Supreme Court: Cabinet bets deemed resigned

Supreme Court: Cabinet bets deemed resigned
By Edu Punay
The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Cabinet members running in the May elections should resign from their posts.

The Supreme Court (SC) yesterday reversed its ruling last December, which nullified provisions in election laws stipulating that appointed government officials seeking public office are considered resigned upon filing their certificate of candidacy (COC).

In a ruling penned by Chief Justice Reynato Puno, justices of the High Court voted 10–5 to grant motions of reconsideration on its earlier decision which declared unconstitutional Section 66 of the Omnibus Election

Code and 2nd provision in the 3rd paragraph of Section 13 of Republic Act 9369 (Poll Automation Law) that stipulates that any appointed government official “shall be ipso facto (as a result) resigned upon their filing of COC.”

The SC upheld the argument that appointed officials would have unfair advantage over their rivals because they might use their office resources for their campaign.

“In the case at bar, the probable harm to society in permitting appointive officials to remain in office, even as they actively pursue elective posts, far outweighs the less likely evil of having arguable protected candidacies blocked by the possible inhibitory effect of a potentially overly broad statute,” SC said in the decision.

Concurring with Puno were Associate Justices Conchita Carpio–Morales, Arturo Brion, Diosdado Peralta, Mariano del Castillo, Roberto Abad, Martin Villarama, Jose Perez and Jose Mendoza. Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio concurred in the majority decision, but wrote a separate opinion.

Dissenting from the ruling were Senior Associate Justice Renato Corona and Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura, Presbitero Velasco Jr., Teresita Leonardo–de Castro and Lucas Bersamin.

Nachura, who penned the previous majority ruling, wrote a dissenting opinion.

SC administrator and spokesman Jose Midas Marquez said in a press conference that the ruling may still be appealed, but stressed that the prevailing ruling should be followed for the meantime.

Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, who is running for representative of 1st district of Quezon province, said she would not resign from her post until the SC ruling is declared final and executory.

“As in the past, we always respect the decision of the SC. I don’t expect to stay until the elections. Personally, I’m ready to resign anytime,” she said.

Marquez explained that the reversal of the SC ruling could be attributed to “changes in composition of the Court.”

He said the early retirement of Justice Minita Chico– Nazario, who concurred with the previous majority ruling, and the appointment of Justices Perez and Mendoza, who both concurred with the new ruling are major factors for the reversal of the SC decision on the case.

Justices Brion and Del Castillo, meanwhile, changed their votes. In the earlier ruling, SC justices voted 8–6.

In the earlier ruling, the SC said the ipso facto resignation is discriminatory against persons holding appointive positions.

“In considering persons holding appointive positions as ipso facto resigned from their posts upon the filing of their COCs, but not considering as resigned all other civil servants, specifically the electives ones, the law unduly discriminates against the first class,” the earlier ruling said.

“The fact alone that there is substantial distinction between those who hold appointive positions and those occupying elective posts, does not justify such differential treatment,” the ruling added.

The earlier decision became the basis of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for issuing Resolution 8678, Section 4(a) of which stipulates that any appointed government official “shall be ipso facto resigned upon their filing of COC on or before Dec.1, 2009 for the 2010 elections.”

The new SC ruling was the response to the petition filed by election lawyer Romulo Macalintal who represents Environment Undersecretary Eleazar Quinto and Director Gerino Tolentino.

Quinto and Tolentino sought a temporary restraining order on the implementation of section 4(a) of Resolution 8678 of the Comelec.

Cabinet men to appeal

Macalintal said some cabinet officials affected by the new SC ruling are likely to appeal the decision.

He said, however, that the decision will not affect Mrs. Arroyo, who is an elected official. Mrs. Arroyo is running for a congressional seat in Pampanga.

“I am saddened by such sudden reversal,” Macalintal said in a statement. “We will definitely file a motion for reconsideration of this decision once we received a copy and study the same.”

“The decision is not yet final and executory as we have 15 days to file this motion, hence, appointive officials affected thereof need not have to leave their posts,” he added.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Raul Gonzalez, who is running for Iloilo City mayor, said he would not contest the decision and would resign if President Arroyo asks him to.

“It’s just one month anyway (from the start of the local campaign period). I’m indifferent about this,” Gonzalez said in a telephone interview.

Gonzalez said, however, that he would seek a clarification of the SC decision.

“There are many repercussions. Should one return the salary received from the date of filing? What about the directives the Cabinet official has issued? Or am I considered a de facto Cabinet official?” he said.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who is running for a congressional seat in the first district of Batangas, is still consulting his lawyers.

Macalintal said the ruling discriminates appointed officials.

“But it is very clear that incumbent senators running for president are already out of the field campaigning even before the start of the campaign period practically leaving their jobs as lawmakers. In the case of appointive officials, while they filed their COCs, they remain in their respective offices and cannot campaign without being charged of their official leave credits or being deducted of their salaries,” he said.

“So, who is more in a position to use their positions? Why would the law be selective only on appointive officials, as if they are dishonest and only the elective officials are honest,” he added.

He said the ruling also works against appointed officials who are lone candidates for a position.

“What about if the candidate is the ‘lone candidate’ for the position. He does not have to campaign or undertake partisan political activity, so he cannot be charged thereof as he does not have to campaign but continue performing his appointive position until he is officially proclaimed,” Macalintal said.

Playing field leveled

Liberal Party vice presidential candidate Sen. Manuel Roxas II said the new SC decision has leveled the playing field for all candidates.

“Natutuwa tayo at pinanigan ng Korte Suprema ang karapatan ng bawat Pilipino sa pantay-pantay na pagtrato sa ilalim ng ating mga batas. Mabuti na lang at naituwid ng mga mahistrato ang nauna na nilang maling desisyon (We are happy that the Supreme Court upheld the right of every Filipino to equal treatment under the law. It’s good that the magistrates corrected their earlier erroneous decision),” Roxas said.

He urged cabinet officials affected by the ruling to immediately resign.

He said the Comelec should also ask election field officers running for office to immediately resign.

He said at least five Comelec officers who are still active in service are running in May. He identified them as Orlino Agatep, election officer of Tuguegarao City; Mac Laylay, EO of Kabugao in Apayao; Myrna Bragado, assistant EO of San Emilio in Ilocos Sur; Alfonso Combong III, EO of Hamtic in Antique; and Raymond Ginda, EO of Bonga in Samar.

He said all were re-assigned to the Comelec main office before being deployed to other areas. – with Paolo Romero, Aurea Calica

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