A Catch-22 For PNoy

by Joseph G. Lariosa

CHICAGO (JGL) – Now that Sen. Grace Poe has finally taken her out of consideration as Sec. Mar Roxas’ running mate by declaring as a presidential candidate herself, all eyes have turned to Roxas’ Plan B – the charismatic but reluctant candidate Rep. Maria Leonor “Leni” G. Robredo’s decision whether to accept his offer as his running mate.

Believe it or not, Leni’s decision whether to accept Roxas’ offer or not really hinges on an unlikely player – President Noynoy Aquino (PNoy) – who will be placed in an enviable Catch-22.

If Aquino wants to divide the majority votes of women that could go to Senator Poe and the solid votes of Bikolanos that could go to Poe’s vice presidential choice, Sen. Chiz Escudero, my province mate in Sorsogon, PNoy can simply lobby the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to do its job: resolve the election offense cases pending before the Comelec En Banc within 21 days – Leni’s deadline to think Roxas’ offer over.

By doing so, PNoy will be alienating himself from the graces of Poe, in case she wins it all.

If he hedges, PNoy will be alienating himself from his anointed protégé – Secretary Roxas.

For PNoy to force Leni to come to a decision, he needs to let his appointees to the Commission on Elections (from former Comelec Chair Sixto K. Brillantes to Brillantes’ current replacement Andre Bautista) stop dragging their feet in resolving the alleged election offenses filed against Robredo by her defeated opponents Nelly S. Villafuerte and husband former Rep. Luis Robredo Villafuerte.

By the length of time – two years – that the Comelec sat on the cases like a bagoong (over-fermentation) to resolve the cases, instead of the regulatory 120-period, the procrastination of the Comelec to resolve them is coming back to haunt Roxas.

If the Comelec rules against Robredo on any of the three alleged Comelec violations, it could ground Robredo’s short-lived promising political career to a sudden halt as it could land her in prison, eliminating her for consideration as a candidate for the No. 2 position in the land.

Omnibus Election Code (OEC), its Sec. 264 (Penalties) says, “Any person found guilty of any election offense under this Code shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years and shall not be subject to probation.

“In addition, the guilty party shall be sentenced to suffer disqualification to hold public office and deprivation of the right of suffrage.”

ELECTION OFFENSE VIOLATIONS

Robredo was charged with verified complaint under docket as E.O. Case No. 13-179 for alleged Violation of Sec. 96 of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC) in relation to Secs. 68 (d), 262 and 264 of the OEC or for soliciting and receiving campaign funds from foreign sources, which is punishable by imprisonment and disqualification for holding public office. She is also charged with (E. O. Case No. 13-200) for alleged violation of Sec. 261 (a)(1) and (o) in relation to Sec. 68 (d), Sec. 262 (a-1) and Sec. 262 for vote-buying and verified complaint filed by “Luis R. Villafuerte as E.O. Case No. 13-293 for alleged Violation of Sec. 98 of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC) in relation to Sections 262 and 264 of the OEC for not recording or reporting “true names of foreign contributors.”

According to Sec. 257 (Decision in the Commission) Article XXI of the Omnibus Elections Code,  “The Commission shall decide all election cases brought before it within ninety (90) days (underscoring mine) from the date of their submission for decision. The decision of the Commission shall become final THIRTY (30) days after receipt of judgment.”

Since the cases were filed as early as May 23, 2013 and May 25, 2013 right after Robredo was elected Camarines Sur District III Representative on May 10, 2013, it appears that the Comelec sat on the case for more than two years now in violation of Sec. 257.

Actually, Sec. 265 of OEC gives complainants Villafuerte and former Rep. Villafuerte options to file the complaints with the office of the fiscal or with the Ministry of Justice in the event of the failure of the Comelec to act on their complaints for proper investigation and prosecution but for inexplicable reason/s, the Villafuertes waived this right.

