Poll body fears crisis over SOCE

Comelec defends ruling on LP deadline extension

THE Commission on Elections  on Thursday  defended its decision to extend the deadline for submitting statements of contributions and expenditures, saying it was fending off a constitutional crisis that might ensue if the winning Liberal Party candidates, including Vice President-elect Leni Robredo, were unable to assume office because of a failure to file the documents on time.

The Comelec en banc had voted 4-3 to grant the LP petition to extend the deadline from  June 8 to June 30, after the party’s standard bearer Manuel Roxas II failed to submit his SOCE on time.

“We find it abhorrent to adopt the erroneous interpretation that our duly elected public officials cannot assume office simply because of the failure of the party treasurer to submit the party’s SOCE within the 30-day deadline,” the resolution stated.

“The resulting frustration of the people’s mandate, the widespread vacuum in the public service, and the likelihood of a constitutional crisis, constitute an absurdity not contemplated by the law. These are risks that the commission is not willing to take,” the Comelec en banc added.

A question of law. File photo shows workers unloading the statement of contributions and expenditures of presidential candidate Mar Roxas several days after the deadline. The elections body claims the decision was meant to avoid a constitutional crisis but critics argue the claim can only be resolved by the Supreme Court. DANNY PATA
The commissioners pointed out their fear that they may be disenfranchising millions of voters if they refused to allow the winning candidates to assume their respective posts.

“The stringent application of election laws must give way to the principle of liberality in their enforcement if a strict application will result in negating the will of the electorate. The commission cannot and will not prevent hundreds of elected officials from assuming office,” the Comelec said.

The Comelec en banc also said that extending the deadline would give all candidates more time to declare all of their expenses correctly.

“Ordinarily, it stands to reason that those who failed should not be rewarded with an extension of the deadline. But there is a higher consideration, namely, extending the period for filing will precisely ensure that all possible evidence of election overspending are admitted into the record, rather than excluded,” it said.

The Comelec also feared that if it refused to accept SOCE of those candidates and parties who failed to submit it on time, they would simply pay the penalty and avoid disclosing how much they spend in the last election.

The commission noted the SOCE’s main purpose is to determine if the candidates were within the legal limits for campaign contributions and expenditures as provided by the law.

“The simple expediency of not accepting the SOCE if filed beyond the deadline and just imposing a fine is in effect throwing away the evidence of any infraction of the campaign finance rules and unwittingly assisting in hiding the evidence,” the Comelec said.

Comelec Commissioner Christian Robert Lim, one of the officials who voted against the extension, slammed the en banc explanation, saying that his colleagues had “a very limited view of campaign finance regulation, with very little regard for the consequences that the extension of the SOCE filing deadline will entail in terms of implementation on a nationwide scale.”

“The majority adopted the view of only one single party lamenting about the voluminous and tedious [work] to prepare SOCEs, without regard for the fact that other candidates and parties with similarly voluminous records were able to comply on or before June 8, 2016,” Lim said in his six-page dissenting opinion.

He disclosed that it was only LP filed a written request for extension of the SOCE filing deadline while other national political parties with national candidates such as the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) and Aksyon Demokratiko (AKSYON) made no such request.

“Hence, the decision of the majority to extend the SOCE filing deadline is clearly an accommodation in favor of the Liberal Party, whose own deliberate omission to file its SOCE on or before 08 June 2016 deadline is the root cause of the alleged ‘vacuum in public service’,’’ Lim said.

Lim said that LP, by failing to file its SOCE, showed a “blatant disregard” of the Comelec’s rules.

“There should be no dispute that the failure of the Liberal Party to file its SOCE on or before the 08 June 2016 is entirely due to its own fault or omission, a fault or omission that the commission, as a regulatory body, is not duty-bound to fix and resolve in accordance to the whims of the ruling party, with nary a sanction for such blatant disregard of the Commission’s rules.”

He said the Comelec should be independent and steadfast enough “in the face of political pressure to stand by the final and non-extendible deadline” as stated in Resolution No. 9991, a decision that “all the commissioners had unconditionally approved, signed and promulgated.”

