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Palace hands off SC-Congress tiff

/ 07:38 AM January 09, 2014

MANILA, Philippines—Malacañang doesn’t want to be caught in the crossfire of an electoral and jurisdictional dispute that is pitting the judiciary against the legislature.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda. FILE PHOTO

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda on Wednesday said that President Aquino would not “interfere” in the conflict over the results of last year’s congressional elections in Marinduque involving opposing candidates Lord Alan Velasco, a son of Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr., and Regina Ongsiaco-Reyes, who has been recognized as the winning candidate by the House of Representatives.

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“This is an issue over jurisdiction between two separate and independent branches of government—the legislature and the judiciary. It is not proper for the Executive to interfere,” Lacierda said in a text message, quoting Budget Secretary Florencio Abad, a senior leader of the ruling Liberal Party (LP).

The Commission on Elections, which initially proclaimed Reyes as the winner of the elections, later reversed itself and disqualified her because of questions about her citizenship and residency.

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Upholding Comelec

The Supreme Court upheld the Comelec decision. However, 169 House members led by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte signed a resolution to defy the high court and stand by Reyes—who has since produced a passport ostensibly proving her Filipino citizenship—arguing that she had been proclaimed the winner before the high court intervened.

Many of the signatories of the resolution were LP members but Lacierda, again quoting Abad, said that this was “just incidental.”

Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said it would not be proper for Malacañang to take sides in a conflict between two other branches of government.

“We would like to see this matter resolved in accordance with law and the national interest,” said Coloma in a phone interview.

Some 58 percent of the 289 House members supported House Resolution 597 “reiterating adherence to the time-honored principle on the exclusivity of jurisdiction of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal over all contests relating to the election, returns and qualifications of its members to preserve the integrity, dignity and reputation of the House of Representatives and its members.”

Oriental Mindoro Rep. Rey Umali, the author of the resolution, said the “robust support” for it showed that the lawmakers were prepared to stand up to the “bullying” of the Supreme Court.

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“I believe that our members have had enough of the Supreme Court’s bullying. This time, they have overstepped their jurisdiction. We will defy them and not honor their decision,” Umali said in a phone interview.

‘Despots’

Umali went to the extent of calling the justices “despots” who should “get down from their high chair and respect their coequals in government.”

“This is a clear show of force on our part. Please, don’t force it,” said Umali, presumably addressing the high court justices.

It was Umali who gave a privilege speech last December attacking the high court’s “undue interference” in election-related issues. It was Reyes herself who brought the case to the high court after the Comelec disqualified her.

Reyes, daughter of Marinduque Gov. Carmencita Reyes, defeated the younger Velasco in the May midterm elections by a margin of 3,800 votes, paving the way for her early proclamation as representative of the lone district of Marinduque.

After the Supreme Court rejected with finality Reyes’ appeal for the high court to reverse its ruling upholding the Comelec decision to disqualify her, Velasco formally requested Belmonte to expel her from the House.

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TAGS: Congress, electoral issue, Judiciary, jurisdictional dispute, legislature, Lord Alan Velasco, Malacañang, Marinduque, Philippines, Regina Ongsiaco-Reyes, SC-Congress tiff, Supreme Court (SC)
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