No, Kabayan, you can't just kick out Harry Roque

Going back to Roque’s case, to understand the problem, we need to understand the nature of the party list seats in Congress.  

In Abayon vs. HRET (GR Number 189466, February 11, 2010), the Supreme Court clarified that it is the party-list representative who is elected into office, not the party-list group or organization he represents. This means that, for all legal intents and purposes, it's Harry Roque, not Kabayan Party List, who is the member of the House of Representatives. Kabayan has no direct or any vested interest over the seat, except inchoately, as when Roque dies, withdraws in writing his nomination (i.e. resignation), or becomes incapacitated. Kabayan will then have the right to submit new nominees to Comelec.

The intention is to afford the representative independence, expecting him to be directly accountable to his sector and the people in general, rather than to his party. It also shields him from the internal politics of the party and the whims of the party leadership. 

Roque, being a member of the House of Representatives, enjoys the same deliberative rights, salaries, and emoluments of a district representative. He can participate in lawmaking and is equally subject to the term limitation of 3 years for a maximum of 3 consecutive terms. Like a regular district representative, he can only be removed from office through the two ways prescribed by the Constitution: 

With these two grounds, the obvious intention of the Constitution is to vest on the House of Representatives and its electoral tribunal the exclusive jurisdiction to decide issues relating to its membership. Thus, it becomes clear that Roque cannot be ejected out of Congress by his own party by simply recalling his nomination or by cancelling his party membership. 

This, however, should not be taken to mean that the Constitution leaves no remedy to party-list groups to go after their erring members. What is being emphasized is that there is no shortcut in removing a member of the House like Roque. Kabayan has to go through the prescribed routes. 

Kabayan's options

If it is confident that it can muster the required two-thirds vote to oust Roque, then it can argue that his “inappropriate line of questioning” constituted a punishable “disorderly behavior,” and commence an expulsion proceeding following the House’s rules of procedure. 

The less stringent way is to file instead a quo warranto case against Roque before the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) on the ground that he ceased to possess all the qualifications for party-list representatives. It must be noted that one of the qualifications set by Section 9 of Republic Act 7941 is that the party-list representative must be “a bona fide member of the party or organization.”

In the recent case of Lico vs. Comelec (GR Number 205505, September 29, 2015), the Supreme Court ruled that bona fide membership in the party-list group is a continuing qualification. Meaning, a party-list representative, must remain a bona fide member of his party-list group or organization throughout his entire term. Those who ceased to be bona fide members can be a subject of a quo warranto proceeding before the HRET. 

The Lico case is also important as the Supreme Court finally clarified the delineation of jurisdictions of the Comelec and the HRET regarding intra-party disputes. It explained that when the intra-party dispute affects the title of a sitting member of Congress, jurisdiction is indisputably with the HRET. Meanwhile, disputes or controversies affecting non-sitting nominees remain with the Comelec, following the earlier ruling in Lokin vs. Comelec (GR Number 193808, June 26, 2012). 

Should Kabayan choose to pursue a quo warranto case, this would mean that it has to go through the “whole nine yards” of litigation before the HRET, and possibly even a certiorari proceeding before the Supreme Court. Anyone familiar with these proceedings would know that this takes a long time. Until that time, Roque get to retain his seat. 

While this difficulty can be unreasonable under legitimate cases, this calls upon party-list groups to be more prudent and circumspect with their choice of nominees. – 

Emil Marañon III is an election lawyer who served as chief of staff of former Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. He is candidate for LLM in Human Rights, Conflict and Justice at SOAS, University of London, as a Chevening scholar.