Comelec chief wants stiffer penalties for erring execs
If the Commission on Elections (Comelec) had its way, it prefers that stiffer penalties, including a jail term, be imposed upon elected officials who failed to comply with the law to submit reports on their donors and expenditures during polls.
The poll body on Thursday ordered more than 400 legislative and local officials, including former president and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, to vacate their posts until after they have submitted the appropriate Statement of Election Contributors and Expenditures (SOCE).
The Comelec said the officials either failed to submit a SOCE, failed to personally sign the submitted SOCE, or submitted a signed SOCE that was not in accordance with the prescribed forms.
Challenge to lawmakers
To date, officials who failed to comply with the SOCE filing only faces a minimum of P1,000 administrative fine depending on their positions.
In an interview, Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes challenged lawmakers to make the nonfiling of SOCE a ground for an election offense case, which imposes penalties including imprisonment and perpetual disqualification from holding public office.
“My proposal is for the Congress to bring back the criminal penalties for nonfiling of SOCE so we can send violators to jail and for all elected officials to comply with the law,” Brillantes said.
“The problem is, a lot of elected officials seem to have relaxed and took the process for granted ever since the Congress decriminalized the nonfiling of SOCE during the ’90s. As of now, with the present rules that we have, we can’t send them to jail,” he added.
Asked why the nonfiling of SOCE was decriminalized, the poll chief said: “Malay ko sa kanila. Para siguro ilusot nila yung sarli nila (I’m not sure. Maybe they want to escape the repercussions).”
Some of the elected officials who were asked by the poll body to stay out of office expressed surprise with the Comelec pronouncements, saying they were even given Certificates of Compliance when they filed their SOCEs.
But Brillantes explained that compliance of submission is different from legitimate filing.
“Some of them claimed to have submitted their SOCE, but did they submit the appropriate form? If not, then it is considered not filed at all,” he said.
He also said that while the law did not say that a SOCE should be personally signed by the official, it was stipulated in a Comelec resolution.
“That’s clearly stated in our resolution, that’s equivalent to a law because that’s in implementation of our rule, our authority,” he explained. “Our resolution has long been there and nobody was questioning that, so effectively, that has to be complied with.”
Comelec Commissioner Christian Robert Lim, also the chair of the campaign finance steering committee, in separate letters, asked House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and Interior and Local Government Secretary Mar Roxas to order the officials to step down from their posts.
Job for DILG
“The DILG is supposed to implement this. They are supposed to notify these incumbent officials who have assumed erroneously and tell them to vacate their positions in the meantime that they are complying with the requirements,” Brillantes added.
He said there will be temporary vacancies in the Congressional posts while succession will apply in the executive positions.
But he clarified that the officials who did not comply with the SOCE requirements are not disqualified.
“They are considered not to have validly assumed the office,” Brillantes said.
First posted 7:40 pm | Friday, December 13th, 2013