Saturday, February 22, 2020

Comelec affirms Duterte Youth's Cardema ineligible to sit in Congress

It's the end of the road for Duterte Youth chairman Ronald Cardema's bid to sit in the 18th Congress as the Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc upheld a ruling that found he was ineligible to sit as a youth representative in the House of Representatives. In a 9-page ruling signed on Monday, February 10, and shared with media on Wednesday, February 12, the Comelec en banc decided to accept Cardema's motion to withdraw his motion for reconsideration (MR) that sought the reversal of his cancellation as the party's first nominee.

But in doing so, the poll body sought to emphasize that it affirmed the Comelec First Division's August 2019 ruling cancelling Cardema's nomination. The poll body's en banc declared that since Duterte Youth was found to represent the youth – and not the professional sector as it asserted – rules on the required age limit for party-list representatives would apply to its nominees. "All told, we give our stamp of approval to the findings of the Commission (First Division) that respondent is not eligible for nomination as the youth representative of Duterte Youth in the House of Representatives," the Comelec en banc said.

According to the poll body, Cardema's move to withdraw his motion seeking a reversal of the Comelec First Division's decision was already moot and academic seeing as he was no longer Duterte Youth's nominee. Cardema had earlier filed a motion to withdraw his nomination last September 2019, which the en banc accepted in October 2019. Yet the poll body stressed that "the direct result of our grant of the withdrawal of the MR is the finality of the assailed resolution (cancelling Cardema's nomination)."

"Let there be no mistake that the withdrawal of the MR by respondent will not vacate the assailed resolution. In fact, the withdrawal of the MR solidified the ruling in the assailed resolution that unmistakenly declared the respondent 'based on facts, law and jurisprudence...not eligible for nomination to represent Duterte Youth,'" the en banc said. The Comelec's decicion, the poll body said, was final and executory.

"Respondent, by his own voluntary act of withdrawing as the nominee of Duterte Youth, has finally accepted the decision of this commission that he is not eligible as a nominee of Duterte Youth, which decision is now final and executory," it added. The Comelec en banc was unanimous in its decision, with Chairman Sheriff Abas and commissioners Socorro Inting, Antonio Kho Jr, Marlon Casquejo, Luie Tito Guia, and Rowena Guanzon voting in favor of the resolution. Comelec Commissioner Al Parreño was away on official business.

Why this matters: The Comelec's decision puts to rest Cardema's congressional bid which drew wide criticism, with officials across the political spectrum denouncing the move as a "brazen attempt" to enter Congress. After filing a last minute substitution bid on the eve of the May 2019 elections, Cardema faced a series of petitions and complaints lodged against him at the poll body. Cardema's controversial bid also saw him locked in a bitter word war with Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, whom he accused of being biased against him. (READ: Guazon on speaking out vs Cardema: It's my duty to defend Comelec)

No less than former poll chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr, along with election lawyers Romulo Macalintal and Emil Marañon, challenged Duterte Youth's and Cardema's moves. The election experts warned Cardema's attempts to sit in Congress would set a dangerous precedent were his and Duterte Youth's tactics to be approved by the Comelec. The public's outcry against Cardema's congressional bid was not lost upon the Comelec, so much so that it said there was "urgent need to set forth controlling doctrines and principles at the level of the en banc." (READ: Stretching the rules: Duterte Youth's bid for Congress)

"The issues raised herein are capable of repetition. Thus, a declaration from us speaking as en banc, and not merely a ruling by a division, is needed to send a strong message to the bench, the bar, and the public on how this commission tasked under the Constitution...views pertinent the provisions of Republic Act No. 7941 (the party-list law) on the eligibility of a nominee to represent the youth sector under the party-list system," the Comelec said. What were the issues of Cardema's case? Aside from the timing of the filing of the substitution bid, a main issue highlighted in Cardema's bid was the age limit required of youth sector representatives in Congress based on Republic Act No. 7941 or the Party-List System Act.

The law mandates that representatives of the youth sector must be at least 25 years old, but not more than 30 years old, on Election Day. Cardema is 34 years old.

"It is clear as day that the respondent is overage and ineligible," the en banc said. Since the proclamation of winners in the May 2019 polls, Duterte Youth has been unable to obtain its seat in the House, owing to several resolutions filed at the Comelec challenging the validity of its nominees and party registration.

House seat. In its ruling, the Comelec said that with Cardema's bid and the legal questions it had raised put to rest, it was only "proper" that Duterte Youth now occupy a seat in the House. "This unnecessary dispute involving a misguided respondent insisting that he is eligible has resulted in the absence of one youth representation in the House of Representatives. With our grant of withdrawal of the respondent's MR, the assailed resolution (cancelling Cardema's nomination) has already attained finality," it said. "Therefore in recognition of the voice of the is only proper that Duterte Youth now occupy a seat in the advance its purported advocacies for the protection and welfare of the youth," it added.

In a statement, Marañon welcomed the Comelec's decision affirming Cardema's canceled nomination and his ineligibility to sit as a youth representative in Congress. He said this en banc decision is decisive in the other case they filed against Duterte Youth which seeks the cancelation of the registration of the party itself.

"With this final and executory finding of fraud and misrepresentation by the Comelec en banc, the grant of our cancellation petition should now be a matter of course. We thank everyone for the untiring support," he said.