CA to be sole judge of Congressional poll contests in new Charter

MANILA A subcommittee of the Consultative Committee (ConCom) tasked to review the 1987 Constitution, introduced on Thursday a proposed provision that would make the Court of Appeals (CA) the sole judge of all poll contests involving congressmen and senators.

ConCom member and former Supreme Court Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura, chair of the subcommittee on the structure of the federal government, said that this proposed provision, will be submitted to the en banc for final voting next week.

Nachura explained that this proposed provision transfers the power to decide congressional electoral contests from the House of Representatives and the Senate Electoral Tribunals to the Court of Appeals.

The Electoral Tribunals are composed of three justices of the Supreme Court and six representatives from each chamber.

Our proposed change is to abolish the (Senate and House) Electoral Tribunals and instead to vest authority over all congressional election contests on the Court of Appeals, Nachura said in a press conference at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC).

The provision we have proposed is that the Court of Appeals, through a special division of five, shall have sole jurisdiction over all contests relating to election returns and qualifications of members of the House of Representatives and of the Senate, he added.

In the draft Constitution, the proposed wording of the proposed provision which will be added to Section 17 of Article VI: The Legislative Department, reads:

The Court of Appeals shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns and qualifications of Senators and Members of the House of Representatives. A special division of five (5) members of the Court of Appeals shall be constituted by a majority vote of all the members of the Court of Appeals to hear and decide every election contest filed with it. A majority vote of the members of the special division shall be required for a valid decision in such an election contest.

The 1987 Constitution, Section 17 of Article VI: The Legislative Department reads:

The Senate and the House of Representatives shall each have an Electoral Tribunal, which shall be the sole judge of all contests relating to the election, returns, and qualifications of their respective Members. Each Electoral Tribunal shall be composed of nine Members, three of whom shall be Justices of the Supreme Court to be designated by the Chief Justice, and the remaining six shall be Members of the Senate or the House of Representatives, as the case may be, who shall be chosen on the basis of proportional representation from the political parties and the parties or organizations registered under the party-list system represented therein. The senior Justice in the Electoral Tribunal shall be its Chairman.

Power to declare war

Meanwhile, Nachura said that his subcommittee is also eyeing the addition of a proposed provision meant to give the next president power to declare war in the event that the Congress is unable to convene to do so.

The proposed provision, which will be added to Section 23 of Article VI reads:

In the event Congress is unable to convene, the President, as Commander-in-Chief, has the power to declare the existence of the state of war, and shall exercise all powers necessary.

In the 1987 Constitution, Section 23 of Article VI: The Legislative Department reads:

(1) The Congress, by a vote of two-thirds of both Houses in joint session assembled, voting separately, shall have the sole power to declare the existence of a state of war.

(2) In times of war or other national emergency, the Congress may, by law, authorize the President, for a limited period and subject to such restrictions as it may prescribe, to exercise powers necessary and proper to carry out a declared national policy. Unless sooner withdrawn by resolution of the Congress, such powers shall cease upon the next adjournment thereof.

Nachura, however, allayed fears that this proposed provision could be abused as it was the Congress itself that will provide safeguards.

Congress itself should provide the safeguard. If Congress can meet at any time after that (declaration of war or emergency powers), they can of course undo whatever it is the President may have done, Nachura said.

ConCom Senior Technical Assistant and spokesman Ding Generoso explained that the proposal is only a fail-safe provision in case of extreme necessity.

The power to declare war is still with Congress, Generoso said, noting that the extension of the power to the President is a fail-safe provision that may be exercised only in the event that we don't have Congress (and the country is already under attack). If Congress is unable to perform its task, then who does it? The only possible official of government to do it is the President.

Hostilities

Nachura explained that the subcommittee came up with the proposed provision after it was raised during one of their meetings that there may be a situation when Congress cannot possibly meet and not be able to make such a declaration.

It was pointed out to us that there may be a situation when Congress cannot possibly meet and therefore may not be able to make such a declaration lalo pa't may (since there is a) required vote to be able to declare the existence of a state of war, he said.

Nachura pointed out that instances when the Congress cannot convene could be due to hostilities or if there is already an emergency going on.

He also described a state of war as the equivalent of rebellion or invasion, which is one of the grounds for the declaration of martial law.

Moreover, he said that hostilities had to threaten the very existence of the country, the safety of the people and not an ordinary hostility, such as a pocket rebellion.

If he (the President) feels that public safety needs, requires the proclamation that he may, on the basis of his finding that there is a state of war, declare martial law, Nachura said.

Nachura, meanwhile, said that it has to be the President to take over because as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, the President also has the grounds to make the declaration having access to all reports of military activities.

If Congress can no longer do that because they cannot meet because precisely because of the emergency, then the President will have to come in and declare the existence of a state of war and perform, such functions as what would be performed by Congress in order to cope with the demands of the state of war, Nachura said. (PNA)

Source: Philippine News Agency