Reference: Professor H. Harry L. Roque, Jr. 09175398096
Marinduque Representative Regina Ongsiako Reyes asked the Supreme Court today to disqualify three justices – Associate Justices Presbitero Velasco, Lucas Bersamin and Diosdado Peralta – from sitting as members of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) where she is facing a string of disqualification cases.
In her 23-page petition filed through her counsel, the Roque and Butuyan Law Offices, Reyes questioned the three justices’ continuing membership in the HRET, citing a conflict of interest on their part.
The HRET, which is chaired by Justice Velasco, is hearing three cases questioning her assumption to office as representative for Marinduque, namely (a) Case No. 13-036 (Quo Warranto), entitled Noeme Mayores Tan & Jeasseca L. Mapacpac v. Regina Ongsiako Reyes; Case No. 130037 (Quo Warranto), entitled Eric D. Junio v. Regina Ongsiako Reye; and a Petition-in-Intervention by Victor Vela Sioco.
If the HRET grants any of the petitions, it will benefit Lord Allan Jay Q. Velasco, Justice Velasco’s son, Rep. Reyes’ political rival whom she beat in the May 2013 elections, earning a comfortable 52,209 votes over the latter’s 48,311 votes.
Under Section 17, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, the Senate and the House of Representatives have an electoral tribunal as the sole judge all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of their respective Members. Each tribunal is composed of nine members, three of whom are justices of the Supreme Court designated by the Chief Justice while the rest are members of the Upper House or the Lower House, as the case may be.
Velasco, being the most senior of the three justices, chairs the HRET but has inhibited himself in the proceedings of the tribunal as well as in the proceedings of the Supreme Court involving his son’s case.
But Reyes said Velasco’s continued stay at the HRET in relation to his son’s case has become untenable.
“There has never occurred an equivalent incident in the entire history of the Supreme Court — or in any other Philippine governmental body for that matter — where a son’s desire to be awarded a Congressional seat would depend on a body headed by his own Justice-Father,” Rep. Reyes said in her 23-page Petition. “ The Supreme Court runs the risk of incurring historical infamy if it ignores this unprecedented scenario and contents itself with a complacent and run-of-the-mill inhibition by the Justice-Father from the case, even if said Justice/Father/HRET-Head still retains administrative control and moral suasion, and enjoys collegial camaraderie in the HRET.”
Reyes questioned the speed with which the HRET took up the Sioco petition-in-intervention, even if the petitioner failed to pay the required docket fees, which should have been a ground for its summary dismissal, not to mention that under the rules of the tribunal, a petition-for-intervention is not allowed.
She noted that the petition was filed on March 12, 2014 and by the next day, the HRET calendared it for discussion during its session set for March 13, 2014. Justice Velasco inhibited himself from the proceedings, with Justice Peralta taking over his duties.
Although Justice Velasco has officially inhibited himself from the cases against her, the HRET – the Members of which are not hampered from continuing their interactions with Justice Velasco in other pending HRET cases and administrative issues– is not thereby shielded from his influence, Rep. Reyes said. “By maintaining Justice Velasco as part of the HRET, that is the image that the Honorable Court projects to the public and the whole world.”
Reyes, citing jurisprudence said as the three only sit in the HRET in a designated capacity, they may be replaced anytime by the appointing authority as their designation to the tribunal is only temporary.
Rep. Reyes was proclaimed the winner by the Marinduque Provincial Board of Canvassers on 18 May 2013 and, at the time of her proclamation, no final judgment has been rendered against her for her disqualification. Likewise, no motion to suspend proclamation was filed to arrest her proclamation by, and the Commission on Elections (Comelec), has not issued an Order for the suspension of her proclamation in accordance with Section 6 of Republic Act No. 6646. To date, her proclamation has not been lawfully annulled by the only constitutional body – the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal – vested with jurisdiction over election contests, returns and qualifications of Member of the House of Representatives, including pre-proclamation controversies and annulment of proclamation.
She assumed office on 30 June 2013 and has been discharging the functions of her office since then.
Earlier, the HRET dismissed an election protest brought by the younger Velasco against Reyes
Rep. Reyes said both Justice Velasco and Justice Bersamin must admit that coming from political families, their job as part of the HRET is now hampered by questions about their impartiality to a political contest. Justice Velasco’s wife is a representative of a party-list group while his son ran against Rep. Reyes. Justice
Bersamin himself also comes from a family of Abra politicians, Rep. Reyes added, noting that he had likewise prejudged her case by voting with the majority in the petition filed by Velasco’s son before the Supreme Court which ruled in his favor. The controversial ruling of the Supreme Court in the said case has not been recognized by the House of Representatives.
“Like Caesar’s wife, a judge must not only be pure but above suspicion,” said Rep. Reyes. “A judge’s private as well as official conduct must at all times be free from all appearances of impropriety, and be beyond reproach.”
Moreover, in the case of Justice Velasco, even if he has inhibited himself in the case against Rep. Reyes, he remains the boss, head, and superior of everyone in the HRET, retains administrative control over all the operations of the Tribunal, and enjoys unavoidable camaraderie with the judicial and congressional members of the Tribunal.
“That is the only conclusion that can be made considering that, as Chairperson of the HRET, there is no way that Justice Velasco can completely detach himself from the cases involving his own son as the opponent of the Petitioner in the congressional elections in Marinduque, Rep. Reyes said.
As for Justice Peralta, Rep. Reyes said there are indications that he is equally guilty of failing to appear impartial, including the fact that he chaired the proceeding which allowed the Sioco petition-in-intervention to continue, despite its fatal flaws.
She asked the High Court to transfer Justice Velasco to the Senate Electoral Tribunal and to designate Justice Antonio T. Carpio in his stead. She also asked that Justices Bersamin and Peralta be substituted by other justices who do not suffer from the same entanglements.