MANILA, Philippines (2nd UPDATE) - The Supreme Court on Tuesday removed a legal obstacle to President Arroyo's bid for a congressional seat in her home province of Pampanga in the coming May 10 elections.
In its decision, the High Tribunal sided with the Commission on Elections in its decision to junk a disqualification case filed by Akbayan party-list Rep. Risa Hontiveros-Baraquel against Arroyo.
Supreme Court spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said Hontiveros’ petition failed to prove that the Comelec erred in holding that there was no constitutional provision barring the president from seeking a congressional post.
“The petition to disqualify President Arroyo from running as congressman was dismissed, there being no grave abuse of discretion on the part of the Commission on Elections,” he said.
He said the decision was reached unanimously during the Court’s regular en banc session on Monday.
When asked why the Court just issued a minute resolution and not a lengthy decision on the petition being a significant case, Marquez replied: “That’s within the discretion of the High Court. Also perhaps it was of the urgency as well, elections are around the corner…we don’t want some issues left hanging.”
Arroyo's undue advantage
In her petition, Hontiveros argued that the Comelec's ruling violates Article VII Section 4 of the Constitution which states that “The President shall not be eligible for any reelection.” She also cited the undue advantage that the President has over her rivals.
"As current President, she has all the powers and resources as well as access to it that will definitely prejudice the chances of any opposing candidate in any electoral competition against her," she said.
Hontiveros, who is running for senator under the Liberal Party, said Arroyo's run for Congress would deprive her opponents of an equal opportunity to win as she can use the entire resources and machinery of the government to influence the outcome of the May 10 elections in her favor.
“A congressional candidate cannot have campaign posters bigger than two feet, but GMA can produce -- using government funds – tarpaulins that are half as wide as Commonwealth Avenue. A candidate for congressman is barred from conferring with the Board of Election Inspectors, but GMA can -- and actually did -- call a Comelec commission to secure her votes. The injustice and unfairness of her candidacy is patent,” she said.
Arroyo glad it's over
Lawyer Romulo Macalintal, President Arroyo’s counsel, said the president welcomed the high Court’s decision.
“I already informed by phone President Arroyo about the SC verdict and she's glad that’s it's all over,” he said.
Mrs. Arroyo’s lawyer said they were sure that the Hontiveros' petition would not prosper
“From the very start, we had no doubt that the president is qualified to run, and there's no legal or factual basis to grant the Hontiveros petition,” Macalintal told ABS-CBN News.
He said the Constitution allows a sitting president to run for other positions.
“The Comelec did not commit any grave abuse of discretion in denying Ms. Hontiveros’s petition,” added Macalintal.
Hontiveros to appeal
Hontiveros, meanwhile, said she will appeal the SC decision.
“I am deeply saddened by the decision and I will definitely file a motion for reconsideration,” said Hontiveros in a text message.
She reiterated her fear that President Arroyo is using government resources for her campaign.
“If allowed to run, GMA can easily convert the government into her machinery. Ang nakakatakot pa, this paves the way towards a Villarroyo regime,” she said referring to the Liberal Party’s suspicion of an alliance between Nacionalista Party standard-bearer Manny Villar and President Arroyo. This has been denied by Villar’s camp.