Comelec upholds cancellation of An Waray’s registration

Dwight de Leon

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Comelec upholds cancellation of An Waray’s registration

An Waray party’s first nominee Rep. Florencio “Bem” Noel

Graphics by Guia Abogado/Rappler

The poll body cites An Waray's election offense ten years ago, when its second nominee, Victoria Noel, sister of incumbent An Waray Rep. Bem Noel, assumed a House seat despite the absence of a certificate of proclamation

MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc affirmed on Monday, August 14, a previous division ruling that canceled the registration papers of sitting party-list group An Waray, over an election violation it committed a decade ago.

An Waray is being punished for letting its second nominee assume a congressional seat in 2013 despite the absence of a certificate of proclamation from the Comelec.

The recent ruling is likely to directly affect Representative Florencio “Bem” Noel, an incumbent congressman who is the first nominee of An Waray in the 19th Congress.

But this latest electoral setback against him is not yet executory, according to Comelec Chairman George Garcia, because the poll body would have to wait 30 days before it can issue a certificate of finality on the case.

During that period, Bem Noel’s camp could seek the intervention of the Supreme Court, and ask it to issue an order that would block the Comelec from enforcing its decision.

What was the case about?

In 2013, An Waray was among the top vote-getters in the party-list race, ranking 14th overall out of over 100 names on the ballot. It was among the groups proclaimed first in May that year, which meant it was guaranteed one seat, “without prejudice to the allocation of additional seats” consistent with a complex formula for party-list seat allocations.

In June 2013, the National Board of Canvassers (NBOC) issued a certificate of proclamation to first nominee Bem Noel, and in July, resolved to “note” his request to issue another certificate of proclamation to his sister, second nominee Victoria Noel.

Victoria Noel took her oath of office the same month, but in August, another NBOC resolution indicated that An Waray was only entitled to one seat.

In May 2019, a petition was filed seeking to cancel An Waray’s registration, citing the incident in 2013. It argued that An Waray violated the party-list law because it failed to comply with election rules.

How Comelec decided

In its en banc ruling, the Comelec denied An Waray’s motion for reconsideration, saying respondents presented “no exceptional circumstance or any compelling reason” to reverse the ruling of the 2nd Division.

“It is an undisputed fact that there was no certificate of proclamation issued to An Waray entitling its second nominee, Atty. Victoria Isabel Noel, to sit as representative in the House of Representatives in relation to the 2013 national and local elections,” the resolution read.

“Hence, the act of taking her oath and her assumption of office with no certificate of proclamation clearly constitutes a violation of the rules relating to party-list representatives. She may not now claim good faith, much less feign compliance with the law,” it added.

The ruling did not specifically address arguments made by An Waray in their appeal, such as:

  • that the Comelec has no jurisdiction over the legality of Victoria Noel’s assumption in the House
  • that the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal is the sole judge of all contests referring to elections
  • that Victoria Noel’s House membership was never questioned, even after the Supreme Court issued a ruling declaring another party-list group (Abang Lingkod) a winner of the 2013 elections entitled to one seat
  • that the supposed election offense has already prescribed.

Six of the seven en banc members voted to uphold the division ruling. Chairman George Garcia “took no part” because An Waray was his former client.

Commissioner Ernesto Maceda Jr., who wrote a separate opinion concurring with the ponencia, also noted that since An Waray has been consistently participating in national elections, it is “fully cognizant” of the practice that an NBOC resolution is not enough for a nominee to assume a seat in Congress.

“First, the NBOC resolution, and then second, the certificate of proclamation,” Maceda wrote, noting that Bem Noel’s camp even wrote the Comelec a letter in 2013 asking that a certificate of proclamation be issued to his sister.

The petitioners in the case include incumbent lawmaker Jude Acidre, who now represents Tingog, a party-list group based in the Eastern Visayas region. He used to be the original second nominee of An Waray in 2013, until he resigned due to “personal reasons.”

What’s next

As usual, the losing party’s camp has one option left: run to the Supreme Court and ask it to issue either a temporary restraining order or a status quo ante order.

Either order would delay the enforcement of the ruling that moves to cancel An Waray’s registration.

Because the case is a special proceeding and not a regular disqualification case, An Waray has 30 days to get the Supreme Court to intervene.

“As to the status of the nominee who is a member of Congress, it is a pure legal issue of jurisdiction of which the Comelec may not have jurisdiction in accordance with our Constitution,” Comelec Chairman Garcia told reporters. –

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Dwight de Leon

Dwight de Leon is a multimedia reporter who covers President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the Malacañang, and the Commission on Elections for Rappler.