Tapat, Santugon fail bid to reverse Comelec ruling on unqualified candidates

Misinterpretations of the law washed away Tapat and Santugon’s chances of having their unqualified candidates run.

After the cancellation of General Elections 2023 due to conflicts in deadlines and documents, Alyansang Tapat sa Lasallista (Tapat) and Santugon sa Tawag ng Panahon (Santugon) once again waged a battle of technicalities against the DLSU Commission on Elections (Comelec) in Special Elections 2023.

This time, the parties attempted to push some of their candidates into the annual polls after the Comelec deemed them unqualified to run due to unmet candidacy requirements.

Due diligence

On November 7, Ina Peñaflor, Moi Pulumbarit, and Jimson Salapantan, supposed Tapat runners for University Student Government (USG) president, vice president for external affairs, and executive secretary, respectively, took to Facebook to slam Comelec’s decision of disallowing them run due to “corrupted files” and to hint the beginning of their legal battle against the polling body.

The following day, Tapat filed a petition before the USG Judiciary, lamenting that Comelec did not “perform its duties diligently as mandated by the Omnibus Election code” since the election body supposedly failed to update the party soon enough to correct the errors. According to Tapat, Comelec did not inform them of the corrupted files until five days after the deadline.

The red party also argued that the corruption of the file is a fortuitous event, or force majeure, a considerable ground to reconsider their bids. Comelec argued against Tapat’s appeal, saying that it cannot be proven that the files were indeed corrupted “due to a technical glitch” and that a file possibly getting corrupted is “general knowledge” and therefore could have been prevented.

In response, the Judiciary issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) against Comelec, allowing Peñaflor, Pulumbarit, and Salapantan to run. This came with a show cause order to both Comelec and Tapat to explain their sides by November 10. In particular, Tapat was asked to clarify their request for a Writ of Preliminary Injunction—an order from the court requiring any USG officer, unit, department, office, or any individual to avoid any action before judgment—and why the TRO should not be lifted.

Comelec submitted their response on the day of the deadline, arguing that Tapat’s request to halt the elections for the three Executive Board positions through the petition would result in “grave and irreparable harm” to those who complied with the requirements within the deadline. They also raised that the campaign period was on its last leg. In the same response, the polling body pointed out how the Court responded differently to this case compared to a similar case in Make-Up Elections 2021, which set a precedent for deciding on cases concerning unforeseen circumstances.

Tapat, meanwhile, asked for an extension, which was granted by the Judiciary. They submitted their response on November 13.

Tapat and Santugon fumbled with their defenses in a legal war against Comelec.

Withdrawing the writ

Tapat reiterated their stance to the Judiciary’s queries while attaching two new motions: to withdraw their request for a Writ of Preliminary Injunction and to forgo oral arguments and move for resolution. These pleadings were on the merit that the writ is no longer needed and that the “speedy disposition of the petition” would prevent further delays in the election and the possible vacancy of the USG presidential seat.

On the same day, Comelec moved that the TRO be lifted and the writ be filed just to halt the election for the concerned positions while awaiting the petition’s decision. They expressed their concerns on the TRO, stating that its issuance should have maintained status quo, not give the Judiciary the power to execute decisions outside their scope—such as letting unqualified candidates run. This, according to the Comelec, sets a precedent that unqualified candidates can still be deemed eligible to run.

The polling body further argued that letting the petitioners run is against the USG Norms of Conduct, a part of which provides that runners holding incumbent positions should file a leave of absence (LOA) to pursue their candidacy. As LOAs are only made official during the announcement of candidates in the Comelec seminar, the petitioners’ LOAs had yet to take effect, making them runners while being incumbents.

The Judiciary, on the same day, agreed that the issuance of the TRO as a “long-term remedy” for the writ is erroneous; in fact, a TRO should only be effective for a maximum of five working days. The Court disagreed with Tapat’s request to forgo oral arguments, noting that the raised issues require “exhaustive examination.” Tapat’s withdrawal request was granted while the TRO was lifted.

Case dismissed

This decision came much to the disagreement of the red party. They filed a motion for reconsideration, opting to reinclude the Writ of Preliminary Injunction back on their petition. They also pleaded that the TRO be reinstated, arguing that an inquisition hearing should have been held by the Court.

Meanwhile, the lifting of the TRO allowed Comelec to implement its original ruling of not allowing the concerned Tapat runners to run in the polls. On November 15, the first day of the voting period, Comelec filed a motion to dismiss the petition as the case has become “moot and academic.”

Polls had already begun without the petitioners’ names, they argued, and that any oral arguments for the case would probably be held by the time the winners have been announced. Given these, the Court’s decision would have had no effect on the outcome of the elections.

Two days later, the Court released its final verdict, junking Tapat’s petition for the reasons Comelec argued. They also refuted Tapat’s argument on the injunction hearing, explaining that this was for the same writ the red party requested to withdraw. This withdrawal, according to the Court, rendered Comelec’s ruling irreversible.

The Judiciary gave a “stern warning” to Tapat for their “trial-and-error style of case presentation,” noting that they should have reviewed its options first and that their submission of contrasting pleadings is “wasting the Court’s time, resources, and work.”

A blue version

But Tapat was not the only one whose efforts ultimately proved futile. On November 9, a day after the Court released a TRO against Comelec for Tapat’s case, Santugon also took their concerns to the Judiciary, also pleading that a TRO be imposed against the polling body.

This is in an attempt to allow Patricia Zamora, their supposed CATCH2T26 batch vice president candidate, to run in the polls amid a signature mismatch in her C-03 document. The party argued that the error is minor and unintentional—and is thus clerical. Like Tapat, the blue party further raised that the Comelec failed to promptly update their data tracking system to notify the party of the error.

The following day, the Comelec released a show cause order asking both parties to explain why a TRO is or is not necessary. On November 13, Santugon stood by its arguments, while the Comelec asserted that one should comprehend the law in its most literal meaning without interpreting it in any other way.

To qualify as a clerical error, a mistake should fall under the conditions provided in the Omnibus Election Code, which a signature mismatch did not meet. Although it may be considered as “other adjustments that require a countersignature of a candidate,” the code specifically notes that these adjustments should be deemed necessary by Comelec. In this case, the Commission argued that Santugon cannot expect the mistake to be considered as an adjustment because they did not formally appeal before the Comelec.

The case was ultimately junked for lack of merit. The Court noted that Santugon should have filed a motion for reconsideration to the Comelec first and that asking to reverse Comelec’s decision through the Court is “fatally flawed.”

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