But the same section says that if the Comelec thru its duly authorized legal officers, who have exclusive power to conduct preliminary investigation of all election offenses punishable under this Code and to prosecute the same, it may also avail of the assistance of other prosecuting arms of the government, which Comelec did not exercise when the 120-day preliminary investigation period lapsed without coming down with a resolution.

So, if President Aquino is really serious in seeing to it that the Constitutional bodies like Comelec live up to its mandate, in this case, Sec. 257, Art. XXI of the Omnibus Elections Code, he should ask his Justice Department to charge Director Atty. Romeo B. Fortes of the Comelec Region V, if not the Comelec En Banc, with failure to resolve the cases against Robredo within 90 and/or 120 days “from their submission for decision.”

“NO RESOLUTION YET”

Acting Comelec Director IV Atty. Maria Norina S. Tangaro-Casingal email to me dated Sept. 15, 2015 said, “(T)here is no Resolution yet (on the Robredo cases). The records mentioned by Dir. Fortes are mere recommendations on findings of existence or non-existence of probable case. The same is pending review by the Law Department for Agenda to the Commission En Banc for the En Banc to finally resolve whether or not an Information will be filed with the proper court.”

If the Comelec cannot resolve election cases within 90 and/or 120 days, Congress should amend Sec. 257 of Art XXI of the OEC in such a way that in case the Comelec cannot resolve election cases within 90 to 120 days, such cases should be removed from the Comelec jurisdiction and should automatically be referred to the fiscal or Department of Justice to conduct the investigation and the incompetent responsible Comelec official, who violated Sec. 257, Art. XXI should be charged with dereliction of duties.

Attorney Tangaro-Casingal added the Comelec “is tasked to investigate and prosecute election offense cases but the cases will ultimately be decided by the proper courts of competent jurisdiction, i.e. the proper Regional Trial Court.”

My question to Tangaro-Casingal is this: If the Comelec cannot even resolve an election offense to file information within 90 or 120 days like the Robredo cases, which have been gathering dust for more than two years, how long more will the Regional Trial Court ever try and resolve an election case? Another two or three years? By then, the term of office of those charged with election offenses has been long served out. Aanhin pa ang damo kung patay na ang kabayo? (What’s the use of the grass if the horse is already dead?)

Actually the two-year non-resolution of these cases by Director Fortes and the Comelec En Banc had already violated the Constitutional mandate under Article VIII under the Judicial Department that says, “Section 15. (1) All cases or matters filed after the effectivity of this Constitution (including quasi-judicial bodies as Comelec) must be decided or resolved within twenty-four months from date of submission for the Supreme Court, and, unless reduced by the Supreme Court, twelve months for all lower collegiate courts, and three months for all other lower courts.

“(2) A case or matter shall be deemed submitted for decision or resolution upon the filing of the last pleading, brief, or memorandum required by the Rules of Court or by the court itself.”

Is the Comelec above the Constitution?

What if Robredo were innocent of the election offenses and she were not chosen as vice president by Roxas because of her pending election offenses, isn’t the Comelec guilty of depriving the Filipino people of electing an honest and competent official?

What if Robredo were later found out guilty of election offenses after she was chosen vice president and elected by the Filipino people, weren’t the Filipino people given a damaged good and the right to due process by her accusers were violated?

If Congress cannot amend the flaws of the OEC, can’t Congress remove the jurisdiction of election offenses of Representatives from the Comelec and hand it to another new  body – a Congressional Electoral Tribunal — just like the Senatorial Electoral Tribunal trying the citizenship issue of Senator Poe?

The SET was suddenly set in motion with the impending deadline for filing of Certificates of Candidacy between Oct. 12 and 16, 2015.

And an added bonus of these cases should they be resolved is its resolution that will resonate to Overseas Filipino Workers voters, a long awaited ruling that will guide absentee OFW voters if they can contribute money to the coffers of poor candidates of their choice, in this case, Leni Robredo, when they donated money to Robredo, who was then campaigning for Camarines Sur District III Representative in 2013.

E-mail:  (jglariosa@hotmail.com)

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