Lawmaker asks SC to remove 3 justices in HRET

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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

MARINDUQUE Representative Regina Reyes asked the Supreme Court (SC) on Wednesday to disqualify three of its own from sitting as members of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET), where she is facing a string of disqualification cases.

Reyes was referring to Associate Justices Lucas Bersamin, Diosdado Peralta and Presbitero Velasco, the head of the tribunal whose son, former Marinduque Representative Lord Allan Jay Velasco, benefited from last year's SC ruling that disqualified her as a candidate in the May 2013 polls for being an American citizen.

Velasco has inhibited himself from the case -- both in the SC and the HRET -- but Reyes said he must leave the electoral tribunal since his continued stay has become untenable.

"There has never occurred an equivalent incident in the entire history of the Supreme Court -- or in any other Philippine governmental body for that matter -- where a son’s desire to be awarded a congressional seat would depend on a body headed by his own justice-father," Reyes said in her petition.

She said the SC runs the risk of "incurring historical infamy" if it only recognizes Velasco's inhibition from the case, even if he still has "administrative control and moral suasion, and enjoys collegial camaraderie in the HRET."

Bersamin, on the other hand, is a member of a political family in Abra and that he allegedly prejudged her case by voting with the majority in the SC decision, which was not recognized by the House leadership controlled by Reyes' allies in the Liberal Party.

Reyes also questioned the speed with which the HRET took up petition for intervention filed by a certain Victor Vela Sioco, which should have been dismissed for not paying the required docket fees.

She said a petition for intervention is not allowed under the rules of the HRET, which is also hearing two other disqualification cases against her.

Peralta, who chaired the proceeding, allowed the Sioco intervention to continue, making him "equally guilty of failing to appear impartial," the lawmaker said.

If the HRET grants any of the petitions, it will benefit Velasco's son, Reyes' political rival whom she defeated in the polls by nearly 4,000 votes.

"More than avoiding appearances of impropriety on the part of Justices Velasco, Bersamin and Peralta, the Honorable Court is duty bound not to put its justices in a situation where the opportunity to commit impropriety is highly possible, if not probable thereby presenting to the public unavoidably, appearances of impropriety involving justices of the Honorable Court," the petition stated.

Under Section 17, Article VI of the 1987 Constitution, the Senate and the House of Representatives have an electoral tribunal as the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of their respective members.

Each tribunal is composed of nine members, three of whom are justices of the Supreme Court designated by the chief justice while the rest are members of the Senate or the House.

Citing jurisprudence, Reyes said Velasco, Peralta and Bersamin may be replaced anytime by the chief justice as their designation to the tribunal is only temporary.

She asked the High Court to transfer Velasco to the Senate Electoral Tribunal and to designate Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio in his stead.

Reyes also said Bersamin and Peralta must be substituted by other justices "who do not suffer from the same entanglements". (Sunnex)

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