Failure to file the Soce

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Saturday, December 14, 2013


THEe 442 elected public officials were not ordered ousted after all. They were merely told to vacate their posts until such time that they have filed their Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (Soce).

I am glad that the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has made that clarification. The first media reports on the Comelec order were misleading because it was made to appear that former president and Pampanga Rep. Gloria Arroyo, Batangas Gov. Vilma Santos-Recto, Muntinlupa Rep. Rodolfo Biazon and 439 other officials, including some from Cebu, have been unseated because they did not submit their Soce on time.

In fact, an election lawyer reacted very strongly to the reports, saying that it was not within the Comelec’s power to banish the officials from their offices after they have taken their oath. He was right, of course, but the officials concerned, it turned out, were never in danger of ouster.

Still, the Comelec has a lot of explaining to do despite the clarification. The public would like to know how come many officials who were in the list of Soce non-filers have receipts showing that they have submitted the required documents before the deadline. They even have certificates of compliance issued by the poll body’s field offices.

Doesn’t the certificate establish, beyond any shadow of doubt, that its holder has submitted his Soce in the prescribed form?

Lawyer Ferdinand Gujilde, a Comelec official in Cebu, thinks that we might be seeing a
case of differing perceptions about a document; that the Comelec central office has found deficient what the local election officers have passed upon and declared to be compliant.

If this were the case, is it right to penalize the candidate for the failure of the national and local Comelec officials to agree on what is sufficient compliance and what is not? Also, isn’t Comelec Manila unnecessarily embarrassing their election officers by implying that the latter are incompetent to evaluate a document?

But even as I say this, I fully support the Comelec’s move to penalize those who do not take their legal obligations seriously. I also agree that the failure to file the Soce should be criminalized. If a candidate doesn’t comply with the Soce law, he goes
to jail, regardless of whether he won the election or not. It’s that simple.

I do not know why Congress had to make it difficult by making the Comelec go the roundabout way of asking the Department of Interior and Local Government to order the non-filing official to vacate his position, even if temporarily.

***

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel III says he’s alarmed by the successive killing of media practitioners in Mindanao and wants the Senate to investigate. This was after a media group denounced the spate of killings as catastrophic.

I am not comfortable with the idea that mediamen are special people whose lives are so important, compared with other people’s that we have to scream bloody murder every time one of us falls prey to violence. Why are we not asking for a Senate investigation on the killing of cargadors, for instance?

But I welcome Pimentel’s Senate investigation if only to establish whether the killings are work-related and why most of the victims are from the broadcast media. Who knows if the Senate investigation could result in the institution of reforms in the broadcast industry, especially on the kind of language used on the air?

But the reforms will have to come from within. There’s no need for the Senate to tell us to refrain from using gutter language. There is already a law that says we can’t.

(frank.otherside@yahoo.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 15, 2013.

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