Despite legal challenges, Comelec votes 4-1 to proclaim Duterte Youth

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has granted the controversial Duterte Youth organization a certificate of proclamation in the 2019 midterm elections, despite several pending petitions that challenge the validity of the group’s registration and nominees.

In a minute resolution on the poll body’s decision, the Comelec en banc voted 4-1, in favor of having the National Board of Canvassers (NBOC) issue a certificate of proclamation to Duterte Youth. The certificate entitled its nominee, Ducielle Cardema, to sit as representative for the embattled group. 

Comelec Chairman Sheriff Abas, along with Commissioners Marlon Casquejo and Antonio Kho Jr, voted in favor of proclaiming Cardema.  

Commissioner Socorro Inting voted to issue Cardema a certificate of proclamation, subject to the outcome of two petitions that challenged her and the group.

Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon dissented

All who voted in favor of Duterte Youth are appointees of President Rodrigo Duterte. Guanzon is the sole Aquino appointee left in the poll body.

Voting took place during the Comelec en banc’s meeting held online last September 9, while a copy of the signed minute resolution was shared with media late Tuesday night, October 13. 

Earlier on Tuesday, Cardema took her oath at the House of Representatives around 6:15 pm. Before taking her oath, her name was also flashed on-screen during the House session, signifying she was part of the lower chamber's roll call. 

The move prompted election lawyer Emil Marañon to question whether or not the Comelec en banc, convened as the NBOC, issued the group a certificate of proclamation. While the two bodies are composed of the poll commissioners, the two groups are considered separate entities.

Comelec Spokesperson James Jimenez said on Tuesday, “It was NBOC that issued the proclamation.”

Why does this matter?

The Comelec’s decision to proclaim Duterte Youth and allow Cardema to sit in Congress raises questions on the poll body’s jurisdiction to rule on two serious petitions that challenge Duterte Youth’s congressional bid. 

These include a petition seeking to disqualify Cardema, and another one seeking to cancel the group’s registration as a party-list group in the 2019 elections. 

The petition to cancel or declare as void ab initio (from the beginning) its registration is rooted in the group's alleged failure to comply with publication requirements mandated by the Constitution, Party-List Act, and the poll body’s own rules.

The issue on jurisdiction was tackled by both Inting and Guanzon in separate opinions, where both acknowledged that Duterte Youth’s representation in Congress would ultimately be anchored on the outcome of the still unresolved petitions. 

Both commissioners, however, were split in their stand. 

In her dissenting opinion, Guanzon said the Comelec should have first decided on the “constitutional and threshold matters” raised in these petitions before it proclaimed a representative for Duterte Youth. 

Guanzon said the Comelec cannot “casually brush off” and ignore what were “constitutional and threshold matters” as it could render the poll body “inutile and deny itself the power to rule on Ducielle Cardema’s disqualification.”

Inting recognized this but offered a second option: issue a certificate of proclamation “without prejudice” to the outcome of the resolution on pending cases.

In this case, Inting said proclaiming the group would not divest the Comelec of its jurisdiction to try and hear the petitions. 

“Should the petitions of the subject of pending cases be granted, Duterte Youth’s registration may be canceled and Ducielle Marie Suarez-Cardema may also be disqualified,” Inting said in her extended opinion.

But until then, she added, Duterte Youth enjoyed the presumption of regularity that its registration is valid and its nominees are qualified. 

'Constitution is supreme'

For election lawyers, it is the question of whether or not Duterte Youth’s registration could be considered valid – despite its supposed failure to comply with requirements – that is most crucial.  

“Without first acquiring jurisdiction over Duterte Youth and without prior registration, the Comelec would have no authority to allot a seat to Duterte Youth or proclaim Ducielle Marie Cardema who technically represents a non-entity,” election lawyers argued in a letter-opposition filed with the poll body. 

Guanzon also disagreed with the presumption of regularity afforded to Duterte Youth, saying it “cannot stand in the face of the legal and constitutional infirmities” that challenge the validity of the groups’ registration and its nominees. 

The commissioner earlier pointed out Duterte Youth did not submit any contrary evidence to dispute the factual allegation. More than this, Guanzon said that the Comelec’s own records on Duterte Youth’s petition for registration “incontrovertibly show that no such publication was indeed made prior to the registration of the party.”

For Guanzon, issues over the validity of Duterte Youth’s party-list registration could not be erased by its victory in the 2019 elections. 

She continued, “Neither the Commission nor the ballots cast by the electorate can overrun the supremacy of the Constitution and prevail over the constitutional requirement of publication as a prerequisite to a valid registration."

“The Constitution remains supreme," she asserted.  – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs, the overseas Filipino workers, and elections. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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