It's final: ER Ejercito disqualified as Laguna governor

MANILA, Philippines – With finality, the Supreme Court upheld the disqualification of Emilio Ramon "ER" Ejercito as governor of Laguna province due to campaign overspending. 

On Tuesday, February 17, the court en banc denied Ejercito's appeal against an earlier ruling that upheld his ouster as ordered by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

SC spokesperson Theodore Te explained in a press briefing that Ejercito's arguments in his appeal were a mere rehash of the actor-turned-politician's petition that the court earlier junked.

The denial was "on the ground that the basic issues raised in the motion for reconsideration had already been passed upon and that no substantial new arguments had been raised to merit a reconsideration," Te said.

On May 21, 2013, Comelec ordered Ejercito to step down after finding that he exceeded the campaign expenses allowed by law. He went to the SC to seek a reversal of the Comelec ruling.

Failing to secure a temporary restraining order from the court, he refused to leave the capitol, with his supporters keeping vigil in the compound. He only stepped down on May 28 upon the prodding of his uncle, former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.

The Comelec disqualification case was filed by his lone rival in the 2013 gubernatorial race, Edgar San Luis.

His ouster paved the way for the installation of Laguna's vice governor, Ramil Hernandez, as the province's new chief executive.

Overspending or expression?

The election commission considered as evidence of campaign overspending the amounts stated in two advertising contracts between ABS-CBN Corporation and Scenema Concept International Incorporated.

The latter produced the multi-award-winning biographical films Manila Kingpin: The Asiong Salonga Story and El Presidente: General Emilio Aguinaldo Story, both featuring Ejercito.

The advertising contracts supposedly covered airtime for Ejercito's campaign advertisements, which exceeded the authorized expenditure limit set by the Fair Election Act.

Since Laguna had 1,525,522 registered voters for the May 2013 elections, Ejercito was only allowed to spend P4.5 million for his campaign.

Instead, the poll body found Ejercito spent P6 million on the advertisements alone.

Ejercito had argued that the Comelec "relied on documentary exhibit which was not formally offered as evidence" before the commission. The Comelec on its own sourced the documents as evidence in the case, he said.

He added that he was disqualified "for an act done by a 3rd party [which] simply exercised its right to free expression."

Dangerous precedent?

Lawyer Enrique dela Cruz, legal counsel for Ejercito, told Rappler they are "saddened" by the SC's denial of his client's appeal.

With the ruling, he argued, the SC has "expanded the limitations on campaign contributions."

"Our questions remain – how much is the limit set by law on the amount of contributions that a candidate can receive? Is it the same limit imposed on campaign expenses? Should a candidate be punished for campaign expenses incurred by his supporters without his knowledge or consent?" he asked. – Rappler.com