DOJ: Comelec can't unseat execs

By Edu Punay, The Philippine Star

Posted at Dec 17 2013 02:25 AM | Updated as of Dec 17 2013 10:25 AM

MANILA, Philippines - The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday questioned the Commission on Elections (Comelec) order last week for elected officials to temporarily vacate their posts over reported violations of rules on Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) during the elections last May.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told The STAR that the Comelec has no power to issue such orders as filing of cases in courts and proper legal proceedings are needed to compel elected officials who violated SOCE rules to surrender their posts.

De Lima gave her legal opinion upon the request of Interior and Local Government Secretary Manuel Roxas II.

“It is my humble view that, outside or independently of proper legal proceedings, such as quo warranto, the Comelec cannot directly compel or require the non-complying elected officials to vacate their posts at this point, i.e. now that they had long assumed office,” said De Lima, an election law expert before joining government.

“The only way by which to legally remove these elected officials is through the filing of quo warranto cases on the ground of ineligibility to continue holding office for failure to comply with a mandatory requirement,” she added.

De Lima explained that Republic Act 7166 or Synchronized Elections Law – which prohibits the assumption to office of winning candidates who failed to submit SOCE or submitted the same without complying with the prescribed form – does not give Comelec special statutory authority to order or require elected officials to vacate their positions after these officials have already assumed office.

“Section 14 of RA 7166 merely provides for a ground of ineligibility for purposes of filing a case for quo warranto, i.e. non-submission of a SOCE. It does not provide Comelec either the power or authority to order the removal of elected officials outside of quo warranto proceedings,” the DOJ chief added.

Last week, the Comelec ordered 422 officials elected in the May 2013 polls to temporarily leave their posts for their supposed failure to file the appropriate SOCE.

The poll body listed 422 officials including 20 representatives, four governors, a vice governor, 12 provincial board members, three city mayors, nine city vice mayors, 47 city councilors, 23 municipal mayors, 26 municipal vice mayors and 277 municipal councilors.

Among those asked to leave their posts are former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos-Recto, Laguna Gov. ER Ejercito, Ilocos Sur Gov. Ryan Luis Singson, Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon and Pangasinan Gov. Amado Espino Jr.

Belmonte: Most lawmakers complied

But Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said yesterday most if not all 20 lawmakers identified by the Comelec have complied with their documentary requirements.

Belmonte said his office has already contacted 10 of the 20 House members, who in turn said they have addressed any deficiencies cited by the poll body.

“Some of them chose not to get into arguments anymore with the Comelec and filed their papers and paid their fines even if it’s just a correction, even if they have actually filed,” Belmonte told reporters. – With Evelyn Macairan, Paolo Romero, Eva Visperas