SC to Comelec: Proclaim Shirlyn Nograles as South Cotabato representative

MANILA, Philippines – Four months after the 2019 midterm elections, the Supreme Court (SC) ordered the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to proclaim Shirlyn Bañas Nograles as the duly-elected representative of the 1st District of South Cotabato.

The Comelec held off the election for the House of Representatives seat following the creation of a congressional district for General Santos City, carved out of South Cotabato's 1st District, months before the May 2019 polls.

In its 9-page decision last September 10, the SC sided with Nograles, who argued that the existence of the new General Santos City district should begin in the next national and local elections in May 2022.

The SC decision was penned by Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang.

The General Santos City district was created through Republic Act (RA) No. 11243, signed on March 11, two months before the May 2019 elections. Due to this, the Comelec on April 11 suspended the election for South Cotabato's 1st District through Comelec Resolution No. 10524. Votes cast in the May 13 polls for that position "shall be considered stray," said the resolution.

The poll body later scheduled for October 26 the special elections for representatives of the 1st District of South Cotabato and the new General Santos City district.

The Comelec argued that since the 2019 automated election system had already been configured at that point, they would not have enough time to modify it in line with the changes in the South Cotabato elections "without jeopardizing the preparations for the election of other positions."

Since the ballots had been printed by then, voters in the province still cast their votes for 1st District representative in the May 13 polls, and Nograles obtained 194,929 votes over her 3 opponents. Nograles was the vice mayor of General Santos City when she ran for congresswoman.

Deciding on Nograles' petition, the SC unanimously nullified Comelec Resolution No. 10524, and ruled that the election for South Cotabato 1st District representative "should not have been suspended, and the candidate obtaining the most number of votes for the said position must be proclaimed."

The SC also said the holdover provision under Section 2 of RA No. 11243 "would be inapplicable since there would already be newly elected and qualified representatives."

In its decision, the SC emphasized Article VI, Section 8 of the 1987 Constitution which states that elections for senators and House representatives are held on the second Monday of May unless otherwise provided by law.

The SC pointed out that Congress "could not have intended to enforce RA 11243" during the 2019 polls, as the election period was ongoing by then. "To require implementation last May 13, 2019 would lead Comelec to act precipitously," the SC added.

Section 1 of RA No. 11243 states that the General Santos City district will "commence in the next national and local elections after the effectivity of this Act." 

Meanwhile, Section 2 provides the holdover clause, which states that the two incumbent representatives of South Cotabato "shall continue to represent the districts until the new Representatives shall have been elected and qualified." –