Gray areas in the existence and jurisdiction of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) should be resolved by the Supreme Court (SC) to clear doubts about when the body takes jurisdiction over cases filed against House members or would-be members.
According to a ranking member of the administration coalition, the disqualification case filed against Marinduque Rep. Regina Ongsiako-Reyes, would open gray areas on when the HRET acquires jurisdiction over House members and when a congressional candidate becomes a member of the House.
Lawmakers, including House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte and Mandaluyong Rep. Neptali Gonzales II, maintained that once a congressional candidate is proclaimed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), the HRET takes over jurisdiction over election protests. The lawmakers also maintained, in the case of Ongsiako-Reyes, that the HRET has the exclusive jurisdiction over the disqualification case against her because she is now a member of the House of Representatives.
Both lawmakers stressed that the Supreme Court went overboard in deciding on the disqualification case that would favor Ongsiako-Reyes’ political opponent, Lord Alan Velasco, the son of SC Associate Justice Presbitero Velasco Jr.
Belmonte and Gonzales said that once a congressional candidate is proclaimed, he or she becomes a member of Congress. Others, however, claimed that being a member of Congress starts upon her or his oath-taking when Congress opens on July 22.
Belmonte and Gonzales said that the oath-taking could be done before any public official even before a barangay captain.
The source, a former member of the HRET, said questions about the existence of the HRET are going to crop up as a consequence of the disqualification case against Ongsiako-Reyes who is now considered a member of Congress and, therefore, within the jurisdiction of the HRET. Reyes has been disqualified by the Comelec for allegedly being an American citizen. The Comelec ruling was affirmed by the high tribunal.
“Is the HRET non-existent when Congress is in sine die or, as a constitutional body, exists even before the House and the Supreme Court elect its members after the opening of the 16th Congress?” the source said.