Senate Duterte bets among 545 labeled ‘perpetually disqualified’ from office

MANILA, Philippines — Greco Antonious Beda Belgica is a pastor, politician and presidential candidate for President Rodrigo Duterte.

From January 2018 until last October, when he submitted his candidacy, Belgica served as commissioner, then chairman, of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission (PACC), an agency reporting to the president’s office.

Duterte has been generous with the Belgicas. He had also named Greco’s father, Grepco ‘Butch’ Belgica, presidential adviser for religious affairs, and Greco’s brother, Jeremiah, secretary and chief executive of the Anti-Red Band Authority since July 2019.

Recently, on April 9, 2022, episode of The President’s Cat — a Malacanang-produced show that features Duterte as an interviewer — the president praised his PDDS party or Pederalismo ng Dugong candidate Dakilang Samahan.

“Greco Belgica,” Duterte said, “isa ako sa nag-udyok in your tumakbo pagkasenador. Kasi ang nakita ko isa kang crossed noon pa na wala ka pang ambisyon…you would always insist on being on the safe side… you always insisted that he yung tama and pag-usapan natin tama, on the palagi mong itinutulak in meetings.

Duterte said more: “You are a crusader, ikaw ‘yung pinakabata and ikaw ‘yung pinaka may alam sa gobyerno…. And you filed so many complaints against members of the government who were into bribery and bribery.

(I was one of those who pushed you to run for the Senate because I saw you as a crusader. You insisted on what was right, and for us to talk about what was right in meetings You are a crusader and you are one of the youngest and most knowledgeable about government.)

Without a doubt, Duterte favors Belgica. But then he clearly had no idea that, according to election rules, his candidate is not a paragon of virtue.

While the Constitution allows Belgica and all adult Filipino citizens to vote and be elected, Belgica may not be able to assume his senatorship, in the remote event that he wins on May 9. despite his low ranking in the polls.

On DQ status

Indeed, Belgica is one of 545 past and present politicians and candidates that the Electoral Commission (Comelec) has listed “for perpetual ban” from holding public office.

Why? Like all the others on Comelec’s DQ list, Belgica had not filed its Statement of Contributions and Expenses, or SOCE, within the legal deadline of 30 days after polling day.

Belgica ran as a senator but lost in 2013 (as a Democratic Party of the Philippines candidate) and 2016 (as an independent candidate). He was however elected councilor of the 6th district of Manila from 2004 to 2007,
a post his father had also held earlier.

Another national politician who is also on Comelec’s DQ list is Sergio Osmeña III, who was a senator from 1995 to 2007 and from 2010 to 2016. He ran again as an independent candidate in 2016 and 2019 but lost , and for both elections, he did not file his SOCE.

Others on the list

A few more memorable names on the DQ list are:

Ishmael ‘Chuck’ Mathay III, son of the late Ismael “Mel” Mathay Jr. (longtime mayor of Quezon City and chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority since 1992). Chuck Mathay is also the father of Ismael “Macky” Mathay IV, who is running as a member of Sangguniang Panlungsod in San Juan City on May 9, as a candidate for the PDP-Laban party.

Mario Pacursa Marcos, a UNITEAM roster volunteer, who is described online as “CEO of PT Philippines Antiviral Indonesia which recently collaborated with Gadjah Mada University (UGM) to develop an antiviral drug for COVID-19.” Marcos ran but lost his bid to become a congressman for the 2nd district of Albay Province in 2019.

Georgina Dait Lumauigdaughter of the late Governor of Ifugao Province, Gualberto Lumauig, ran but lost her candidacy for Vice Governor of Ifugao in the 2013 and 2016 elections, as a United Nationalist Alliance candidate .

Regina Aquino Aspirasgranddaughter of the late Tourism Minister Jose Aspiras, who ran but lost her candidacy to join Sangguniang Panlungsod in Manila’s 6th District in 2010, as a Nationalist People’s Coalition candidate.

Danton Remotowriter and university professor, who ran as the main candidate of the Ang Ladlad party list group in 2010, and as the Ang Ladlad candidate for senator in 2013.

All candidates are required to file their SOCE, in accordance with campaign finance rules set out in the Constitution, electoral law and case law.

