By Rey Panaligan
The Supreme Court (SC) has ordered the proclamation of former vice mayor Shirlyn L. Banas Nograles of General Santos City as the duly elected member of the House of Representatives for the first legislative district of South Cotabato.
In a resolution promulgated last September 10, but released to the public only late last week, the SC nullified an order of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) which suspended the election for the first legislative district of South Cotabato last May 13.
Case records showed that out of the 284,351 votes cast in the May 13 election for the first legislative district of South Cotabato, Nograles garnered 194,929 votes or 68.55 percent of all the votes cast.
Since the Comelec’s resolution suspending the election ruled that all the votes cast for the first legislative district of South Cotabato must be considered stray votes, Nograles was not proclaimed as the first district’s representative-elect.
Nograles, joined by several city and barangay officials and residents, elevated the issue before the SC and pleaded that the Comelec resolution be nullified. They also asked the SC to compel the Comelec to proclaim Nograles as the winner.
The SC’s unanimous full court resolution written by Associate Justice Rosmari D. Carandang stated:
“The elections for the First Legislative District of the Province of South Cotabato scheduled on May 13, 2019 should not have been suspended, and the candidate obtaining the most number of votes for the said position must be proclaimed.
“Consequently, the holdover provision under Section 2 of R.A. 11243 would be inapplicable since there would already be a newly elected and qualified Representative.
“WHEREFORE, the instant petition is hereby GRANTED. COMELEC Resolution No. 10524 is hereby declared NULL and VOID. The elections for the representative of the First Legislative District of South Cotabato, including General Santos City is UPHELD.
“COMELEC is hereby DIRECTED to CONVENE a Special Provincial Board of Canvassers to PROCLAIM petitioner Shirlyn L. Banas-Nograles, the winning candidate, as Representative of the First Legislative District of South Cotabato, including General Santos City. SO ORDERED.”
Republic Act No. 11243 signed by President Duterto into a law on March 11, 2019 reapportioned the first legislative district of South Cotabato with the creation of the lone legislative district of General Santos City.
Under Section 1 of RA 11243, the creation of the lone legislative district of General Santos City was “to commence in the next national and local elections after the effectivity of this Act.” RA 11243 took effect on April 4, 2019 – just over a month before the 2019 general elections.
The law also directed the incumbent representatives of first and second legislative districts of South Cotabato to continue representing their respective districts “until new representatives shall have been elected and qualified.”
On April 11, 2019, the Comelec issued a resolution suspending the election for representative for the first legislative district, including General Santos City.
In issuing the suspension order, the Comelec claimed that the electoral data for the first legislative district of South Cotabato, which included General Santos City, as well as the names of the candidates for the said position, have already been configured into the automated election system.
The Comelec ruled that since the configuration can no longer be revised for the May 13, 2019 elections without jeopardizing the preparation for the election of other positions, the election for representative for the first legislative district should be suspended.
In their petition that was granted by the SC, Nograles and her group said the Comelec’s suspension order violated Republic Act No. 7166 which states that the elections for the members of the House of Representatives should be on the second Monday of May, every three years.
They also questioned Comelec’s directive to consider votes for the first district as stray votes in the 2019 general elections.
They pointed out if the Comelec’s resolution will be enforced, there would be no representatives for the first district from July 1, 2019, until the time elections for such position are held.
On the other hand, to allow the first district’s incumbent representative to continue in a holdover capacity “would be extending his term of office for another three years without being elected by the people.”