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Election lawyers, youth leaders bring battle vs Duterte Youth to Supreme Court

Undeterred by the recent assumption of Duterte Youth’s Ducielle Cardema to the House of Representatives, youth leaders and elections lawyers elevated their battle against the controversial group to the Supreme Court.

In a petition filed on Tuesday, October 26, youth leaders asked the High Court to issue a status quo ante order and writ of preliminary injunction that would undo Cardema’s proclamation as representative to the 18th Congress. 

They also asked the Supreme Court to strike down as void ab initio the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) minute resolution issuing Duterte Youth a certificate of proclamation and to declare as illegal Cardema’s substitution as nominee for the group in the 2019 elections.

Youth leaders who have challenged Duterte Youth’s congressional bid for over a year now have repeatedly asserted that the group committed a series of acts that violated the Constitution, as well as Philippine elections laws and the Party-List Act of 1995. 

This petition, however, brings to the Supreme Court’s attention the role of the Comelec in allowing Duterte Youth’s bid to flourish despite pending oppositions and legal infirmities. 

Describing it as a “brazen accommodation,” the petitioners challenge a series of “unprecedented rule-bending” acts by the Comelec “all purposely designed…to ensure the unregistered Duterte Youth a slot in the House of Representatives.” 

Grave abuse by the Comelec?

In running to the High Court, the group’s petition focuses on the prematurity of the Comelec’s issuances relating to the proclamation of Duterte Youth and its approval of a second round of withdrawals and substitutions that allowed Cardema to be even be considered as a nominee. 

This is crucial in addressing questions over whether the case should be heard by the Court or House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal, considering Cardema had already taken her oath of office last October 13. 

The group argued that because they are challenging the legality of the Comelec’s administrative act to proclaim Duterte Youth and not the group’s election and returns, it is within the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to hear the petition. 

According to the group, the poll body committed grave abuse of discretion in proclaiming Duterte Youth as two serious petitions that challenge Duterte Youth’s congressional bid should have been resolved first.

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. 

For youth leaders and elections lawyers, the case seeking to cancel or declare as null Duterte Youth’s registration “should have been prejudicial” to the question of whether the group should be proclaimed. 

Comelec’s decision

Earlier in September, the Comelec en banc voted 4-1 to proclaim Duterte Youth over a year since the May 2019 midterm elections. 

Comelec Commissioner Rowena Guanzon, the lone dissenter in the ruling, called Duterte Youth’s proclamation a “betrayal of the Constitution” as the poll body had yet to rule on “constitutional and threshold matters” raised in the unresolved petitions. 

Comelec Commissioner Socorro Inting, who voted to approve the proclamation, argued that the poll body could allow Duterte Youth to sit in Congress “without prejudice” to the outcome of the resolution on pending cases. 

While Inting acknowledged that the group’s representation in Congress would be anchored on these pending cases, she argued that Duterte Youth enjoyed the presumption of regularity that its registration is valid and its nominees are qualified. 

Injustice to youth

With these challenges, youth leaders and elections lawyers pleaded with the High Court to reverse Cardema’s proclamation, saying her seat in Congress as youth representative deprived the sector of “true and effective representation.”

The group also warned that to keep Cardema and allow Duterte Youth to sit in Congress despite the serious challenges against it would erode public trust in the party-list system. 

Since it filed a last-minute substitution on the eve of the May 2019 elections, Duterte Youth has been criticized across the political spectrum for its “brazen attempts” to enter Congress. Among those who sought to block Duterte Youth’s moves were veteran election lawyer Romulo Macalintal and the late Comelec chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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