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Political Tidbits is the prestigious column of Belinda Olivares-Cunanan that ran for 25 continuous years in the op-ed page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the newspaper that she helped put up with its multi-awarded founder, the legendary Eugenia Duran-Apostol, in December 1985, just two months before the EDSA Revolution.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Political fight between Gina Ongsiako Reyes and Lord Allan Jay Velasco casts long shadow over Comelec, the SC and LP-dominated House. How will Speaker Belmonte fight to protect HRET, whose powers were clipped by SC majority justices' decision backing up their colleague's son, Allan Jay, vs. Gina? Is nation staring at possible constitutional crisis over a stupid electoral contest?


 Marinduque Proclaimed Rep .Gina Ongsiako Reyes
House media buzz with reports that re-electionist candidate for Marinduque representative Lord Allan Jay Velasco of the National Unity Party will be proclaimed by Comelec this Tuesday as winner of the hotly contested and controversial election for the province's lone district---following a recent decision by the poll body en banc. 

With this 19-page Comelec decision penned by Commissioner Grace Padaca, Velasco would be unseating his challenger, lawyer Gina Ongsiako Reyes, who ran under the LP banner and was proclaimed winner by 4,000 votes by the provincial board of canvassers (PBOC) of Marinduque last May 18.

Last June 5, based on the PBOC's proclamation, Gina Reyes was sworn into office by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and on June 30, along with other elected representatives, she assumed office at the House where on July 1 she filed two bills.

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The Comelec's recent en banc’s decision to annul Reyes’ proclamation by the PBOC, however, was sadly based on an issue that should have been settled even before the elections: that Reyes is allegedly an American citizen and lacked the one-year residency requirement to qualify as congressional candidate.

At this point, the question that crops up is: if Gina Reyes is really an American citizen, she should not have been allowed altogether to run last May.

But the fact is that in various forums she had been presenting evidences of her Filipino citizenship, e.g., an Identification Certificate from the Bureau of Immigration dated October 2005, various Philippine passports, one as recently issued as March 2, 2011 and an affidavit of renunciation of US citizenship last September 2012. 

But AFTER SHE WAS PROCLAIMED WINNER last May, this disqualification campaign started to be carried out by Comelec. What kind of dirty game is the poll body up to again?

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From what I understand, Reyes was not given DUE PROCESS in this disqualification decision, as Comelec gave full course only to petitioner Joseph Socorro Tan (who he?) who in turn relied on an unofficial document---which makes the case double hearsay. Reyes was not even given a chance to argue her case before Comelec and present her documents on Filipino citizenship.

Comelec, which has been beset by innumerable crises of credibility especially in the Hocus-PCOS issue, suffers another blow here, as its move vs. proclaimed winner Reyes is viewed as arbitrary and reeking yet again of  grave abuse of discretion---another travesty of justice by the poll body. 

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Rep. Lord Allan Jay Velasco
Gina Reyes won’t take this reported proclamation on Tuesday of Velasco sitting down. She’s calling a press conference tomorrow at 10 am. at her House office.

As the nation awaits the State of the Nation Address by President Aquino exactly a week from tomorrow, the House would predictably be in turmoil over the unresolved Reyes-Velasco bout.

A question that will definitely crop up is, why is this sort of thing happening, with decisions being made and reversed on flimsy ground, bereft of due process, in the nation's highest repositories of authority? 

In fact the nation could be staring at a looming constitutional crisis between Comelec and Congress on lawful jurisdiction of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET).

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By way of background, on June 19 Velasco filed before the Comelec First Division a protest vs. the PBOC proclamation of Reyes and sought her disqualification.

Not long after, there followed the 19-page en banc Comelec decision annulling Reyes' proclamation as “without any legal force and effect” and proclaiming Velasco winner. It was issued by Chair Sixto Brillantes and Commissioners LucenitoTagle, Padaca and LuieGuia, one of the two newest appointees.

