INCOMING Speaker and Davao del Norte Rep. Pantaleon Alvarez said Friday that the Commission on Elections decision to extend the deadline for filing the statement of contributions and expenditures (SOCE) for both winning and losing candidates during the May 9 polls was illegal.
Alvarez said it was “too bad” that the poll body appeared to be adjusting its own rules for the Liberal Party and its standard bearer, Manuel Roxas II, who failed to meet the June 8 deadline for filing his campaign expenditure report.
“Comelec is simply bending their own rules for accommodation,” Alvarez, a lawyer, said.
Alvarez said the Comelec should have stuck to the deadline as a matter of following the law.
The Comelec en banc on Thursday voted 4-3 to extend the deadline for filing of SOCEs until June 30 upon the request of the LP and other political parties who failed to meet the earlier deadline.
The extension came despite a recommendation by the poll body’s Campaign Finance Office to deny the LP’s request because it would be unfair to other candidates and political groups that met the deadline.
Alvarez, Duterte’s top choice for House Speaker in the upcoming 17th Congress, said election law clearly states that all candidates should submit their respective SOCEs within 30 days after elections.
Outgoing Abakada Party-list Rep. Jonathan dela Cruz, chief campaign adviser of vice presidential candidate Senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr., said the Comelec en banc’s decision is a “clear lambasting not only of the existing law but the electoral system itself.”
“What is the reason (for giving an extension). We can see the true motive. If they can violate strict election laws, how about other laws?” he said.
De la Cruz said the Comelec owes the Filipino people an explanation as to why they allowed the extension.
De la Cruz said late filing of SOCE could actually jeopardize the situation of Vice President-elect Leni Robredo, who ran under LP and defeated Marcos by a slim margin.
“This is too much. The decision is a clear accommodation and special treatment for the LP,” De la Cruz said.
Outgoing Kabataan Party-list Representative Terry Ridon described the Comelec decision as giving “VIP treatment” to both Roxas and his party.
“The Comelec is clearly bending backwards for both LP and Mar Roxas,” Ridon, a lawyer, said.
Re-elected Isabela Rep. Rodolfo Albano III echoed Ridon’s view.
“The decision of Comelec en banc only shows their ignorance of the law,” he said. “They don’t even know their own rules.”
In a TV interview, Comelec chairman Andres Bautista said the poll body was ready to defend its decision, but acknowledged that it was the prerogative of those who disagreed with it to bring the question to the Supreme Court.
“You know, we’re used to court cases and we’re used to defending our decisions before the court. We see no problem in that. This is a very good point of law that should be discussed. We welcome the challenge,” he told GMA-7.
Bautista also said it was within the Comelec’s authority to “relax laws” if their implementation “would be an absurd result.”
Bautista was one of the three members of the en banc who opposed the extension, along with Commissioner Luie Tito Guia and senior Commissioner Christian Robert Lim, who wrote the CFO recommendation.
The poll chief proposed accepting the late filing with the imposition of penalties.
The four commissioners who voted in favor of the extension were Arthur Lim, Al Parreño, Rowena Guanzon, and Sheriff Abas.
Bautista said the commissioners “wanted to extend because they were saying this was done before in 2010 and 2013.” They also considered the number of winning candidates who may be barred from assuming office, due to either personal non-submission or their parties’ failure to file, as in the case of LP, Aksyon Demokratiko, and the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino.
The commissioners opposed imposing a penalty because “someone might question it,” he added, though he noted that such was done for late filers for the 2013 polls.
The LP, on the other hand, said it broke no laws with their late filing, saying their huge machinery prevented them from filing the SOCE on time.
“The Liberal Party is a national party, with chapters all over the country. As part of due diligence, we had to await receipts, invoices, and information from all these chapters before we could file our SOCE. The deadline is one month after elections—very tight considering none of the other candidates has an organization as wide as ours, and we had to account for millions’ worth of expenses,” LP National Secretary-General Josephine Sato, said in a statement.
“We officially informed COMELEC that we would be late and asked for an extension. Now, one week later, we have filed our papers. We did not disregard our responsibility and we certainly did not flout the law,” she added.
The opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), on the other hand, scored the Comelec for extending the deadline.
UNA spokesman Mon Ilagan said that on May 10, the Comelec sent an official letter to all political party treasurers reminding them of the June 8 non-extendable deadline and the consequences of filing incomplete financial documents and the non-submission of SOCE on time.
“The same law prohibits the winning candidates that you have nominated from entering upon the duties of their elective office should you fail to file your party’s SOCE,” the Comelec said in its letter.
Ilagan said that the accommodation made by the Comelec in connection with the belated submission of Roxas’ and LP’s SOCE only shows the commission’s biases.
“Today, we mourn the passing of the rule of law. Sadly, its final breath was taken away by a democracy-driven institution that is supposed to uphold the highest standard of integrity, impartiality and respect for the rule of law,” he said.
The Marcos camp also expressed disappointment over the Comelec’s decision.
“We are saddened because the government failed to implement our laws. Everybody is doing everything and made efforts to comply with the rule,” said Marcos’ campaign adviser and Abakada Party List Rep. Jonathan Dela Cruz.
Dela Cruz said rule set by the commission was very clear that the submission of SOCE should not be extended beyond the deadline. – With John Paolo Bencito, Vito Barcelo and Joel E. Zurbano
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