There’s a twist in the continuing Marinduque drama involving elected Rep. Regina O. Reyes and defeated candidate Lord Allan Velasco. While the Supreme Court decided 5-4 to uphold an earlier resolution of the Commission on Elections annulling the certificate of candidacy of Reyes on the basis of a blog entry that she is an American, at least 161 members of the House of Representatives signed a resolution recognizing the jurisdiction of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal to act as the sole judge of the qualification of Rep. Reyes to sit as a member of the House.
Previously, the Supreme Court, in what Justice Arturo Brion described as done with “undue haste to benefit one of us” (Lord Allan is the son of Senior Associate Justice Presbiterio Velasco) affirmed the decision of the Comelec despite the fact that during the pendency of the petition for annulment, Rep. Reyes had already been proclaimed, sworn, and had discharged her functions as a member of the House. The decision of the Court, according to at least four dissenting justices, overturned a long line of jurisprudence that upon proclamation, the HRET remains the sole judge of all contests involving members of the House of Representatives. Worse, as observed by Senior Justice Antonio Carpio, the ruling in Reyes had the effect of amending the Constitution on when the term of the members of Congress commence. For while the Constitution specifies noon of June 30, the majority decision in Reyes said that members of Congress do not commence their term until they have taken their oath before either the Speaker of the House or the President of the Senate. As observed by the dissenting opinions, this would mean that members of Congress have no mandate from noon of June 30 until the day of the State of the Nation address or the third Monday of July which is when both houses of Congress organize and where the head of each chamber administer the oath to its members.
Solita Monsod was right. This is a case where the Court by edict declared a loser as the winner contrary to the mandate of the sovereign people of Marinduque.
But two obstacles still stand in the way of the Velascos. First, the son of the god erred in not impleading the House of Representatives in the cases filed against Reyes. This means that while Velasco may have won the support of his father’s peers, that decision is not binding on the House. Moreover, the bigger challenge now is how the House can recognize Velasco as one of its members when an overwhelming number of its members have decided to ignore the ruling of the Court. They have signified their decision to allow the HRET to decide the issue of Rep. Reyes’ qualification to sit in the chamber.
This turn of events is unprecedented. Never before has there been an instance when the Court intruded on an exclusive power of the House, and never before has Congress rebuffed the Court in the manner that it has just done so. As a believer in the view that law forms part of a normative system and is not just the cold application of rules, one cannot help but wonder whether the Court itself undermined its own independence and effectiveness by ruling in the manner that it did in Reyes v. Comelec. I am of the personal belief that the criticism expressed by the dissenting justices has eroded the reputation and integrity of the Court itself. It does not help that in the end, a mere five justices out of 15 voted to favor the son of one of its own.
So are we now facing a constitutional crisis? I do not think so. The fact that Velasco did not implead the House as a party to his cases made this a certainty. But we do have a crisis at the moment. For while the court is believed to be a co-equal branch because of its function to uphold the supremacy of the Constitution, what happens when a co-equal branch, applying a long line of jurisprudence set by the court itself, interprets the Constitution in a manner contrary to that of the court?
Well, this is yet another instance of a political decision taking precedence over jurisprudence of a court without a popular mandate. And as former Chief Justice Renato Corona and Former Ombudsman Merceditas Gutierrez learned in recent years, a political judgment often results in a political decision to impeach even the gods for the sake of upholding the Constitution.
May history repeat itself sooner rather than later!
Disclosure: I stood as counsel for Reyes in the afore-discussed case.