By Rey Panaligan
The Court of Appeals (CA) has ruled that former Marinduque Rep. Regina Ongsiako Reyes can be charged with usurpation of official functions after her disqualification in the 2013 elections on citizenship issue.
In a decision written by Associate Justice Samuel Gaerlan, the CA dismissed the petition of Reyes who sought a reversal of the resolution of the Department of Justice (DOJ) which approved the filing of a case against her for violation of Article 177 of the Revised Penal Code (RPC).
The RPC imposes a prison term on “any person who, under pretense of official position, shall perform any act pertaining to any person in authority or public officer, without being lawfully entitled to do so.”
The complaint against Reyes was filed by Marinduque Rep. Lord Allan Velasco, her rival in the 2013 elections, who was proclaimed winner by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) and later by the Supreme Court (SC).
In its decision, the CA said:
“Despite the Resolution of the Supreme Court dismissing her petition and finding no grave abuse on the part of the Comelec En Banc, Reyes continuously occupied the Office of the Marinduque Representative, received the salaries, allowances, and other benefits intended for such position, as well as, the funds intended for the maintenance and operational expenses of the Office of the Marinduque Representative.
“From the foregoing findings, the essential element of false pretense is apparent.”
Associate Justices Zenaida Galapate Laguilles and Pablito Perez concurred in the decision.
The decision rejected Reyes’ claim that she could not be held liable for performing her duties in good faith since she believed that only the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) could order her to vacate her post being a member of Congress.
But the CA said that such claim of good faith was “directly in contradiction with the findings of the Supreme Court” in its 2013 and 2016 decisions.
It said the SC ordered the House of Representatives to administer the oath of office of Velasco because of the nullity of Reyes’s candidacy and the absolute lack of legal basis to let her keep the seat.
Despite her knowledge of the Comelec and the SC’s rulings, Reyes took her oath before the Speaker of the House of Representatives when Congress convened, it stressed.
Thus, the CA agreed with the DOJ that there was probable cause to charge Reyes with usurpation of official functions.
Case records showed that Velasco assumed his post and served only five months of his three-year term. He then defeated Reyes in the May, 2016 elections.