‘Erroneous’ TRO puts Sereno in a bind

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OOPS! She did it again.

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Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno has been criticized by her colleagues for issuing an “erroneous” temporary restraining order (TRO) that prohibits the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from proclaiming winning party-list groups.

Several magistrates of the High Court, in separate interviews with The Manila Times, assailed the TRO and vowed to question it when the en banc session resumes on June 4.

They said Sereno tampered with the original draft of Associ­ate Jus­tice Teresita Leonardo-De Castro, the ponente. She then released the order without consulting the en banc.

“Sereno messed with the draft of Justice De Castro. She should have shown it to us first before releasing to know if we have questions about it,” a justice of the Court who spoke on condition of anonymity said.

Another magistrate said they noticed the erroneous resolution after it was promulgated.

A third magistrate maintained that Sereno cannot issue a blanket TRO stopping the Comelec from doing its duty.

“The problem with her is that she takes matters into her own hands but her actions are wrong,” he said.

Limited
In the original draft of De Castro, the TRO was limited only to the gran­ting of relief to the petitioner, the Coalition of Associations of Senior Citizens in the Philippines, which was disqualified by the Comelec.

Despite its disqualification, the group got nearly 700,000 votes, which qualifies it to two seats in the House of Representatives.

A fourth justice told the Times the core of the resolution must zero in on the granting of the relief to the petitioner.

“Where can you find a petitioner who was not given relief? The purpose of the TRO was to grant relief to the Senior Citizens partylist. What did Sereno do? She issued a blanket order to stop the proclamation,” the justice said.

All four argued agreed that Sereno cannot grant relief to other party-lists that did not petition the High Court.

“Only the petitioner should have been granted relief because it was only the petitioner who came to the SC for help. What Sereno did was extremely wrong,” one magistrate pointed out.

In a three-page resolution issued by Sereno on May 29, the Supreme Court ordered the Comelec not to proclaim the remaining party-list groups vying for the remaining five slots in Congress.

Conjugal property
Also on Thursday, a staunch critic of the Comelec defended the poll body’s decision to
disqualify the Senior Citizens partylist group.

Poll watchdog Kontra Daya convenor Fr. Joe Dizon said there are enough grounds to ban the organization because it is guilty of illegal term-sharing.

“In the case of the Senior Citizens, the Comelec got interested in their case not only because of the term-sharing agreement between Rep. Godofredo Arquiza and Rep. David Kho, who are among the richest party-list congressmen, but also because one of the nominees that Arquiza wants to sit was his wife,” Dizon pointed out.

“Partylist groups cannot be treated as a conjugal property,” he said.

Dizon was referring to the attempt of Kho to resign as member of the House of Representatives in December 2011 to give way to the partylist’s fourth nominee, Remedios Arquiza.

Kontra Daya said it will file a disqualification case against the Senior Citizens party if the Comelec’s decision is overturned by the Supreme Court with finality.

The group said there are other winning partylist groups that have nominees that come from the same family.

Bidding war
Meanwhile, Rep. Walden Bello of the Akbayan partylist said the Comelec runs the risk of being accused of involvement in a bidding war if it is made to decide on partylist groups with multiple sets of nominees.

“The lesson here is that, no matter how difficult, it is really incumbent on a party-list to forge a common slate before the elections instead of fielding two slates because to some extent, it’s unfair to get the Comelec to make the decision which is the legitimate slate. If it is the Comelec who will decide who is the legitimate slate, there will be an impression that Comelec is involved in a bidding war, even if it isn’t,” Bello said in a chance interview.

The Senior Citizens partylist had at least 677,000 votes, which is way beyond the minimum requirement of two percent of the votes cast for party-list group and good for one seat in the House.

Akbayan finished fifth with at least 820,000 votes, retaining its incumbent two seats.

Aside from the Senior Citizens, other party-list groups who have enough votes but are facing a dilemma of two sets of nominees include Ako Bicol Political Party, Trade Union Congress Party, Adhikaing Tinata­guyod ng Kooperatiba, Anak Mindanao Party List, Abakada-Guro and Citizens’ Battle Against Corruption.

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