MANILA - The Supreme Court (SC) has asked Ilocos Sur Rep. Ronald Singson to comment on a petition to disqualify him as a member of the House of Representatives for his drug conviction by a Hong Kong court in 2011.
According to a notice issued by SC clerk of court Enriqueta Vidal to the parties, the tribunal, acting on a petition for certiorari by Bertrand Baterina, “resolved, without giving due course to the petition, to require the respondents to comment thereon within 10 days from notice hereof.”
Baterina filed the petition after the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) dismissed his complaint for Singson’s disqualification for having been filed “out of time,” meaning beyond the 15-day deadline from the time Singson was proclaimed on May 14, 2013.
Baterina said he was seeking the SC’s intervention because the HRET and the Comelec have failed to enforce the Election Code.
He said the election law explicitly bars a person convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude from seeking public office within five years from his conviction.
He said the Comelec refused to resolve the disqualification case he filed against Singson despite having sufficient time to do so.
The Comelec passed the case on to the HRET, which it said had acquired jurisdiction over it with Singson’s proclamation.
Baterina said the HRET, instead of dismissing his complaint on a technicality, should have confronted the more substantial issue of his opponent’s disqualification on the ground of his drug conviction in Hong Kong.
“An offense involving moral turpitude is defined as everything which is done contrary to justice, modesty or good morals… In Office of the Court Administrator vs Vicente Librado, the Supreme Court categorically stated that drug possession is a crime involving moral turpitude,” he said.
When his disqualification case was pending with the Comelec, Singson said the poll body could not disqualify him based on his conviction by a foreign court.
But Baterina, in his certiorari petition before the SC, said the tribunal and the Comelec, in at least two cases, have ruled that the election law does not distinguish between a conviction by a local or a foreign court.
In one case, he said a candidate for governor was disqualified due to conviction of a much lesser offense – insurance fraud – in the United States.
He also said Singson’s certificate of candidacy was defective and void from the start, as it was not sworn to before a qualified officer.
He asked the SC to declare him winner, claiming he was the “lone qualified candidate” for the congressional seat in their province’s first district.
Singson returned to the country in early 2012 after serving time for more than a year in a Hong Kong jail for drug trafficking.