Tapat may face suspension for missing reqs while separate case pends in Judiciary

‘A FUTURE TO FIGHT FOR’. Currently the majority party in the USG, Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista is grappling with two election-related cases for this year’s polls.

Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista (Tapat) is facing a possible 24-hour suspension from conducting campaign activities after the DLSU Commission on Elections (Comelec) saw fit to charge the party with the equivalent of one major and one minor offense for missing candidacy requirements.

Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon (Santugon) President Gelo Casipe, whose party was involved in the decision process, told The LaSallian that the suspension was supposed to commence at 8 am this morning, January 25. However, Comelec Chairperson JC Ababan clarified that the sanction is not yet in effect to give Tapat time to file a motion for reconsideration.

This is while another case, still on missing requirements, is awaiting resolution by the University Student Government (USG) Judiciary Branch regarding the eligibility of Tapat’s candidates for the BLAZE2022 president and Legislative Assembly (LA) representative positions. The Judiciary issued a writ of preliminary injunction last Saturday, January 23, ordering the suspension of all campaigning and the conduct of actual elections for both seats until they resolve the matter.

For ‘fairness, representativeness’

Casipe recounted to The LaSallian that Comelec called for an emergency meeting with the two parties last January 15 to discuss Tapat’s failure to pass party requirements, which the commission found was sufficient ground to make the entire party’s slate ineligible.

Santugon initially agreed to Comelec’s proposal, Casipe said, due to the “clear grounds” of ineligibility written in the Online Election Code and the memorandum of agreement. However, Tapat requested for a reconsideration and additional time to deliberate separately. When they met again later that evening, Santugon changed their vote “in consideration of the fairness and representativeness of the coming elections,” Casipe explained.

Comelec adjusted the deadline of requirements for both parties and agreed to settle on an appropriate sanction for Tapat at a later date. 

On January 23, the parties and Comelec reconvened. Santugon recommended that Tapat be suspended for at most four days, while Tapat pleaded to be given one major offense. Comelec, however, decided to give Tapat one minor offense and one major offense, which is equivalent to a one-day suspension as per the penalty guidelines in the Online Election Code.

While incomplete submission of candidacy requirements is neither listed as a minor nor a major offense in the said law, the legislation provides that Comelec, following due process, may sanction parties for “other acts.”

The LaSallian asked Tapat President Martha Delos Santos for her party’s side of the story; she, however, refrained from giving a detailed account.

‘Utmost consideration’

The suspension of the campaign and elections for BLAZE2022 president and LA representative came after Tapat candidates Calvin Almazan and Ma. Bianca Lazo submitted a petition to the Judiciary to challenge Comelec’s decision to deem their candidacy ineligible. According to the published resolution, Comelec classified the two candidates as “incompletely filed” after failing to submit their cover letters, an application requirement as per Section 3d of the Online Election Code.

But Almazan argued that Comelec failed to inform them of the missing item sooner. In an exclusive interview with The LaSallian, he recounted that their party representative had submitted their certificates of candidacy around half an hour ahead of the January 15 deadline, but “Comelec informed us the day after, at around 11:04 am, that we have missing requirements. And we can pass it until 12 [noon].”

Almazan and Lazo said they already had their documents ready, but by this time, an unnamed member of the party, who was tasked to forward the files to Comelec, was in the hospital attending to a personal emergency related to COVID-19 and was thus not able to make the submission despite supposedly trying.

Additionally, according to Section 3e of the Online Election Code, “a commissioner must acknowledge receipt to the political party via SMS or email,” with parties given the right to follow up commissioners if an acknowledgment is not sent within 30 minutes.

Almazan claimed that Comelec did not respond within the given 30 minutes, but withheld further details on whether the party followed up, saying he could not disclose such information outside of court due to the ongoing judicial review. He did, however, reveal that Tapat has evidence against Comelec regarding such matter.

He emphasized that the poll body needed to notify applicants of missing requirements first as the commission is mandated in their memorandum of agreement to inform them before the parties make a follow-up.

 “The fault couldn’t be on the side of the party because we were under the assumption that all the documents were okay,” he furthered. 

An appeal was submitted to Comelec a week after the announcement of their ineligibility. When Comelec rejected it, the petitioners sent an appeal to the Judiciary branch the next day. During the hearing, the commissioners were still firm in their decision, he said. 

However, when the floor was opened to ask questions to the magistrates, Almazan shared that “Comelec actually showed interest [in] the settlement.” They probed the commission through a private message, but Comelec did not give a final answer.

“We are actually living in extraordinary times right now,” Almazan maintained, “so utmost consideration must be given,” reasoning that their assigned party member’s only immediate concern at the time was their own health and safety. He admitted that in spite of knowing Comelec’s rules, the party is seeking some sort of consideration due to the circumstances. “And at the end of the day, it again begs the question: why didn’t they inform us earlier on?” he added.

The LaSallian reached out to Ababan, who opted to refrain from giving remarks without the advice of their legal counsel.

The Judiciary soon received a position paper last January 23 from Casipe and Santugon Attorney-General Krisvin Briones, intending to overturn the court’s ruling. Earlier today, the Judiciary junked the appeal as they argued Santugon is not a formal party to the case and that the contents of the paper were “not worthy of consideration,” as the manner of the appeal was “improper and inappropriate” and the party failed to show evidence of potential damage to their candidates.

The Judiciary also defended their earlier ruling, reasoning that continuing the electoral process and allowing Santugon’s candidates to continue campaigning will place Almazan and Lazo at a disadvantage in the elections.

With reports from Sabrina Joyce Go

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