Will Comelec decide Dapitan City race?

"It may not be easy for the poll body to toe the Jalosjos line and disqualify Uy."


It looks like the power of the Commission on Elections to disqualify candidates in an election has been put under the microscope. 

More and more people realize that the exercise of this power may have become arbitrary and whimsical. Unless the Comelec clarifies the basis and process by which it disqualifies candidates, the 2019 election may be a watershed for this constitutional body, credibility-wise.

Some of our colleagues in media recently lamented a move by the Comelec legal department to have certain candidates with outstanding credentials disqualified. Reason: Lack of money to sustain a campaign.

The move triggered fears that the Comelec may be showing bias for rich candidates and may have unintentionally told voters that wealth is a better basis for choosing candidates than merit.

Many are also asking if the exercise of this power by the Comelec may be impinging on the right of voters to choose those who they want to govern them. 

It appears this is the same question is being asked by the people of Dapitan City, Zamboanga Del Norte. The poll body earlier backed a petition to have a mayoralty candidate disqualified. 

The petition was filed by the Jalosjos clan which has wielded much political influence in that part of Zamboanga del Norte over the past few decades.

The object of the petition for disqualification is candidate Evelyn ‘Belen’ Uy who is challenging the incumbent, Rosalina “Nene” Jalosjos-Johnson.

Jalosjos-Johnson is the member of this powerful clan. She returned to the Philippines from the United States in 2013 to run for the seat which was once occupied by  her brothers. 

Jalosjos-Johnson—whose citizenship was questioned when she ran for Dapitan City mayor in 2013—had moved to have Uy stricken off the ballot based on allegations that the latter did not meet the residency requirements. The local Comelec—almost predictably—granted Jalosjos-Johnson’s petition.

Uy, however,  contested the local Comelec ruling and elevated the case to the court. Both the municipal and regional trial courts gave Uy favorable decisions and allowed her to run as Dapitan City Mayor.

The Jalosjos-Johnson camp has brought the issue back to the Comelec national, and got a favorable decision from the first division.

Now, Uy has appealed the decision of the Comelec first division before the Comelec en banc.

The situation appears to have put the Comelec in a bind. It looks like it may have to be more prudent in the exercise of its power to disqualify a candidate for public office.

We can only commiserate with the Comelec. It is facing a powerful political force in the Jalosjos clan. To rule in favor of Uy may mean endangering the hold of the Jalosjos clan in Dapitan City. We are sure no one in the Comelec may wish to earn the ire of the Jalosjos clan.

After all, Dapitan City appears to be the last political stronghold of the Jalosjoses. They lost miserably in the 2013 elections. Different members of the clan made  bids for the several elective posts in Zamboanga City, Zamboanga del Norte, Zamboanga del Sur and Zamboanga Sibugay. They lost all bids except for, maybe, two.

Cesar, brother of family patriarch Romeo ‘Nonong’ Jalosjos, lost miserably to the husband of Uy—Berto—in the Zamboanga del Norte gubernatorial race. Their sister, Cely Jalosjos lost just as miserably to Belen Uy herself in the contest for the mayoralty of Dipolog. 

If the previous two elections would be the basis of a trend, it may be safe to assume that chances are high that Jalosjos-Johnson faces a tough fight if the Comelec follows the earlier decisions by the municipal and regional trial courts and allows Belen Uy to stay in the running.

On the other hand, it may not be easy for the Comelec to toe the Jalosjos line and disqualify Uy. After all, local political pundits say, the Jalosjos family was a last-minute Duterte ‘convert’ after initially supporting former Vice President Jojo Binay and Senator Grace Poe in the 2016 presidential election.

It bears noting that Uy’s eligibility to contest the Dapitan City mayoralty seat  has the backing of the courts. It may be difficult for the Comelec to explain why it would disagree with the judiciary on this matter. 

To do so might lead to more speculations that the body may have succumbed to political pressure or may be acting arbitrarily and whimsically as alleged by those disqualified to run for Senate seats.

The other problem is this: Should the Comelec rule in favor of the Jalosjos clan, that would mean deciding the elections in favor of the incumbent. This would mean a technical knockout win against Uy. 

She would have lost the election even before the voters of Dapitan City would have had the chance to go to their precincts to cast their ballots.

This will not be an easy task for the Comelec, particularly now that its power to disqualify political aspirants is being scrutinized. It will have to move very carefully in this particular case. 

The decision it will make here could mean allowing the incumbent Jalosjos to lose the clan’s last political stronghold.

The Comelec decision could also mean taking away from the voters of Dapitan City the sole prerogative to elect their mayor. The Comelec could end up making that decision instead of the city’s electorate.

We hope the Comelec en banc finds a Solomonic solution to this dilemma.

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Topics: Ernesto Hilario , Commission on Elections , Comelec , Dapitan City , Evelyn ‘Belen’ Uy , Rosalina “Nene” Jalosjos-Johnson , 2019 midterm election
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