MANILA, Philippines – The opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) hit the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for granting the request of the Liberal Party (LP) to extend the filing of campaign spending reports.
In a statement on Friday, June 17, UNA spokesperson Mon Ilagan said that the party "expressed its disappointment" over the decision, calling it the "death" of the rule of law.
"Today, we mourn the passing of the rule of law. Sadly, its final breath was taken away by a democracy-driven institution that is supposed to uphold the highest standard of integrity, impartiality. and respect for the rule of law," he said.
The Comelec en banc on Thursday, June 16, voted 4-3 in favor of the extension of the period of filing of Statement of Contributions and Expenses (SOCE) up to June 30.
The LP missed the "final, non-extendible" June 8 deadline for filing, requested a 14-day extension, then submitted its SOCE 6 days later.
Ilagan cited a letter from the Comelec Campaign Finance Office (CFO), reminding treasurers of all political parties to comply with Republic Act 7166 – providing for a synchronized national and local polls – and Comelec Resolution 9991 in filing SOCEs strictly within 30 days after the elections.
The letter emphasized to treasurers that the law "prohibits the winning candidates that you have nominated from entering upon the duties of their elective office should you fail to file your party's SOCE."
"Comelec may not have noticed, but they just killed the very rule they have raised," said Ilagan. "By frequently bending their own rules, they have shown their true colors."
"They have made their own rules irrelevant, and what they did to accommodate [losing presidential candidate Mar] Roxas and LP was completely out of step," he continued.
Before the poll body's decision, UNA had also urged it to not give LP and Roxas "special treatment" by allowing their request for extension.
But with Comelec's 4-3 vote, Ilagan said it seems the Comelec thinks "that their powers are unlimited."
"It is sad that the Comelec has become a commission of men, and not of laws," he added. "If the Comelec wants to be taken seriously, it should stop contradicting itself and start strictly enforcing the laws without fear or favor."
Election lawyer and Rappler columnist Emil Marañon III said that parties dissatisfied with Comelec's decision can challenge it before the Supreme Court. (EXPLAINER: Why not bring the SOCE issue to the Supreme Court?)
ABS-CBN reported on Friday that PDP-Laban, the party of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte, is planning to bring Comelec's SOCE filing extension ruling to the High Court.
LP: We didn't flout the law
Meanwhile, the LP argued that it did not go against the law when it filed it SOCE, even if it was late.
In a statement on Friday, LP spokesperson and Occidental Mindoro Representative Josephine Sato cited the party's size and status as a national political party.
"As part of due diligence, we had to await receipts, invoices, and information from all these chapters before we could file our SOCE," she explained.
Sato added that the one-month period of SOCE filing "was very tight, considering none of the other candidates have an organization as wide as ours, and we had to account for millions' worth of expenses."
She then said the LP had officially informed the Comelec that they would be late in filing their SOCE, then asked for an extension.
"Now, one week later, we have filed our papers. We did not disregard our responsibility, and we certainly did not flout the law," Sato said.
Comelec: Greater benefit for greater majority
Meanwhile, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez defended the poll body's ruling, saying that the en banc considered that voters who chose winning candidates "would lose representation" if they decided against extending the deadline.
"Their assumption of office would be delayed because of that. So that's not an insignificant effect. It really doesn't matter what party you're in," he said. "Ultimately, nanalo na 'yan eh. Ang partido niya 'yung bayan niya." (They won already; their party is now the nation.)
Jimenez added that he cannot blame critics for being unsatisfied with the decision.
"Ultimately, there will be some that will disagree with this decision. The en banc made it, thinking of the greater benefit for the greater majority."
He also reiterated that all candiates and parties that have yet to submit their SOCE would benefit from the decision.
Besides the LP, Aksyon Demokratiko and Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) failed to file their SOCEs on time. PMP is the party of Manila mayor-elect and former president Joseph Estrada.
Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, who voted in favor of the extension, added that the sovereign will of the people should be respected.
In a series of tweets, Guanzon also argued that the law "did not intend absurd consequences" and "did not prohibit the extension" of SOCE filing, saying that it was also extended in 2010 and 2013.
The people voted for them; respect the will of the people. That is the primordial principle in elections — Rowena V. Guanzon (@commrguanzon) June 17, 2016 The law does not prohibit extension. COMELEC extended SOCE in 2010, 2013 too. All political parties & candidates benefit frm extension. — Rowena V. Guanzon (@commrguanzon) June 17, 2016 There is a rule n stautory construction- the law did not intend absurd consequences. — Rowena V. Guanzon (@commrguanzon) June 17, 2016
The Comelec has yet to release a copy of the final resolution on the SOCE filing extension. – Rappler.com
Michael Bueza is a researcher and data curator under Rappler's Research Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.