Rep. Reyes asks SC to disqualify 3 justices from HRET

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.

Click here for a copy of the Petition For Transfer, Disqualification and/or Substitution of Justices Velasco, Jr., Peralta and Bersamin from the HRET

Impeach the gods (again)?

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.

Response of Atty. Edmund Reyes to motion to inhibit Justice Brion

“Wala kaming pinagsamahan ni Justice Brion. Although we have the same fraternity, Justice Roberto Abad is also our brod but voted with the majority. Clearly, being in the same frat has no connection with the vote. As far as our legal profession, although Justice Brion joined the same law firm, I was no longer working there since 1995 as I took up my full time MBA course then campaigned, ran for and served as congressman. That is why I had no chance to serve as a co-worker, underling or any other capacity with Justice Brion in the law firm. Wala kaming pinagsamahan ni Justice Brion tulad ng four or more years of boss at deputy boss relationship of other persons connected with the case of my sister.”

Rep. Reyes of Marinduque withdraws SC petition on citizenship question

Click HERE  for a copy of a manifestation and motion filed by Marinduque Rep. Regina Reyes withdrawing her petition filed with the Supreme Court questioning her disqualification by the COMELEC.


Marinduque Representative Regina Reyes formally withdrew today her petition before the Supreme Court questioning her disqualification on citizenship grounds by the Commission on Elections (COMELEC).

This after she took her oath office at the opening of the 16th Congress yesterday before re-elected House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr.

“After the Speaker’s election, the Members of the House of Representatives of the 16th Congress of the Republic of the Philippines formally took their oath of office before the Speaker in open session,” she said in a two-page manifestation and notice of withdrawal filed on her behalf by her lawyers, the Roque and Butuyan Law Offices. “With the Petitioner’s admission and recognition in the House of Representatives, and the official opening and organization of the House of Representatives, all controversies regarding Petitioner’s qualifications and election to office are now within the jurisdiction of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET).”

She said she was among the legislators who attended the opening session and was officially and formally recognized as the duly elected representative of lone congressional district of Marinduque by the leadership of the House of Representatives.

She said the HRET is now the proper forum for all questions on her qualifications as a legislator representing Marinduque.