Lim also slammed the LP and Roxas’ claims about the complexity of the new forms, saying that the Campaign Finance Office had actually made the forms “easier for candidates and parties to accomplish” by designing the forms in Excel file format with embedded formulas that automatically total and categorize the expenses.

“It is unbecoming of an independent constitutional commission to take up the cudgels for the LP and belabor the alleged complexity of the new forms, which were made available in the Comelec website and distributed to every election officer and provincial election supervisor in the country,” Lim said.

As for the feared “constitutional crisis,” Lim said such apprehensions are merely “unfounded fear” being created by the majority.

“There is no way of knowing at this point in time whether winning LP-nominated candidates will actually be prevented from entering into the duties of their elective offices come  June 30,” Lim said.

“And while Section 14 of RA 7166 clearly states that they are prohibited to do so because of their political party’s failure to file its SOCE, which agency is actually responsible for enforcing this prohibition?” he added.

Lim, as the chief of the CFO, had recommended that the LP petition for an extension be denied, but the en banc disregarded his recommendation in its final ruling.

The resolution was promulgated one week after the commission en banc, in a vote of 4-3, opted to extend the deadline of filing SOCEs from  June 8 to June 30.

Aside from Robredo, five senators, 115 congressmen, and 40 governors all nominated by the LP would have been prohibited from assuming the posts they won had the Comelec not opted to extend the deadline.

This is aside from winning candidates that were nominated by political parties, Aksyon Demokratiko and Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino, who also failed to file their SOCEs.

The four commissioners who voted for extending the deadline are Arthur Lim, Sheriff Abas, Al Parreno, and Rowena Guanzon.

Lawmakers  on Thursday  rallied behind efforts of certain groups, including the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP–Laban) of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, to question the legality of the Comelec extension.

Reps. Terry Ridon and Sarah Elago of Kabataan party-list and Harry Roque of Kabayan party-list also agreed with the statement of incoming Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez that the Comelec violated laws when it bent the rules to suit the LP and Roxas.

“Speaker Alvarez is correct. The extension was nothing but special treatment for the Liberal Party and Mar Roxas. We hope the Supreme Court wll reverse the Comelec the soonest,” Ridon said.

Roque, a human rights lawyer, said there was no doubt that the LP-dominated Comelec favored Roxas at the expense of the law.

“Majority of Comelec is very close to Mar. I think that’s why they extended the deadline—to accommodate him,” Roque said.

Elago said that Comelec officials concerned must be held accountable for violations of Republic Act 7166 and Comelec Resolution 9991.

“The Comelec is clearly a tool of Aquino, Roxas and their clique. They can’t bend the rules in their favor just because they’re the party in power. Shame on those commissioners who voted in favor of the extension,” Elago said.

“Section 14 of Republic Act 7166 clearly states that the filing of SOCEs must be done ‘30 days after the day of the elections.’ Comelec reiterated it in Resolution 9991 and even stressed that the June 8 deadlines shall be ‘final and non-extendible.’ COMELEC’s decision is tantamount to amending the law and the poll agency has no power to do that. That’s usurpation of power—only Congress can make and amend laws,” Elago added.

On Monday, a partylist group asked the Supreme Court to issue a status quo ante order that would retain the June 8 deadline.

Petitioners said that Comelec “gravely abused its discretion” when it allowed Roxas and his Liberal Party to file their SOCEs late. The petitioners argued that “there is no substantive justification for the Commission to disregard the ‘final and executory’ deadline prescribed by Section 14 of Republic Act 7166.”

“The issue here is whether they were able to comply with the law, not whether they were able to prepare documents in time for the deadline,” Elago said.

“If they fail to comply, then they should be penalized, even if it means ‘disrespecting the will of the people.’ It would be unfair to parties and candidates who diligently abided by the rules of the Commission. That’s their responsibility in the first place. Besides, they’ve done this in the past, why fail now. Is it difficult to find justification to use public funds for your campaign, Mar?,” Elago said, implying that the Liberal Party had used government resources during the campaign.

Topics: Liberal Party , Comelec , SOCE , question of law , Leni Robredo , Supreme Court , Mar Roxas
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