POSTSCRIPT / April 11, 2010 / Sunday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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PET hit as illegal appendage of SC

TO-DO TODAY: If you have Internet connection, check TODAY if you are registered and assigned to a specific polling precinct for the May 10 elections. If you cannot locate your precinct on-line, you may still have time to solve the problem – if you act NOW.

Find out by going to www.comelec.gov.ph/precinctfinder/precinctfinder.aspx. (Omit the period after “aspx” and double-check your spelling, especially of “precinct”.) If you find your name and precinct, save and print the data for reference on Election Day.

The original 250,000 precincts throughout the country have been grouped into 80,000 clusters of not more than 1,000 voters per cluster. Your old precincts may have been renumbered!

On the barangay level, political parties and civic groups can help voters check. They can also issue them a simple reminder-card with the voter’s name, address and precinct number. That service will be appreciated. It might even win points for some candidates.

Another tip: Go to the polls EARLY on May 10, so if any problem arises you still have time to solve it. Every vote counts.

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WHO’S PET?: Before we end up again marching on EDSA to decide who won the presidency per the semi-automated vote count, let us first resolve the question raised by lawyer Romulo B. Macalintal proposing the abolition of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET).

Macalintal’s point is clear and simple, even leading presidential candidates should be able to understand it. He cites Paragraph 7, Section 4, Article VII, of the Constitution which says:

“The Supreme Court sitting en banc shall be the SOLE JUDGE of all contests relating to the election, returns and qualifications of the President or Vice President of the Philippines, and may promulgate its rules for the purpose.” (Emphasis supplied)

He also cites Section 12, Article VIII, which provides that “the members of the Supreme Court and other courts established by law shall not be designated to any agency performing quasi-judicial or administrative functions.”

And in Buac vs Comelec, GR No. 155855, decided by the Supreme Court on Jan. 26, 2004, the SC ruled that the PET — like the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) and the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) — is an “agency exercising quasi-judicial power.”

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NEW COURT: It is as clear as sunlight, Macalintal says, that the SC, and not a tribunal or agency like the PET which exercises quasi-judicial power, is “the sole judge” to resolve election cases involving the president and the vice president.

He adds that while the Constitution allows the SC to promulgate its rules as “sole judge” of such disputes, it does not authorize the SC to create a new or separate court (the PET).

Note that (1) the Chief Justice is called the PET “Chairman” and the Justices are “Members”; (2) every PET member hires new personnel and confidential employees and maintains a separate administrative staff; and (3) under its rules, the PET has a seal distinct and separate from the SC seal.

Macalintal says that these are clear indications that the PET is a “new court” created by the SC within the SC.

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PET PERKS: The SC justices’ sitting in the PET violates Section 12, Article VIII, prohibiting such designation, Macalintal says, because “we would have the anomaly of a PET decision rendered by SC members exercising quasi-judicial function being reviewed by the same SC members, this time exercising strictly judicial function.”

The PET Chairman (the Chief Justice) and the Members (SC justices) receive remuneration and perks whether there are cases filed with the agency or not, or whether the justices work or not.

Media reports have it that the PET’s budget this year is P55.971 million and that the Chief Justice gets P150,000 per month and the Justices get P100,000 per month each, with or without cases.

They presumably receive additional large sums when they sit as members of the House or the Senate electoral tribunal.

Their receiving PET allowances and hiring confidential employees is separate from the same privileges they may claim if designated as members of the HRET or the SET.

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EVOLUTION: The PET is not a new invention. A presidential electoral tribunal was created by RA 1793, because the 1935 Constitution did not provide for any court or agency to resolve election cases involving the president and the vice president.

Even at that time, PET’s creation was assailed since it created a new or separate court, but the SC held at that time that the law merely “conferred upon the SC the functions of a PET” (Lopez vs Roxas, 17 SCRA 756, [1966]), because the 1935 Constitution did not provide for any body to decide such cases.

RA 1793 was repealed by the 1973 Constitution when the country shifted to a parliamentary form of government. The PET was revived by Batas Pambansa 884 in December 1985, but only for the snap election called by then President Marcos.

BP 884 was repealed by the 1987 Constitution, which now provides that only the Supreme Court en banc sits as the “sole judge” in contests involving the election of the president and the vice president.

Macalintal raised the same issues on Aug. 15, 2008, when he spoke before the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Greater Manila Area Chapter, at the Manila Hotel in the IBP’s mandatory continuing legal education seminar for lawyers.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of April 11, 2010)

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