LP to challenge SC decision on poll protest cases

By Jess Diaz, The Philippine Star

Posted at Jul 20 2013 01:36 AM | Updated as of Jul 20 2013 09:36 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The ruling Liberal Party (LP) will challenge the latest decision of the Supreme Court (SC) on election protests filed against members of Congress.

“We will fight that decision. In fact, the entire Senate and all political parties should join us in challenging it because they too are affected,” re-elected Western Samar Rep. Mel Senen Sarmiento, who is LP secretary-general, said yesterday.

He said if the SC ruling were followed, there is no Congress at the moment “because there are no members who have validly taken their oath of office.”

“We are still civilians, we are not members of the House yet. According to this latest dictum, there are two requirements for a valid oath: it should be taken before the speaker and the speaker should administer it in open session,” he said.

He added that they could only take their oath in open session on Monday when the 16th Congress convenes.

“But here’s another issue: upon convening, we will have to elect our speaker. Can we elect him even before we take our oath as House members if the oaths we took before various public officers were invalid following the SC ruling?” he asked.

Sarmiento stressed that as far as most elected and re-elected House members are concerned, the oaths they have taken are valid and the mass oath taking on Monday is only an affirmation ceremony.

The SC decision has given rise to claims by critics of detained former President and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo that she could lose her House seat unless she takes her oath before the speaker and in open session.

But Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr., who is sure to keep his post as speaker when the House elects its officers on Monday, said Arroyo’s oath taken before the head of a lawyers’ group is valid, and she could affirm it once she is able to attend sessions.

Arroyo is detained in a government hospital on plunder charges.

The controversial SC decision was handed down in the case of Marinduque Rep. Regina Ongsiako Reyes, who took her oath before Belmonte on June 5 and whose term of office started on June 30.

On June 25, the high court ruled that since Reyes has not assumed office, the issue of her disqualification was still within the jurisdiction of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and not the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET), as the Marinduque congresswoman argued.

The court questioned the validity of the oath Reyes took before Belmonte.

Shortly after her term started on June 30, Reyes informed the SC that she has assumed her office as representative of her province. Last Tuesday, she appealed the controversial SC ruling on her disqualification case. The Comelec disqualified her for supposedly being an American citizen.

Touching on her June 5 oath taking before Belmonte, Reyes, in her appeal, asked the SC: “Is the Honorable Court saying that the Speaker of the House of Representatives of the current Congress when the elections were held cannot, while Congress is not in session, administer an oath to anyone who desires to take his or her oath before the Speaker of the House before his term expires at noon of the 30th of June following the elections?”

She said the Comelec, in disqualifying her, relied on the claim of a Marinduque blogger that she was an American citizen and on photocopies of purported immigration documents showing she was an American.

She said the SC, in upholding the Comelec, gave credence to such supposed evidence which, she argued, should not have been admitted in the first place.

Citing the dissenting opinion of Justices Arturo Brion, Antonio Carpio, Martin Villarama, and Marvic Leonen, Reyes said the Internet evidence used in her disqualification was “double hearsay.”

Meanwhile, the Comelec yesterday said in the event the position of Arroyo is declared vacant, a special election can be conducted to fill the post. – With Sheila Crisostomo