SC stops Comelec from changing the clustering of Sulu precincts

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 02 2019 11:16 PM

BAGUIO - The Supreme Court has stopped the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from implementing several resolutions that involve changes in clustering of voting precincts in the province of Sulu.
“The Supreme Court in its En Banc Session today issued a Status Quo Ante Order enjoining the Commission on Elections from enforcing and implementing several resolutions it had recently issued involving the clustering, de-clustering, transfer, alteration, and establishment of several precincts in the province of Sulu,” SC spokesperson Brian Keith Hosaka said in a press conference in Baguio City on Tuesday.
A status quo ante order restores a specific condition to the state it previously existed prior to the issuance of an assailed order or action.
The first petition was filed on Friday, March 29, by resident voter Almedzar Hajiri against the declustering, modification or transfer of polling places in Lugus and towns in Sulu.
The second petition, meanwhile, was filed on Monday by Sulu gubernatorial candidate Abdusakur Tan and Sulu congressional candidate Nurhaipa Berto questioning the Comelec’s decision to grant petitions to decluster some voting precincts in 5 towns in Sulu, transfer polling places in 10 barangays in 1 town, and modify/correct polling places in 3 other towns.
Named as respondents were the Comelec and all the individuals who filed the petition for declustering, modification and transfer of polling places with the Comelec.
Aside from asking the high court for a status quo ante order, both petitions also asked that the Comelec resolutions issued between March 20 and 22 this year be declared void, reverting instead to the old clustering of precincts.
In their petitions, petitioners accused Comelec of gravely abusing its discretion in approving the declustering, transfer or modification of polling precincts even without good reason or urgent necessity and contrary to the recommendations of the Election and Barangay Affairs Department (EBAD).
Hajiri pointed out that there was no reported failure of elections or incidents of violence, fraud, intimidation and threats during the 2016 national and local elections to justify any changes in the clustering of polling. 
The petitions, he added, were also not supported by the majority of voters affected, as required under the Omnibus Election Code.
Petitioners also alleged the registered political parties and candidates were not informed about the petitions.
In addition, Tan and Berto claimed the changes in the clustering of polling precincts were politically-motivated and violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution because Comelec supposedly acted only on petitions from Sulu and not on those from the other provinces.
Hajiri is represented by lawyer Beng Sardillo while Tan and Berto are represented by the law firm of former Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes.