By ALFRED GABOT
Editor in Chief
MANILA — Two petitions, one by so-called victims of martial law, seeking to stop Congress from canvassing votes for president and the cancellation of the candidacy of presumptive president Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. have been filed before the Supreme Court.
The Senate and the House of Representatives which sit jointly as the National Board of Canvassers for the president and vice president, meanwhile, appeared undisturbed by the petitions, as they scheduled the canvassing of votes for president and vice president on May 24 starting at 2 p.m. to May 25 to May 27 at 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Under the Philippine Constitution, the election returns for president and vice president duly certified by the local board of canvassers of each province and city shall be transmitted to Congress for canvassing. (See related stories)
In reaction to the petitions, the Comelec said it is ready to follow orders from the Supreme Court in connection with the petitions to stop Congress, sitting as the National Board of Canvassers (NBOC), from counting the votes of Marcos Jr. in the May 9 polls.
“The Comelec will always abide by any notice and decision of the highest court of the land,” said Acting Comelec Spokesman John Rex Laudiangco.
Comelec Commissioner George Garcia said it is the right of the petitioners to seek relief by elevating the case to the High Tribunal.
“This is within their rights to seek redress to the High Court of something they believe is a valid justiciable controversy,” he said.
The camp of Mr. Marcos, through lawyer Vic Rodriguez, shrugged off the petitions and appealed to groups behind the failed presidential run of Vice President Maria Leonor Leni Robredo to respect the landslide win handed by over 31 million Filipinos to Marcos.
Rodriguez said they are confident that the “processes will uphold the overwhelming mandate that president-elect Bongbong Marcos has earned in the elections.”
“It is understandable for petitioners to want to exhaust all their remedies under the law, regardless of the dim chances of success,” said Rodriguez, Marcos’ spokesperson, in a statement. “We live in a democracy and they enjoy rights under the constitution, including an appeal or to seek a restraining order.”
The camp of Marcos later said it is seeking the dismissal of disqualification cases against him before the Supreme Court.
This as the high court has ordered Marcos Jr, the Commission on Elections, the Senate and the House of Representatives to comment within 15 days on a petition for certiorari filed by a group of civic leaders which seeks to overturn the ruling of the Comelec junking their plea to cancel Marcos’ certificate of candidacy.
“A comment is required to be filed on the petition. Therefore in the comment we will be asking for the dismissal of the petition,” said Marcos lawyer Estelito Mendoza.
“The issue of disqualification was ruled upon by a Comelec division, later on it was ruled upon Comelec en banc, so there are already 2 rulings confirming the qualification of Bongbong Marcos,” said Mendoza as he pointed out that the High Court has no jurisdiction to issue a TRO to halt the canvassing of votes and Marcos’ proclamation.
As of this writing, the High Tribunal has not issued a TRO, thus denying the prayer of the petitioners.
The Supreme Court cannot stop the canvassing of votes and the proclamation of winners in the presidential and vice presidential race, Marcos said in an answer to the high court order for him and other parties to comment on the petitions.
Earlier, Senate President Vicente Sotto III and Senate minority leader Franklin Drilon said the High Court cannot stop Congress from doing its constitutional mandate to canvass the votes for president and vice president and proclaim the winners, adding a constitutional crisis would be set off if the petitions will be given due course.
Citing various constitutional provisions, Marcos Jr., through Mendoza, said the language and intent of the provisions show they are “mandatory and the Supreme Court is without jurisdiction to prevent their implementation.”
Among constitutional provisions Marcos cited are the provisions on judicial review under section 1 of Article VIII of Constitution and an Article VII provision mandating that the president and vice president’s 6-year term starts on June 30 at 12 noon and ends on June 30 at 12 noon, six years later.
In their petition for certiorari, the petitioners said that due to Marcos’ material misrepresentations in his certificate of candidacy, the SC must cancel or deny due course his COC declaring the same void ab initio. The issue has been decided by the Commission on Elections in favour of Marcos.
