Supreme Court ousts Pichay as Surigao del Sur congressman

MANILA, Philippines – The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the immediate removal of Philip Pichay as representative of the 1st district of Surigao del Sur, reversing a decision made by the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) in 2015.

In an advisory on Monday, February 1, the SC en banc said it ruled last January 26 that Pichay is "ineligible to hold and serve the office of Member of the House of Representatives for the First Legislative District of Surigao del Sur."

Voting 11-0, the High Court declared Mary Elizabeth Ty Delgado – the complainant in the electoral protest – as winner of the May 2013 congressional elections. 

Justices Presbitero Velasco Jr, Diosdado Peralta, and Lucas Bersamin did not take part in the deliberations because they are members of the HRET.

"Considering that the term of the present House of Representatives will end on 30 June 2016, this Decision is immediately executory," the SC said.

In the 2013 elections, Pichay won with 76,870 votes and was proclaimed as duly-elected representative of Surigao del Sur's 1st district – a post held for a long time by his brother Prospero Pichay.

 

Losing candidate Delgado, who garnered the second highest number of votes, filed a quo warranto case. She pointed out that Philip Pichay was convicted of 4 counts of libel – a crime involving moral turpitude – in 2011. Citing Section 12 of the Omnibus Election Code, she said a person convicted of such crime can only be eligible to run for office again 5 years.

The complainant said Pichay served his sentence when he paid the fine on February 17, 2011. The 5-year ban on him running for public office is set to end on February 16, 2016, yet.

 

Pichay was the publisher of a tabloid, where a column by one of the Tulfo brothers was published.

Pichay argued before the HRET that while he was convicted, libel was not a crime involving moral turpitude. He also said he did not perform the acts that constituted libel, pointing out that his liability arose only from being the publisher.

The HRET sided with Pichay.

The SC disagreed, reversing HRET's decision and setting aside a resolution issued by the House of Representatives to keep Pichay in office.

The High Court said moral turpitude refers to "everything which is done contrary to justice, modesty, or good morals; an act of baseness, vileness or depravity in the private and social duties  which a man owes to his fellowmen, or to society in general."

It continued: "Although not every criminal act involves moral turpitude, the Court is guided by one of the general rules that crimes mala in se involve moral turpitude while crimes mala prohibita do not. Citing its previous rulings, the Court ruled that libel is a crime involving moral turpitude."

The SC also noted that even after Pichay admitted the convictions for libel in Tulfo v. People, his newspaper published another libelous article. That "indicates malice," the court said.

"The Court also pointed out that the law provides that all those charged with libel shall be punished to the same extent, thus leaving no room for differentiation. In view of his conviction for libel, respondent Pichay is disqualified," the SC advisory said.

As far as the SC is concerned, Pichay "made a false material representation as to his eligibity when he filed his Certificate of Candidacy." On October 9, 2012, he "was still ineligible to run and should have stated so in his Certificate."

The Supreme Court also found that "the HRET commited grave abuse of discretion when it failed to disqualify respondent Pichay for his conviction for libel, a crime involving moral turpitude. Since Pichay’s ineligibility existed on the day he filed his certificate of candidacy, he was never a valid candidate for the position and his votes are considered stray votes." – Rappler.com