 2003, the Court promulgated its definitive resolution approving the Comelec?s reports. Reiterating the “marginalized and underrepresented” doctrine, the resolution was passed by a more resounding vote of 12 (Davide, Bellosillo, Puno, Panganiban [ponente], Quisumbing, Ynares-Santiago, Sandoval-Gutierrez, Carpio, Corona, Carpio-Morales, Callejo and Azcuna) to one (Vitug, who was one of the five original dissenters). One justice (Austria-Martinez) was on leave and one seat was vacant.

In stark contrast to the “Ang Bagong Bayani” decision, the present ruling in “Bantay Republic” simply gave petitioners the short-shrift. The Court plainly ignored the petitioners’ contention that the respondent party-list candidates “did not meet the eight guidelines” set by the high court itself. With due respect, I think it would have been more judicious to remand the cases and to hold the proclamations until the questions on the qualifications of the 31 respondents are settled (as was done earlier in “Ang Bagong Bayani”).

As it is now, the Comelec may, after the canvass, simply proclaim the winners, and render academic the more fundamental qualifications issue. That would not only be a cop-out; but an unmitigated desecration of the party-list system and a muscular stomp on the poor and the weak.


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