POSTSCRIPT / January 9 2020 / Thursay

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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How local officials defeat 3-term limit

THERE are creative ways by which local officials who want to stay longer than the three-term limit can “serve” legally beyond their allotted maximum of nine (3×3) consecutive years in office.

One way that has been taken by dynastic politicians is to have their spouse or a qualified family member run for and hold the post for one supervening term – thereby resetting the term-limit clock and qualifying the original officeholder for another round of three terms.

Another ruse is for a third termer to have an administrative case filed against himself that is pre-arranged to be decided against him toward the end of his term. He then argues that that third term was not his and was a break in the counting of the three consecutive terms.

Such stratagems can work only with the acquiescence of actors strategically positioned in the bodies that pass upon the propriety and legality of the charade being performed before them. It is clear that reforms or remedial measures are in order.

The case we are citing below, that of Camarines Norte Gov. Edgardo A. Tallado, is not meant to be an example of the situations just given, but we find it worthy of mention as it raises interesting questions on how election cases are adjudicated.

Separate petitions for Tallado’s disqualification were filed with the Commission on Elections before the last May 13 polls by registered voters Norberto Villamin and Senandro Jalgalado.

The Comelec en banc promulgated on May 9, 2019, a resolution disqualifying the third-termer governor from running in the May election. The next day, May 10, a petition for certiorari with prayer for TRO/SQAO (status quo ante order) was filed by his lawyer. On the same day, an SQAO was issued by then Chief Justice Lucas P. Bersamin stopping his disqualification.

A Sept. 16 news report quoted the lawyer of Jalgalado as saying the SC ruling that allowed three-termer Tallado to run again despite his disqualification by the Comelec “sets a dangerous precedent.”

The report said Tallado insisted that his term was interrupted when he was suspended and eventually dismissed by the Office of the Ombudsman for “misconduct, oppression and abuse of authority”. The SC agreed with him.

Since Sept. 12, 2019, when the SC announced the 8-6 decision in favor of Tallado, several parties have been waiting for a copy of the ruling so they could file a motion for reconsideration.

In a motion filed Tuesday, Villamin asked through his counsel led by election lawyer Romulo Macalintal why it took just a few hours for the SC to issue an SQAO while it took some three months for the Court to release a copy of the alleged promulgated decision.

He asked the SC to look into the flow of paperwork and verify if the decision supposedly rendered on Sept. 10 was signed before or after the retirement of Bersamin the ponente (on Oct. 18) and justices Francis Jardeleza (Sept. 26) and Antonio Carpio (Oct. 26).

If it was signed after their retirement, Villamin said that was irregular as they were no longer members of the Court, and the new justices replacing them should have taken their places to participate in the re-agenda of the case.

He expressed fear that SC Internal Rules could have been violated in its “decision-making process” — which could have also violated his constitutional and substantive rights to due process, making the decision null and void.

As early as Sept. 12, 2019, he noted, the media quoted a report posted on the SC website that the Court voting 8-6 has resolved to grant Tallado’s petition to reverse the Comelec’s resolution canceling his certificate of candidacy for governor.

Noting the news, Villamin’s counsel went to the SC Clerk of Court on Sept. 13, 2019, to secure a copy of the decision — only to be told that that office has not yet received a copy.

From September to December 2019, or for three months since the release of the alleged decision on Sept. 12, regular verbal follow-ups were made with the Clerk of Court, but the same response was given – that it has not yet received a copy.

The SC Internal Rules provides that a decision shall state clearly the facts and the law on which it is based, and bear the signatures of the SC members who took part in the deliberation. The decision is “deemed promulgated on the date it is received and acknowledged by the Clerk of Court from the Office of the Chief Justice or the Division chairperson.”

On Dec. 4, counsel for Villamin sent another follow-up letter to the Clerk of Court inquiring about the decision but was told again that no copy has been received by the office.

On Dec. 19, 2019, Villamin was surprised to learn that a copy of the alleged decision appeared on the SC website – with a note that the decision was supposedly promulgated on Sept. 10, 2019.

This is contrary to the letter received by Villamin on Dec. 23, 2019, from the Clerk of Court dated Dec. 5, 2019 stating that “the Court has yet to release the official copy of the decision which would be sent to the parties once it is promulgated.”

The Internal Rules provide also that upon receipt of a “magnetic or electronic copy” of the promulgated decision from the Office of the Chief Justice, the Management Information System Office (MISO) has the responsibility to “log the date and time of receipt”.

There is a need to inquire from the MISO the date it received a copy of such “magnetic or electronic copy” and the date it was posted on the SC website.

Villamin’s counsel asked: Since it appears that there was actually no promulgated decision as of Dec. 5, 2019, as per the letter of the Clerk of Court, when did the retired justices sign the original copy which is required before it could be validly promulgated as provided under Section 6, Rule 13, of the SC Internal Rules?

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 9, 2020)

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