Belmonte: HRET just as powerful as SC in electoral protest

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The decision of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal on electoral protests is just as powerful as those of the Supreme Court, Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, Jr. said on Wednesday.

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Belmonte, a lawyer, made the stance hours after the High Court issued a decision affirming the Commission on Elections’ ruling disqualifying incumbent Rep. Regina Reyes of Marinduque as a Congressional candidate for the 2013 polls because of Reyes’ alleged American citizenship.

The 1987 Constitution created the HRET and gave it a mandate that it has the sole jurisdiction on cases of electoral protests if the protest was filed after the proclamation of the winner.

The HRET is comprised of selected House members.

“Let’s face it. Siyempre, malakas ang dating ng ganung [desisyon]. (Of course, such decision from the Supreme Court has a lot of weight). The other side is that HRET has taken jurisdiction of the case, and HRET is not a creation of Congress. It derives authority from the Constitution. Malakas rin ang dating nun (HRET’s decisions also have a lot of weight),” Belmonte said in a chance interview.

Reyes’ opponent in the 2013 polls, former Rep. Lord Allan Velasco of Marinduque, is the son of Supreme Court justice Presbitero Velasco. The elder Velasco inhibited himself from the proceedings involving his son.

“HRET is not just about a bunch of people. That is a constitutional body,” Belmonte added.

Belmonte, however, stopped short of saying that the House will unseat Reyes as a consequence of the High Court’s ruling on her disqualification.

“We haven’t got the copy of the decision yet. I can’t make an opinion that binds our 290 members without studying the matter. We have to study it first. If in our view that would be right, then we’ll abide by it,” Belmonte added in closing.

In an earlier interview, Reyes was adamant that she won’t step down from her post because the HRET has an exclusive jurisdiction on the electoral protest against her.

Further, Reyes expressed confidence that her stance will be supported by the House leadership, led by Speaker Belmonte.

“It saddens me. I have expected it with him being a son of Justice Velasco. I have been always warned about that. But it is clear by law that the electoral protest [on lawmakers]is under the sole jurisdiction of the HRET. I am not afraid that I will be unseated. I still believe in respect,” Reyes said.

LLANESCA T. PANTI

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