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Party-list row far from over

High court TRO deals Comelec new setback The Supreme Court on Wednesday stopped the Commission on Elections from completing its proclamation of the winners in the party-list race, granting relief to the disqualified party-list group Senior Citizens that received over 600,000 votes in the May 13 polls. The Court issued a temporary restraining order restraining the poll body from proclaiming the winning groups for the remaining five of the 58 available seats in the House of Representatives for party-lists. The Court also ordered the Comelec to freeze the disqualification of the Senior Citizens group until it had decided on the merits of the case The Comelec proclaimed 38 winning groups for 53 seats on May 24 and 28. Five seats remained available before the high court acted on the petition of the Senior Citizens party-list group questioning its disqualification by the Comelec a few days before the polls.  The group had garnered the 10th most number of votes among all groups. Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes said his agency will comply with the high court’s order. He said the Comelec will submit its comment to the high court on the petitions questioning the disqualification of party-list groups. Brillantes said the Comelec canceled the accreditation of the Senior Citizens group as a result of a term-sharing agreement between its officials, which he said was wrong. The case arose after David Kho resigned as a member of the House of Representatives on Dec. 31, 2011 to give way to Remedioz Arquiza, the Senior Citizens group’s fourth nominee. The group then petitioned the Comelec to have Arquiza replace Kho, but the Comelec dismissed the petition last year. “Public office is not a commodity that can be shared, apportioned or made the subject of any private agreement,” the Comelec said. “Public office is vested with public interest that should not be reined in by individual interests.” The high court’s temporary restraining order directed the Comelec “to cease and desist from further proclaiming winners from among the party-list candidates” after the tribunal took note of the poll body’s earlier proclamations. “Should the Comelec continue proclaiming winners from among the remaining party-list candidates, grave prejudice could result not only to the petitioner but to other party-list candidates as well,” the high court said. The Court said the issuance of the halt order was “necessary and proper considering the allegations, the issues raised and the arguments adduced in the petitions and supplemental petition.” The TRO aside, the high court also consolidated the separate petitions filed by two factions in Senior Citizens and ordered the Comelec to answer the petitions within 10 days from receipt of notice. In their petitions, the two groups in Senior Citizens asked the high court to reverse its second disqualification from the election process after garnering a significant number of votes to qualify for at two seats in Congress. The group officially registered as Coalition of Associations of Senior Citizens in the Philippines Inc., but it was de-listed after its nominees broke up into two factions and forged a term-sharing agreement for the two seats they won in the 2010 elections.  With  Joel E. Zurbano                                                                
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