Brillantes: SC puts poll reforms 'in limbo'

MANILA, Philippines – With its series of eleventh-hour orders that indefinitely stop or reverse decisions made by the poll body, the Supreme Court (SC) has put attempts at electoral reforms "in limbo."

And by overturning the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on at least 4 issues lately, the high court is practically the one "running" the elections in the country, said poll chief Sixto Brillantes Jr.

The SC's order on Tuesday, April 16, for the Comelec  to stop implementing the airtime limits on political ads was the fourth strike. It prompted Brillantes to announce that he's contemplating a resignation.

Brillantes said he also felt “very, very disappointed” with the SC over the following decisions: 

He said: “With this series of decisions coming from the Supreme Court – TRO, status quo ante – sabi ko, para namang lumalabas na, parang sila na ang nagpapatakbo ng eleksyon. Akala ko ba kami?" (With this series of decisions coming from the Supreme Court – TRO, status quo ante (SQA) – I said, it looks like they're the ones running the elections. I thought it was us?)

Brillantes also questioned the timing of the High Court's order. “Why issue... the status quo ante now?” (Watch more in the video below.)

Networks filed the first petition against the Comelec's airtime limits last February 8. That was two months before the SC issued an SQA order – not even a final ruling – on the Comelec's airtime rules.

The Comelec has less than 30 days left to prepare for the May 13 elections.

Nothing definitive

Did the SC know the consequences of what it did? Brillantes doubts it.

“'Pag itini-TRO mo at saka hindi mo alam ang consequences, baka hindi masyadong napapag-aralan,” he said. (If you issue a TRO and you do not know the consequences, you may not have studied it well.)

In an interview on ANC later on Tuesday, Brillantes said he expected something more definitive from the SC.  

“I will assume that for something coming out this late, it would have been a resolution on the merits, not a provisional order like status quo ante, which puts everything in limbo again. What are the rules now that there's a status quo ante order?" Brillantes said. 

The veteran election lawyer questioned the SC's jurisdiction. He said while it is the SC's job to check if the Comelec committed grave abuses of discretion, "we are supposed to be the specific constitutional body to apply the law as it is, in matters of elections."

“The Supreme Court cannot take over the details of the enforcement of election laws," Brillantes said.

Earlier on Tuesday, for instance, he cited the basis of the SC's TRO in the case of the Bacolod tarpaulins. The SC issued the TRO "on the basis of a mere letter to remove" the tarpaulins, he said.

"This is the first time I heard the Supreme Court issuing a TRO na wala namang controversy. Nag-issue lang kami ng sulat to remove, may TRO na," Brillantes said. (This is the first time I heard the Supreme Court issuing a TRO without any controversy. We only issued a letter to remove, then we got a TRO.)

'Divided decisions'

Brillantes also noted the SC was not unanimous in its decisions. "These are divided decisions."

The 73-year-old election chair said he will return to work on Wednesday, April 17, and will likely take a break on Thursday, April 18.

Brillantes, who has led major reforms in the Comelec, said his two-decade election background has worked to his advantage. (Watch more in the video below.)

In an interview with Rappler, he also said he wants to preserve his father's legacy. His father, the late Comelec commissioner Sixto Brillantes Sr, dreamt to chair the poll body. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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