By Perry Diaz
Just as Rep. Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo was enjoying her razor-thin victory over Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in the vice presidential race, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is under pressure from some quarters to disqualify Leni from taking over the vice presidency because her party — the Liberal Party — failed to submit its Statements of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE) on time. Huh?
What is SOCE all about that non-compliance could stop Leni from taking the office she had won? But wait a minute! We’re not talking about Leni alone. It would also disqualify seven senators, scores of congressmen, and thousands of local officials who ran under the Liberal party (LP) banner!
It did not then come as a surprise when the Comelec met en banc and voted by a slim 4-3 majority to approve the plea of the LP and its standard-bear Mar Roxas to extend the deadline for the submission of the SOCE to June 30. The Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said that the official explanation was not to defeat the “will of the people” in the May 9 elections. He further explained that Comelec did not bend the rules for the LP because it would also benefit other parties – Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino and Aksyon Demokratiko — who missed the filing deadline. He added: “The problem (in not extending the deadline) is it will essentially defeat the voice of the voters who voted for certain candidates but will not be allowed to assume office simply because they have no SOCEs. That is what we want to avoid.”
On the day following the Comelec ruling, Commissioner Christian Robert Lim – who was concurrently the head of Comelec’s Campaign Finance Office (CFO) — announced his resignation from the Commission. The CFO is the office in charge of receiving and evaluating the SOCEs of all the candidates. He said that the policy shift was not acceptable, insisting that the 30-day period is a “hard deadline” set by law under Section 14 of Republic Act No. 7166. He added, “To grant the request for extension would not only be unfair to other candidates and parties who complied within the prescribed period but also would be a reversal of the Commission’s own resolution on the matter.”
What the law says
Well, let’s take a look what Lim was talking about. Section 14 of Republic Act 7166 state: “Statement of Contributions and Expenditures; Effect of Failure to File Statement. – Every candidate and treasurer of the political party shall, within thirty (30) days after the day of the election, file in duplicate with the offices of the Commission the full, true and itemized statement of all contributions and expenditures in connection with the election.
“No person elected to any public offices shall enter upon the duties of his office until he has filed the statement of contributions and expenditures herein required.
“The same prohibition shall apply if the political party which nominated the winning candidate fails to file the statement required herein within the period prescribed by this Act.
“Except candidates for elective barangay office, failure to file the statements or reports in connection with electoral contributions and expenditures are required herein shall constitute an administrative offense for which the offenders shall be liable to pay an administrative fine ranging from One thousand pesos (P1,000.00) to Thirty thousand pesos (P30,000.00), in the discretion of the Commission.
“The fine shall be paid within thirty (30) days from receipt of notice of such failure; otherwise, it shall be enforceable by a writ of execution issued by the Commission against the properties of the offender.
“It shall be the duty of every city or municipal election registrar to advise in writing, by personal delivery or registered mail, within five (5) days from the date of election all candidates residing in his jurisdiction to comply with their obligation to file their statements of contributions and expenditures.
“For the commission of a second or subsequent offense under this section, the administrative fine shall be from Two thousand pesos (P2,000.00) to Sixty thousand pesos (P60,000.00), in the discretion of the Commission. In addition, the offender shall be subject to perpetual disqualification to hold public office.”
Administrative offense vs. disqualification
What is interesting to note is that there are conflicting provisions in Section 14. It states that failure to file the SOCE “shall constitute an administrative offense for which the offenders shall be liable to pay an administrative fine ranging from One thousand pesos (P1,000.00) to Thirty thousand pesos (P30,000.00), in the discretion of the Commission.” If the offender fails to pay the fine within 30 days, the Comelec would issue a “writ of execution” against the offender’s properties.
There is no mention of “disqualification” except in the event that the offender committed a second or subsequent offense; the administrative fine shall be increased from P2,000 to P60,000, in the discretion of the Comelec. However, it states that the offender shall be subject to “perpetual disqualification” to hold public office.
But what might have intrigued – or confused — some people is the provision that states: “No person elected to any public offices shall enter upon the duties of his office until he has filed the statement of contributions and expenditures herein required.” And this begs the question: What if the offender files his or her SOCE before he or she is sworn into office (president and vice-president are sworn in on June 30 following the elections)? Is it sufficed to say that if the offender submits his or her SOCE before June 30 and pays the “administrative fine,” he or she can then take the oath of office?
Surmise it is to say, since vice president-elect Leni Robredo had submitted her SOCE on time and the LP had finally submitted its SOCE subject to administrative fine for late filing, there is no reason why Leni should be disqualified – and stopped — from taking her oath as Vice President on June 30.
If the Comelec had not allowed Leni Robredo and the other Liberal Party winning candidates from being sworn into office on June 30, the mass disqualification would be tantamount to a technical coup d’état. Is that the will of Filipino people?