Dissenting were Commissioners Christian Lim and Al Parreno, the other most recent appointee, with one abstention. The dissenters rightly argued that there’s already an absence of Comelec jurisdiction over Reyes’ case owing to her proclamation by the PBOC and her oath before the Speaker. 

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Reyes immediately appealed the Comelec decision to the Supreme Court, stressing that she was already under the jurisdiction of the HRET. On June 25 the SC came out with a split decision---7-4-3-1.

Seven justices, led by Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno, came out with a majority ruling penned by Justice Jose Portugal Perez (said to be a UP law classmate/roommate and fraternity brod in Sigma Rho of candidate Velasco’s father, Justice Presbitero Velasco). The majority decision said that for a congressional oath of office to be valid, it must be administered by no less than the Speaker AND IN PLENARY SESSION. But because the 16th Congress will only convene on July 22, the Court maintained that Comelec retain jurisdiction over Reyes. 

The media readily interpreted the SC majority decision as clipping the powers of the HRET, but Court observers saw it as accomodating the wish of one of their own, Justice Velasco.

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This accomodation was hinted as a secondary point---but there it is nonetheless---by four justices, namely, Justices Antonio Carpio, Arturo Brion, Martin Villarama Jr., and Marvic Leonen in their 21-page dissenting opinion, penned by Justice Brion, a bar topnotcher in the early '70s. Said they: "...unless the case is clearly and patently shown to be without bases and out of our sense of delicadeza, the Court should at least hear and consider both sides before making a ruling that would favor the son of a Member of the Court."  As my granddaughter would put it, ouchy.

But the dissenting justices' main point was that “the majority effectively emasculates the HRET of its jurisdiction as it allows the filing of an election protest…only after the assumption to office by the candidate (on June 30).” They emphasized that this decision runs in conflict with the HRET (which after all, is a House committee with three SC justices, one of whom chairs the body, and six House members---BOC) in that the “proclamation of the winner in the congressional elections serves as the reckoning point as well as the trigger that brings any contests relating to his or her election, return and qualifications within (HRET’s) sole and exclusive jurisdiction.”

On the other hand, three justices, Justice Velasco himself and Justices Estella Bernabe and Jose Catral Mendoza, who were both sponsors at Lord Allan Jay’s wedding some months back, inhibited themselves in this ruling while Justice Diosdado Peralta was abroad. 

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Last July 9, Comelec en banc ruled that the votes of Reyes should be considered as “stray” and reports indicate that Velasco would be proclaimed winner this Tuesday.

At last Thursday’s press conference where she asserted her Filipino citizenship, Gina Reyes came swinging at the power behind her rival’s impending proclamation---his father, Justice Velasco, who has been quite a controversial figure in the SC and in media.

Never to mince words, Reyes, an Ateneo ’81 law graduate, said that the nullification by the Comelec en banc of her earlier proclamation by the Marinduque PBOC, which was upheld by the SC majority decision, does not constitute a “reversal of jurisprudence.” Instead, said she, “what we have is one undeniable fact: that my opponent is the son of a sitting justice of the Supreme Court.” 

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An option her camp is considering is filing a motion for reconsideration with the SC. But from here on political considerations would predictably factor in, e.g., no one would be surprised if the seven justices face impeachment charges in the LP-dominated House.

Aside from the ramifications on the vast powers of the HRET clipped by the SC majority decision, it should be noted that Gina Reyes ran as an LP vs. Velasco (who ran under the smaller NUP), and in fact she was sworn into office by President Aquino himself at Malacanang, together with other elected LPs. Thus, the Comelec’s axing her does not seem to jibe with its perceived image as a tool of Malacanang.

Moreover, Speaker Belmonte swore her in a second time, and his loyal lieutenant, Majority Leader Neptali Gonzalez Jr., is known to be helping Gina. How would Belmonte protect the HRET which was chaired in the past 15th Congress by Justice Velasco himself?

How come Lord Allan Jay Velasco is lording it over Gina? Is it clearly the power of Justice Velasco that’s operating here? 





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