The Manila Times : Comelec has jurisdiction over intra-party disputes, says lawyer

By William Depasupil | The Manila Times

A prominent election lawyer has said that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) may take cognizance of the raging intra-party dispute within the administration's PDP-Laban party to avoid confusion.

Manuelito Luna said that only the Comelec has the competence to settle intra-party controversies as a last recourse if the PDP-Laban top officials would not be able to settle their differences.

"Comelec has jurisdiction over intra-party disputes and issues. That's in the Election Law. Only Comelec has competence to rule on the matter," he added.

"As an election lawyer for 20 years, I have come across similar cases before," Luna further said.

Luna served as lawyer for the disqualification case filed by former senator and information secretary Francisco Tatad against Sen. Grace Poe when she ran for president in 2016.

He was also counsel for Rizalito David, one of the four petitioners seeking the disqualification of then presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte.

On February 3, 2016, the Comelec First Division, by a vote of 3-0, dismissed all four petitions for disqualification filed against Duterte for lack of merit.

Luna cited as an example the 2010 case of Atienza vs Comelec where it was expressly settled that the Comelec possesses the authority to resolve intra-party disputes as a necessary tributary of its constitutionally mandated power to enforce election laws and register political parties.

In said case, docketed as G.R. No. 188920, petitioners Jose Atienza Jr., Matias Defensor Jr., Rodolfo Valencia, Danilo Suarez, Solomon Chungalao, Salvacio Zaldivar-Perez and Eleazar Quinto questioned their expulsion from the Liberal Party and assailed the validity of the election of new party leaders conducted by respondents Comelec, Manuel Roxas 2nd, Franklin Drilon and J.R. Nereus Acosta.

On July 5, 2005, Drilon, as erstwhile president of the LP, announced his party's withdrawal of support for the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. But petitioner Atienza, LP chairman, and a number of party members denounced Drilon's move, claiming that he made the announcement without consulting his party.

On March 2, 2006, Atienza hosted a party conference to supposedly discuss local autonomy and party matters but, when convened, the assembly proceeded to declare all positions in the LP's ruling body vacant and elected new officers, with Atienza as LP president. Drilon immediately filed a petition with the Comelec to nullify the elections. He claimed that it was illegal considering that the party's electing bodies, the National Executive Council (NECO) and the National Political Council (NAPOLCO), were not properly convened.

Drilon also claimed that under the amended LP Constitution,2 party officers were elected to a fixed three-year term that was yet to end on Nov. 30, 2007.

Petitioner Atienza claimed that the majority of the LP's NECO and NAPOLCO attended the March 2, 2006 assembly. He argued that the election of new officers on that occasion could be likened to "people power," wherein the LP majority removed respondent Drilon as president by direct action.

On October 13, 2006, the Comelec issued a resolution partially granting Drilon's petition. It annulled the March 2, 2006 elections and ordered the holding of a new election under Comelec supervision.

It held that the election of petitioner Atienza and the others with him was invalid since the electing assembly did not convene in accordance with the Salonga Constitution. But, since the amendments to the Salonga Constitution had not been properly ratified, Drilon's term may be deemed to have ended. Thus, he held the position of LP president in a holdover capacity until new officers were elected.

Both sides brought their case to the Supreme Court (SC) to challenge the Comelec rulings. On April 17, 2007 athe Court issued a resolution, granting Drilon's petition and denying that of Atienza. The Court held that the Comelec had jurisdiction over the intra-party leadership dispute; that the Salonga Constitution had been validly amended; and that, as a consequence, respondent Drilon's term as LP president was to end only on Nov. 30, 2007.