AT first glance, the decision of the Commission on Elections to grant the Liberal Party’s appeal for a 14-day extension for the filing of its statement of contributions and expenses (SOCE) does not appear like a very big deal.
On closer examination, however, it is an issue fraught with huge implications for the poll body.
Having lost several cases at the Supreme Court, the Comelec now, as a matter of policy, tries to sound very firm and strict whenever it promulgates rules.
It uses words like non-extendible and unappealable.
This is its way of showing some gravitas because its chairman, Commissioner Andres Bautista, does not look like he has an ounce of it.
In the case of the SOCE extension for LP candidates, Comelec has not only failed to show gravitas; it has inexplicably surrendered much of its dignity as a constitutional commission.
Going into the May 9 elections, it announced to all candidates and political parties that it had set to June 8 the deadline for the filing of the SOCE, or 30 days after the elections. And then it said ominously that the deadline was “final and non-extendible.”
In requesting for a two-week extension to file its statement, the LP was clearly counting on the poll body’s assent because it is the administration party.
Adjudicating this issue is not as simple as following the letter of the law and the rules.
Failure to file the SOCE on or before June 8 means that hundreds of winning LP candidates could be barred from assuming their posts because of their party’s failure to file the statement.
When the issue was put to a vote by the Comelec en banc, the poll body, by a vote of four commissioners for and three commissioners against, decided to extend the filing of SOCEs until June 30.
The decision went against the recommendation of the chairman of the Comelec’s Campaign Finance Office, Commissioner Christian Robert Lim.
Lim said Republic Act 7166 clearly provided that the submission of SOCE should be made within 30 days after the elections. He said an amendment of the law was needed for the Comelec to extend the deadline.
He also said that the Omnibus Rules on Campaign Finance provided that the June 8 deadline was “final and non-extendible.”
Joining him in opposing the extension were Chairman Andres Bautista and Commissioner Luie Tito Guia.
The commissioners who voted in favor of granting the extension were Arthur Lim, Al Parreño, Rowena Guanzon, and Sheriff Abas. They cited as justification “the absurdity of the result” if the extension was not allowed.
Christian Robert Lim has resigned from his CFO position on account of the rebuff by his colleagues.
He is asserting a point that is worth defending. The very dignity and authority of the Comelec as elections regulator is at issue here. Either it defends its right to be obeyed by all participants in the electoral process, or the public will see it as being pushed around by the administration.
Losing the legal battle over Grace Poe’s disqualification as a presidential candidate at the Supreme Court was bad enough. To lose on this SOCE issue is too much a loss of face.
Comelec commissioners will each need a thick face to appear in public.