Business Mirror – PET can annul, or declare failure of elections–SolGen

By Joel R. San Juan | Business Mirror

THE Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) on Tuesday said the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), has the power to annul the result of the last vice presidential elections in three provinces in Mindanao if it can be proven that there were massive irregularities that affected the outcome of the contest between former Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. and Vice President Leni Robredo.

Solicitor General Jose Calida bared his position in his 40-page comment submitted to the SC in compliance with its directive issued last September 29.

In a resolution issued last September, the Court sought the positions of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and the OSG on certain issues related to the thirdcause of action of the election protest filed by Marcos.

Marcos’s protest has three causes of action—annulment of the proclamation of Robredo; recount and revision of ballots in 36,465 protested clustered precincts; and annulment of election results for vice president in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and Basilan on the ground of alleged terrorism, intimidation and harassment of voters as well as pre-shading of ballots in all of the 2,756 protested clustered precincts.

The PET has dismissed Marcos’s first cause of action for being “meaningless and pointless.”

On the other hand, the PET decided to release the committee report on the revision and recount of ballots on the three pilot provinces—Iloilo, Negros Oriental and Camarines Sur —involving 5,415 precincts.

At the same time, the PET shifted its focus on the third of action after it ordered the opposing parties to submit their respective memoranda on the issues raised therein.

Furthermore, both the Comelec and the OSG were further directed to comment on whether the tribunal is empowered by the Constitution to declare the annulment of elections without special election and declare failure of elections and order the conduct of special elections.

It also asked the Comelec and OSG to comment whether the tribunal’s declaration of failure of elections and then the ordering of special elections, will infringe upon the Comelec’s mandate and power provided for in Article IX (C) (Section 2) of the Constitution.

Calida said that while the PET has the power to annul elections, or declare a failure of elections, it has no power to order the conduct of special elections.

He noted that the PET’s power to declare the annulment of elections, or a failure of election, is provided in Section 4 (7), Article VII of the 1987 Constitution.

Jurisprudence, according to Calida, has also established and recognized PET ’s sole and exclusive power to hear election protests involving the President and Vice President.

Likewise, Calida said the PET is allowed by the Constitution to promulgate its rules, issues subpoena, take depositions, issue order to arrest witnesses to compel their appearance, production of documents and other evidence for the purpose of deciding election contests.

On the other hand, Calida said the power of PET to declare a failure of elections is also implied in its mandate under the Constitution as the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns and qualifications of the President or Vice President to the exclusion of others.

However, Calida said the PET does not have the power to call for special elections.

He noted that the Constitution is silent as to whether the PET has the power to order the conduct of special elections after annulling an election or declaring a failure of election.

Section 4 (7), Article VII of the 1987 Constitution, according to Calida, limit the jurisdiction of the PET to contests relating to the elections of the President and Vice President.

“It would be thus fair to conclude that the jurisdiction of the PET, as defined by Section 4[7], Article VII of the 1987 Constitution, would not include the power to call for special elections. The reason is obvious: what if the losing candidate in such special elections will again question the result of the elections? It will be a vicious and never-ending cycle,” Calida said.

On the authority of the Comelec to order the conduct of special elections, the Solicitor General pointed out that the Omnibus Election Code dees not give the poll body the power to conduct any special election in cases of vacancy in the presidential or vice presidential seats.

Calida said the Constitution merely mentions regular elections insofar as the election of the President and Vice President is concerned.

He explained that Section 14 of the Omnibus Election Code on Special Election for President and Vice President has been amended, or superseded by Section 10, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution.

The provision, he said, speaks of special elections in the event of vacancy in the offices of the President and Vice President that will be called by Congress.

Section 4 (7), Article VII of the 1987 Constitution, according to Calida, limit the jurisdiction of the PET to contests relating to the elections of the President and Vice President.

“It would be thus fair to conclude that the jurisdiction of the PET, as defined by Section 4[7], Article VII of the 1987 Constitution, would not include the power to call for special elections. The reason is obvious: what if the losing candidate in such special elections will again question the result of the elections? It will be a vicious and never-ending cycle,” Calida said.

On the authority of the Comelec to order the conduct of special elections, the Solicitor General pointed out that the Omnibus Election Code dees not give the poll body the power to conduct any special election in cases of vacancy in the presidential or vice presidential seats.

Calida said the Constitution merely mentions regular elections insofar as the election of the President and Vice President is concerned.

He explained that Section 14 of the Omnibus Election Code on Special Election for President and Vice President has been amended, or superseded by Section 10, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution.

The provision, he said, speaks of special elections in the event of vacancy in the offices of the President and Vice President that will be called by Congress.

“In the case at bar, it is indubitable that even if the votes cast in the provinces of Maguindanao, Lanao del Sur and Basilan are declared null and void, there is no failure of election to speak of. On the contrary, the ultimate winner, or the one with the majority [or plurality] of the valid votes, is easily determinable,” Calida said.

“All told, it is respectfully submitted that the Honorable Tribunal has the power to declare the annulment of elections or a failure of elections without infringing upon the Comelec’s authority, but it has no concomitant power to order the conduct of special elections,” he added.

Marcos filed an election protest on June 29, 2016, claiming that the camp of Robredo cheated in the automated polls in May also year.

The Comelec declared Robredo as the winner in the vice presidential race in the 2016 election after she got 14,418,817 votes, which is 263,473 votes more than the 14,155,344 votes received by Marcos.

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