|VOLLEYING BATTLE. For two years, the Marinduque’s Congressional
seat had been fought for by former Representative Llord Allan Velasco
and incumbent Representative Regina Reyes | Photo: Rappler
MANILA, Philippines – Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr said the House leadership is still studying whether to allow Lord Allan Jay Velasco to take oath as Marinduque congressman, as recently ordered by the Supreme Court (SC).
Velasco, son of SC Justice Presbitero Velasco, filed a petition for mandamus before the High Court in February 2014 after the House Electoral Tribunal (HRET) did not recognize him as Marinduque representative. He was contesting the position of congresswoman Regina Ongsiako Reyes.
This is the second time an order comes from the High Court to have Velasco installed as congressman. Belmonte had not implemented the first one, issued in 2013.
On January 11, the SC granted Velasco’s petition with a vote of 8-1, ordering Speaker Belmonte to let Velasco take his oath and be included in the roster of House members and replace the incumbent.
The House of Representatives received the decision only on Monday, January 18, and Belmonte said they “are still studying” the SC’s order.
According to the ruling, the Commission on Elections had already cancelled Reyes’ certificate of candidacy (COC) by the time she took oath as congresswoman. The SC also stressed that it upheld Comelec’s decision as “final and executory” in two resolutions issued June 25 and October 22, 2013.
Thus, the ruling said, “Comelec in SPC No. 13-010 cancelled respondent Reyes’ proclamation and, in turn, proclaimed Velasco as the duly elected member of the House of Representatives.”
“When Reyes took her oath of office before respondent Speaker Belmonte Jr in open session, Reyes had no valid COC nor a valid proclamation,” it continued.
Like Grace Poe?
Lawyer Harry Roque refuted the SC ruling to unseat Reyes, saying that his client’s case must first be settled by the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET).
“They should not have decided on Velasco’s petition because there is still no final decision from the HRET,” Roque said in Filipino on Wednesday, January 20.
Roque likened Reyes’ case to the disqualification case against presidential candidate Senator Grace Poe.
Both lawmakers have been questioned about their American citizenship. Roque noted that in Poe’s case, the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) first decided on Rizalito David’s petition to disqualify her before he elevated the case to the SC.
“Pareho naman ang issue ni [Representative] Reyes at Grace Poe. Pilipino naman ang mga magulang ni Reyes,” Roque said. (The issue of Representative Reyes and Grace Poe are the same. Reyes’ parents are both Filipinos.)
HRET decision: ‘Void’Roque said the HRET released a decision on December 14, 2015, with a 4-3 vote favoring Velasco.
But Reyes’ camp contested the HRET ruling, claiming that one of the votes favoring Velasco should not have been counted. That vote was cast by Gabriela Representative Luzviminda Ilagan, who, they said, should have been considered resigned by then.
Roque argued that when Ilagan filed her certificate of candidacy (COC) on October 12, 2015, to run for Davao City councilor, she forfeited her seat as a party-list representative.
“Our contention is that the vote of [the] HRET without Ilagan is 3-3,” Roque said.
Ilagan denied that she should be considered resigned as a party-list representative. The rule that Roque cited, she said, is only applicable to party-list representatives shifting political affiliation or sectoral representation.
“I’m not running for party-list representative; I’m running for a councilor. So it doesn’t apply to me because I’m not changing my party list [organization] nor I am transferring to another sector. I’m just going to run for a different position,” Ilagan said.
“Gabriela has not replaced me. I’m still representing Gabriela and finishing my term,” she added.
Reyes, daughter of Marinduque Governor Carmencita Reyes, defeated Velasco in his bid for re-election in 2013 by around 4,000 votes.
However, a day after election day, on May 14, 2013, the Comelec en banc ruled to disqualify her for being a naturalized American citizen based on a blog post by a certain Eli Obligacion.
Reyes contested Comelec’s decision, accusing it of grave abuse of discretion when it used Obligacion’s article as evidence. She said she had always been a natural-born Filipino and only acquired American citizenship by virtue of marriage.
Reyes also questioned the Comelec’s jurisdiction over her case since she had been “a duly-elected member of the House of Representatives,” thus making the HRET the “sole judge” of all her electoral issues.
She elevated the case to the High Court, but on June 25, 2013, the court upheld the Comelec’s decision, voting 7-4 against Reyes.
The winning opinion also ruled that the HRET’s jurisdiction over electoral protests applies only after a winning candidate had assumed office on June 30. (READ: Poll protests: Is the Supreme Court clipping HRET’s powers?)
Less than a month after the SC released its decision, Reyes asked the SC to reconsider her case, especially since she believed that SC Associate Justice Velasco, father of Lord Allan, influenced the court’s decision that favored his son.
Justice Velasco and justices Jose Catral Mendoza and Estela Bernabe inhibited themselves from the case, however.
HRET contended that a congressional candidate becomes a member of the House after the canvassing board declares him or her a winner.
In October 2013, the High Court dismissed Reyes’ 2nd petition, voting by 7-4-3.
Despite the SC ruling, the HRET and Belmonte refused to install Velasco as a member of the House.