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A major crisis due to a simple failure

REPUBLIC Act 7166 providing for Synchronized National and Local Elections and for Electoral Reforms provides in Section 14 that every candidate and treasurer of a political party participating in an election must file an itemized statement of all contributions and expenditures in connection with the election within 30 days after election day.

“No person elected to any public office 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.”

The parties and candidates that participated in the recent May 9 elections filed the required statements with the Commission on Elections (Comelec) before the deadline on June 8 – except one, the Liberal Party (LP). It asked the Comelec for an extension up to June 30, and the Comelec granted the extension, contrary to its own Comelec Resolution 9991 prohibiting any extension and contrary to RA 7166.

This is now the center of a legal and political dispute with major repercussions on our very system of government and our national life.

If the Comelec had rejected the LP petition for an extension, none of its winning candidates would be able to assume office – not Vice President-elect Leni Robredo, not winning LP senatorial candidates Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Ralph Recto, and Leila de Lima, not the many winning LP candidates for governor, mayor, board members, and councilors.

In explaining the Comelec decision to accept the late LP statement of accounts, Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, one of the majority of four in the seven-member Comelec, said they put more weight on the “will of the people” than on “procedural rules.”

But RA 7166 provides for a definite deadline and prohibits any winning candidate to assume office if the party failed to meet the deadline. This is the law and it provides for no exception. Can the Comelec resolution granting the LP petition for an extension prevail against a provision of law?

It would be truly a catastrophe of immense proportions if Robredo and Drilon and the others are denied the seats they won in the election. But the law appears explicit in setting a deadline and provides for no extension, which is the stand taken by the three-member Comelec minority.

The PDP-Laban, President-elect Duterte’s political party, will take the issue before the Supreme Court. Will the court issue a restraining order that will keep Vice President-elect Robredo, Senator Drilon, and all the other winning LPs from assuming office?

The country appears to be headed for a crisis – all because the LP, the leading political party all these years of the Aquino administration, failed to carry out a simple duty of filing a statement of election accounts within the period required by law.