GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/20 September) — The Supreme Court (SC) declared null and avoid the Comission on Elections (Comelec) resolution scrapping the elections in the first district of South Cotabato last May 13, and ordered the proclamation of former city vice mayor Shirlyn Banas-Nograles as the duly-elected representative of the district.
The en banc decision dated Sept. 10 but only released on Thursday granted the instant petition for status quo ante order sought by Nograles’ camp after Comelec suspended the polls on April 11 through Resolution 10524.
It directed Comelec to convene a special provincial board of canvassers to proclaim Nograles as the winning candidate in the first district and this city.
The poll suspension came a month after President Rodrigo R. Duterte signed Republic Act (RA) 11243, which reapportioned the first district of South Cotabato and created a separate legislative district for the city.
Resolution 10524 instead scheduled the conduct of special elections for the two districts six months after the May 13 elections.
Comelec scheduled the special elections on Oct. 26 for the first district and the city’s new lone district, which was established as the third district of South Cotabato.
In their petition, Nograles and other party mates under local political party People’s Champ Movement, contested the validity of the resolution, citing that “elections for elective members of the House of Representatives shall be on the second Monday of May, every three years,” as provided for in RA 7166 or the Omnibus Election Code.
They noted that the scheduling of the first regular election “within six months from May 13, 2019” violated the provisions of R.A. 11243, which cited that reapportionment will commence in the “next national and local elections.”
Nograles’ camp also questioned Comelec’s directive to consider votes for the first district as stray.
The SC, however, did not issue a ruling prior to the May 13 polls and instead asked Comelec to file its comment regarding the petition.
Nograles topped polls in the first district with 194,929 votes or 68.55 percent of the 284,351 votes cast but she was not proclaimed after Comelec declared them as stray.
In its ruling, which was penned by SC Associate Justice Rosmari Carandang, the court said the “petition is meritorious” based on Sections 7 and 8, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution.
It said the Constitution is clear that the elections for Congress should be held on the second Monday of May unless otherwise provided by law.
The SC said Section 1 of RA 11243 categorically stated that the reapportionment of the first district “shall commence in the next national and local elections after the effectivity of this Act.”
It said the reapportionment law did not specifically provide for a different date and did not delegate to Comelec the setting of the date for the elections in the newly-reconfigured districts.
The court said the law was passed “with the view of implementing the reapportionment of the First Legislative District of the Province of South Cotabato at the most feasible and practicable time, i.e., during the next elections on the second Monday of May 2022.”
“The elections for the First Legislative District of the Province of South Cotabato scheduled on May 13, 2019 should not have been suspended, and the candidate obtaining the most number of votes for the said position must be proclaimed,” the court said.
In statement, Nograles, who filed her candidacy for the city’s lone district in the Oct. 26 special polls, hailed the court’s decision has finally put a closure to all the doubts and questions about the votes cast for the first district seat last May.
“Hopefully, with God’s grace, the Comelec will soon proclaim us,” she said.
“Now that the Supreme Court has spoken, respecting the sanctity of your ballots and upholding the constitutional provision of the three-year term, we all need to transcend political differences and move forward with a united stand,” she added.
Former South Cotabato first district Rep. Pedro Acharon Jr., who is also seeking the city’s lone district seat, told reporters that he will respect and abide by the SC decision.
The former solon, who authored RA 11243, finished his third straight term at the House of Representatives last June and gunning for an unprecedented fourth term.
“The court has spoken, so we will follow it,” he said.
Acharon, who admitted that he was surprised with the SC decision, said he will immediately suspend his campaign, while waiting for the official directive from Comelec.
Lawyer Michael Abas, Comelec-Region 12 director, said they will study the SC ruling and wait for a decision from the Comelec en banc.
In the meantime, he said they will continue with their preparations for the Oct. 26 special elections.
“On our end, we will wait for the policy guidance of the commission en banc before we will take any action,” Abas said.
Two other aspirants — independents Abelardo Plaza and Benjie Rivera — are vying for the city’s lone district seat.
Former Polomolok town mayor and South Cotabato board member Isidro Lumayag is running unopposed in the newly-reconfigured first district towns of Polomolok, Tupi and Tampakan. (MindaNews)