‘Most unconstitutional in 80-yr-history’: Election lawyers hit Comelec’s decision to proclaim Duterte Youth rep

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 25 2020 04:40 PM

FILE: Former National Youth Commission chair Ronald Cardema, who had been disqualified as youth representative because of his age. His wife Ducielle will replace him as party-list representative.

MANILA – A group of election lawyers who had opposed the proclamation of the representative of the Duterte Youth Party List has denounced the Commission on Election’s eventual decision to grant a certificate of proclamation to its nominee, Ducielle Cardema.

"This act by the Comelec en banc is contrary to all its existing rules and regulations and in utter disregard of all applicable legal provisions. This is easily the most unconstitutional act ever done by Comelec in its 80-year-history,” lawyers Emilio Marañon III, Ernelson Trojillo and Rod Ryan Suaco said in a statement.

Comelec Chair Sheriff Abas told House lawmakers Thursday that they will grant Cardema a certificate of proclamation. She is the wife of former National Youth Commission chair Ronald Cardema, who had been disqualified as youth representative because of his age.

But the 3 lawyers said the party-list group is not even registered with Comelec and is still facing various cases.

In their letter-opposition to the Comelec en banc sent on September 21 on behalf of youth leaders, the lawyers argued Duterte Youth’s petition to register had not yet been granted in time for the May 13, 2019 elections and had not in fact been published nor publicly heard.

The publication requirement under Republic Act No. 7941 or the Party-List System Act and Comelec Resolution No. 9366, according to the lawyers, is jurisdictional and mandatory under the Constitution.

Under section 5 of the Party-List System Act, a group seeking to register under the party-list system should file its petition no later than 90 days before the date of election.

The Comelec will then publish the petition in at least 2 national newspapers of general circulation and resolve the petition within 15 to 60 days but only after due notice and hearing.

ABS-CBN News reported in June 2019 that a Comelec division initially rejected Duterte Youth’s registration due to late filing of requirements and failure to meet the required publication and hearing.

But the Comelec en banc voted to reverse it and accepted Duterte Youth’s registration even as it disqualified several other party-list groups due to wrong choice of words in their petitions.

The Comelec en banc’s reversal, the lawyers said, should not be taken as a “grant of registration.”

“Without first acquiring jurisdiction over Duterte Youth and without prior registration, the Comelec would have no authority to allot a seat to Duterte Youth or proclaim Ducielle Marie Cardema who technically represents a nonentity. Under prevailing laws and the 1987 Constitution, only nominees of duly-registered party-list organizations may be proclaimed by Comelec and allotted party-list seats in Congress. Thus, to proclaim Ducielle Marie Cardema would not only be clearly ultra vires, but would be grossly illegal and patently unconstitutional,” they said in their letter.

The party-list group won a seat at the midterm polls but the subsequent controversies involving its former nominee and attempts to substitute him prevented the group’s representative from sitting at the House of Representatives. 

In September last year, a group of young individuals sought to cancel Duterte Youth’s registration with Comelec as a youth sectoral party.

The lawyers invoked this pending petition as a prejudicial question that needs to be settled before allowing Cardema’s proclamation.

But Comelec went ahead with its vote. Abas told House lawmakers 4 out of 5 Comelec commissioners have signed their ruling and the fifth lawyer has 1 week to sign it before a copy of the decision is released.

The lawyers vowed to challenge the ruling.

“An act as patently wrong and as brazen as this simply cannot go uncontested. Thus, we are ready to contest this illegality before the Supreme Court as soon as the Comelec releases its decision. We will also simultaneously file a quo warranto case before the HRET to unseat Cardema who will occupy a party-list seat despite not representing any registered party-list organization,” they said.