Among the petitioners were Fr. Christian Buenafe, Fides Lim, Ma. Edeliza Hernandez, Celia Lagman Sevilla, Roland Vibal, and Josephine Lascano.
In the petition of the Campaign Against the Return of the Marcoses and Martial Law, the petitioners pleaded to reverse the Comelec’s decision dismissing the petitions to disqualify Marcos from the presidential race.
The group noted that the son of the late President Marcos failed to file his income tax returns during his four-year stint as vice governor and governor of Ilocos Norte from 1982 to 1985.
“This case has been resolved unanimously by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) at the division and en banc levels. The petition was dismissed and the decision was unanimous,” Rodriguez said during a press conference at their headquarters in Mandaluyong.
“I appeal to those who keep on pursuing this divisiveness, the Filipino people have already spoken and the overwhelming majority have voted for President-elect Bongbong Marcos and Vice President-elect Inday Sara Duterte,” Rodriguez said.
“Instead of pushing your agenda of animosity, help us with our limited time in a day — 24 hours — to be productive and to learn to respect the will of the people,” he added.
Aside from nullifying the candidacy of Marcos Jr., the groups allied with Robredo wanted the High Court to declare Robredo as the winner in the elections as indicated in their petition.
Pending a final SC decision on the validity of Marcos Jr.’s CoC, the petitioners also asked the High Court to issue a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Congress convening to canvass the votes for President and Vice President.
Rodriguez said they have yet to receive a copy of the 70-page petition filed by the martial law survivors group represented by lawyer and former SC spokesperson Theodore Te.
Te’s group said nullifying the CoC of Marcos Jr. would make Robredo the winner. “The second-placer in the vote count (Robredo) is actually the first-placer among the qualified candidates,” the petitioners claimed.
Observers claimed the group expressed no qualms in wanting to supplant the will of the 31 million Filipinos who made Marcos Jr. the first majority-elected president since 1986 with their own or those of the appointed members of the SC.
Robredo’s lawyer in the 2016 VP electoral protest filed against her by Marcos Jr. insisted the SC can overturn the will of the electorate.
“Even if Marcos has already been sworn and assumed office, the Supreme Court would still have residual jurisdiction to rule on whether or not he committed material misrepresentation in his CoC and order its cancellation if it finds basis,” Emil Marañón said.
“In that case, votes cast in Marcos’ favor will be treated as stray and not be counted. And whoever gets the highest number of votes after subtracting the stray votes, gets to be proclaimed President,” Marañón added.
The petition echoed the position of Robredo’s lawyer when it said: “A candidate’s putative election victory cannot subsequently cure his ineligibility. Elections are more than just a numbers game such that an election victory cannot bypass election eligibility requirements.”
The petition was described by some as a mere rehash of their position junked by the Comelec — that Marcos Jr.’s conviction for his alleged failure to file income tax returns in 1997 has made him ineligible to run for public office.
In dismissing the case, the Comelec said that the tax applicable at the time did not perpetually disqualify Marcos Jr. from holding public office. As such, the Comelec said Marcos did not misrepresent in his CoC his eligibility, contrary to the claim of Te’s group.
Based on the partial, unofficial results count as of May 13, Marcos posted an unassailable lead, garnering 31.1 million votes while his rival, Vice President Robredo, is trailing with 14.8 million votes.
A total of 55,197,306 votes out of the 67,442,616 registered voters have already come in as of posting. A total of 98.35 percent of the election returns have been processed so far.
Last week, the Comelec en banc affirmed the resolution of the poll body’s Second Division’s resolution that junked the petition filed by Buenafe to cancel Marcos’ COC.
Similar to the ruling on the disqualification cases, the Comelec en banc said the petitioners failed to raise new matters or issues that would warrant the reversal of the former Comelec Second Division’s ruling.
Comelec Commissioner George Garcia earlier said under Comelec rules, winning candidates for the 2022 elections who have pending disqualification cases could still be proclaimed without a final decision that would prohibit the poll body to do so and if there is nothing to prevent them from being proclaimed.