Marinduque Rep. Regina Ongsiako-Reyes on Wednesday asked the Supreme Court to remove three of its justices from the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) due to conflict if interest.
In a 23-page petition, Reyes said the three magistrates that should be disqualified from being members of the HRET are Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Lucas Bersamin and Diosdado Peralta.
Velasco chairs the HRET but has since inhibited from participating in the pending case against Reyes because his son Lord Allan is the petitioner in the HRET case. Lord Allan, who went up against Reyes in the May 2013 congressional polls in Marinduque, is contesting Reyes’ victory over issues on her nationality.
In her petition, however, Reyes said Velasco’s “continued stay (as a member of) the HRET in relation to his son’s case has become untenable.”
“There has never occurred an equivalent incident in the entire history of the Supreme Court — or in any other Philippine governmental body for that matter — where a son’s desire to be awarded a Congressional seat would depend on a body headed by his own Justice-Father,” Reyes said in her plea.
“The Supreme Court runs the risk of incurring historical infamy if it ignores this unprecedented scenario and contents itself with a complacent and run-of-the-mill inhibition by the Justice-Father from the case, even if said Justice/Father/HRET-Head still retains administrative control and moral suasion, and enjoys collegial camaraderie in the HRET,” she added.
Reyes said that even if Velasco has already inhibited from the HRET case, HRET members are still “not hampered from continuing their interactions with Justice Velasco in other pending HRET cases and administrative issues (and are) not thereby shielded from his influence,” she added.
Like Velasco, Reyes said Bersamin should also be removed from the HRET because both of the justices come from political families, meaning “their job as part of the HRET is now hampered by questions about their impartiality to a political contest.”
Justice Velasco’s wife is a representative of a party-list group while Lord Allan ran against Reyes.
Bersamin, meanwhile, comes from a family of Abra politicians, Rep. Reyes said, adding that he had likewise prejudged her case by voting with the majority in the separate petition filed by Velasco’s son before the Supreme Court which ruled in his favor.
“Like Caesar’s wife, a judge must not only be pure but above suspicion,” said Reyes. “A judge’s private as well as official conduct must at all times be free from all appearances of impropriety, and be beyond reproach.”
As for Justice Peralta, Reyes said “there are indications that he is equally guilty of failing to appear impartial.”
Reyes requested the SC to transfer Justice Velasco to the Senate Electoral Tribunal and to designate Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio in his place.
She also asked that Justices Bersamin and Peralta be substituted by other justices “who do not suffer from the same entanglements.”
In its original ruling, the SC magistrates voted 7-4-3 to dismiss a petition for certiorari filed by Reyes, contesting her disqualification by the Commission on Elections.
The high court ruled the Comelec did not exercise grave abuse of discretion when it disqualified Reyes for being an American citizen.
Reyes was still able to participate in the May 13 mid-term elections because at the time, her disqualification was not yet final.
The following day, on May 14, the poll body – in a four-page resolution – junked Reyes’ motion for reconsideration, rendering her disqualification final.
Reyes’ camp ended up filing a motion for reconsideration twice.
In disqualifying Reyes, the Comelec en banc ordered the Provincial Board of Canvassers (PBOC) of Marinduque to proclaim Lord Allan Jay Velasco, son of SC Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco, as the winning representative in the province’s lone district.
The older Velasco has since inhibited himself from the case.
“The May 18 proclamation of the respondent, Regina Ongsiako Reyes, is declared null and void and without any legal force and effect,” the Comelec said.
Voting 5-2, the Comelec en banc said Reyes lacked the one-year residency required for an elected official. In March, the Comelec First Division canceled her certificate of candidacy on the grounds that she is an American citizen.
Reyes had repeatedly denied that she’s an American citizen. She also accused her rival’s father, Justice Velasco, of wielding his influence following a high court ruling favoring Reyes’ earlier disqualification by the Comelec.
Reyes ended up still being proclaimed as the winning candidate and took her oath after that. Lord Allan tried contesting this, but the Comelec junked his plea, saying the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) has already acquired jurisdiction over the case.