Win or lose, must file

Campaign finance, according to Comelec, “refers to all funds collected to promote candidates, political parties or policies during elections, referendums, initiatives, party activities and organizations of gone”.

The Constitution, in Article II, Section 26, sets out this policy:

“The state guarantees equal access to public service opportunities and prohibits political dynasties as defined by law.

Comelec said the policy promotes “equal access to opportunity…a level playing field for all applicants, regardless of their financial ability.”

A decision of the Supreme Court (Chavez versus Comelec), urged the polling body to fulfill its “duty to enact and implement rules to safeguard this interest”.

Win or lose, all political party candidates and treasurers are required under the omnibus electoral code (Batas Pambansa B881) to submit “complete, true and detailed” SOCEs regarding their election campaigns, within 30 days of the day of the ballot.

The code was amended by Republic Act 7166 (Synchronized State and Local Elections for Electoral Reforms), which decriminalized non-filing, but also set out clear procedures for filing SOCEs. Article 14 stipulates: “No person elected to a public office may take office before having deposited the (SOCE)”, a prohibition which also applies to the political party which nominated the winning candidate.

A first instance of failure to file is an administrative offense punishable by a fine of 1,000 to 30,000 pesos, at Comelec’s discretion. Failure to pay the fine will allow the voting body to enforce its decision “by writ of execution…against the property of the offender.”

A second case of non-declaration carries a heavier penalty of 2,000 to 60,000 pesos, and “in addition, the offender will be subject to a life ban from holding public office.”

More reported bets

During the last four national and local elections – 2010, 2013, 2016 and 2019 – Comelec had begun to take significant steps to enforce campaign finance rules. What was once an ad hoc campaign finance unit (CFU) has become a better staffed but also overworked campaign finance office (CFO).

The number of non-filers who had been reported continued to increase with each election episode. The big task ahead is whether and when the cases of perpetual disqualification of the chief financial officer could be formalized by resolutions en banc of the seven commissioners of Comelec which have not yet been published.

In 2013, the Comelec CFO team reported that 424 candidates then failed to file or filed incomplete SOCEs, including 20 who ran and won as members of Congress, four governors, and 26 mayors. The 424 who were on the SOCE penalty bench included 169 winning candidates from the Liberal Party led by then President Benigno Aquino III, and 44 from the National Unity Party (NUP) which was allied with the LP.

In 2016, at least 95 SOCE non-filers ran again as candidates but should have been perpetually disqualified from holding public office. The 95 were among a total of 873 candidates for national and local offices who had been flagged by Comelec as non-registrants in the elections from 2007 to 2013.

Motu Propio Law

In Comelec Resolution 9991, the campaign finance omnibus rules issued on October 2, 2015, the polling body said that on its own initiative, or motu propio, the chief financial officer “may file motions to disqualify” a candidate, including for failure to submit his or her SOCE “in relation to at least two elections”.

Comelec Commissioner Christian Robert Lim, head of Comelec’s CFO, however, said offenders could always turn to “due process” as a last resort and challenge or appeal the CFO’s decision.

As a procedure, notices of non-filing of SOCE for two consecutive elections are sent to the candidates so that they can explain themselves or appeal the decision of the Comelec to disqualify them in perpetuity from exercising public functions.

Given its huge backlog of work, the Comelec en banc does not seem inclined or ready to formalize the disqualification files of the 545 candidates that the CFO has submitted. At the start of 2022, and amid the changing of the guard in the electoral body, around 4,000 candidates for the May 2018 elections in the barangay and Sangguniang Kabataan failed to file their SOCE. The examination and decision of their cases are not finished.

Commissioner George Erwin Garcia says the en banc has yet to formalize the disqualification status of the 545 candidates by resolution. If they win on May 9, he says, individual motions will have to be filed to disqualify those on the roster from taking office.

Chances are, the CFO’s DQ list is at best a reminder to voters that some candidates may not be qualified for public office at all because they are not SOCE filers.

Right to know, now! Coalition/Rappler.com

This piece is republished with permission right to know, now! (R2KRN)Coalition.

The R2KRN Coalition is a network of advocates campaigning for the passage of the Freedom of Information Act and the promotion of the practice of freedom of information in the country.