SC unseats Surigao’s Pichay

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The Supreme Court (SC) has ruled with finality to dismiss from office Rep. Philip Pichay and installed Rep. Mary Elizabeth Ty-Delgado in the seat for the First Legislative District of Surigao del Sur.

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The order came after the high court dismissed the motion for reconsideration filed by Pichay on its ruling reversing the findings of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET), saying that the issues raised by Pichay have no new arguments to counter their earlier ruling.

The HRET has ruled that Pichay had no hand in writing libelous publications in which he was convicted, along with other respondents, and that his conviction was not for a crime involving moral turpitude.

The Resolution was signed and promulgated by lawyer Felipa Anama, Clerk of Court of the SC en banc, dated February 16, 2016 but released only recently.

Eleven justices voted for the reversal, except Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr., Diosdado Peralta, and Lucas Bersamin who took no part being members of HRET.

Earlier, Delgado sued to disqualify Pichay on the ground, among others, that the latter had been convicted of four counts of libel, a crime involving moral turpitude and that only two years had lapsed since he served his sentence and paid the fine on February 17, 2011 when he filed his certificate of candidacy (COC) in 2012.

Delgado pointed out that when Pichay paid the fine, the five-year period barring him to be a candidate had yet to lapse.

Pichay admitted the libel convictions but claimed that libel was not a crime involving moral turpitude and that he did not perform the acts that constituted libel pointing out that his liability arose only out of his being the publisher.

The Court defined moral turpitude as “everything which is done contrary to justice, modesty, or good morals; an act of baseness, vileness or depravity in the private and social duties which a man owes to his fellowmen, or to society in general. Although not every criminal act involves moral turpitude, the Court is guided by one of the general rules that crimes mala in se involve moral turpitude while crimes mala prohibita do not.

In view of his conviction for libel respondent Pichay is disqualified under Section 12 of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC).”

Paragraph 2 provides a five-year period from service after which the disqualification is deemed removed. Respondent Pichay served his sentence when he paid the fine on February 17, 2011 and the five-year period ends only on February 16, 2016. Thus, as of the date of filing of COC and the election, he remained disqualified.

In addition, the SC found that the HRET committed grave abuse of discretion when it failed to disqualify respondent Pichay for his conviction for libel, a crime involving moral turpitude.

“Since Pichay’s ineligibility existed on the day he filed his certificate of candidacy, he was never a valid candidate for the position and his votes are considered stray votes. Thus, the qualified candidate for the position of Member of the House for the First Legislative District for Surigao del Sur who received the highest number of valid votes shall be declared the winner. Based on the Provincial Canvass Report, that person is petitioner Delgado,” it said.

Pichay was proclaimed as duly-elected Member of the House of Representatives for the First Legislative District of Surigao del Sur obtaining a total of 76,870 votes.

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