MANILA -- The poll body said Wednesday that appointed government officials who are still holding on to their positions may be disqualified to run in the May polls.

“They might also be charged of an election offense… I’m having it studied,” said Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Jose Melo on Wednesday.

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The Comelec chief’s statement came after the Supreme Court (SC) on Monday reversed its December 1, 2009 decision that allowed appointive officials who have filed their certificates of candidacy (COC) for the May elections to pursue their bids without leaving their positions.

The new ruling, said Comelec commissioner Rene Sarmiento, “levels the playing field for all candidates because the undue advantage of sitting officials is removed.”

With this, Melo then urged the government appointees to immediately resign from their posts and not wait for their opponents to use the issue against them.

“If I were a candidate, I will resign immediately to avoid criticisms... Under the law, they should have resigned upon the filing of their certificate of candidacy,” said Melo.

He noted that it is time for them to leave their positions because “they have been given almost four months extra time in government service, enjoying their positions and at the same time being able to campaign already.”

Melo’s call is in contrast with the statement given earlier by election lawyer Sixto Brillantes, who said the appointed officials will not be held liable for any election offense since they were “acting on the basis of a previous ruling.”

Brillantes earlier said there are 20 high-profile personalities and several others who will be affected by the new SC decision.

Comelec employees who have filed their COCs to pursue their bids are also considered resigned following the SC’s new order.

Among the affected personalities are Environment Undersecretary Eleazar Quinto, Land Management Bureau director Gerino Tolentino, Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera, Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, Presidential Management Staff head Hermogenes Esperon, and Department of Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap. They are all running for congressional seats in the coming polls.

Chief Presidential legal counsel Raul Gonzalez, meanwhile, is running for mayor in Iloilo City.

Brillantes said these officials need not resign immediately since they will still appeal the ruling.

But Melo said the appointive officials must resign now and should no longer wait for the decision of the SC to be final and executory.

“So, if I were them, don’t take the risk anymore or their ambitions may be jeopardized,” he said, adding that he has already instructed the Comelec's legal department to study whether or not the appointed officials may face election offenses.

Welcoming the High Court ruling and the Comelec’s call, Justice Secretary Agnes Devanadera and Budget Secretary Rolando Andaya Jr. told reporters Wednesday that they are ready to vacate their posts.

“Definitely, I’m resigning. It’s as certain as death and taxes but the SC decision is not final and executory, not immediately executory,” Devanadera said.

The justice chief said she will allot her remaining days in her department to monitor big cases like the Maguindanao massacre since there is still a period of 15 days within which the parties may file any motion for reconsideration.

“Since there is a 15-day period, maybe that would give us ample time to wind up our work and I’m monitoring closely the big cases we have,” she said.

Andaya, on the other hand, assured that there would be no disruption in the quality and delivery of service of the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) after he tenders his courtesy resignation to run for congressman of Camarines Sur.

He said in a statement that he is obliged to resign following the High Court’s ruling.

“I have no choice but to obey the ruling of the Supreme Court, a fidelity to judicial decisions that is shared by the rest of my colleagues. However, protocol and civil service rules oblige me to tender my resignation, out of courtesy, to the appointing authority, the President, as I cannot abruptly and arbitrarily abandon my office without notifying her,” he said.

He vowed though that the DBM has a transition system in place and any changes in leadership in the agency would not disrupt their delivery of service.

Reports said the other Cabinet officials concerned are also planning to step down before the campaign period starts and are already winding down work in their office to prepare for the transfer to their successor.

The local campaign period starts on March 26. (Kathrina Alvarez/FP/Virgil Lopez/JMR/Sunnex)