GENERAL SANTOS CITY -- Elections for the first legislative district representative of South Cotabato province and this city remained suspended even as the Supreme Court (SC) has started proceedings over a petition seeking for the polls to push through on Monday.
Lawyer April Mitchor-Miguel, city election officer, said the court has not issued a final decision as of Sunday regarding the petition for "Certiorari with Urgent Prayer for Issuance of a Status Quo Ante Order" filed by the camp of Vice Mayor Shirlyn Banas-Nograles of local political party People's Champ Movement (PCM).
Nograles, who is among the three candidates eyeing the first congressional district seat, mainly questioned the validity of the implementing rules and regulations (IRR) issued by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for Republic Act (RA) 11243.
RA 11243, signed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte on March 11, reapportioned the first district of South Cotabato and established the city as the province’s third district.
The Comelec en banc, through Resolution 10524 or the IRR issued last April 11, postponed the election for the first district representative on May 13 and set the first regular election for the representatives of the two new districts within six months.
Nograles said RA 11243 clearly provided that the reconfiguration will take effect in the next local elections or in 2022 and not this year.
She said the postponement of the elections is unfair for residents as they will not have a representation in the House of Representatives until the elections are held for the two new districts.
In a "notice" from SC received by both camps on Friday, the court said it has "resolved, without giving due course to the petition," to require the Comelec to comment on the matter within 10 days.
Signed by Clerk of Court Edgar O. Aricheta, it cited that the SC en banc issued the resolution last May 3.
Miguel said the document was mainly a notice that the court has started the proceedings on the petition and has ordered the Comelec en banc to respond.
"It did not stop the Comelec to proceed with the implementation of the IRR and the postponement of the elections for the first district congressional seat," she told PNA in a phone interview.
But in a press conference on Saturday, the PCM camp claimed that the SC resolution means that the election must proceed as scheduled.
Reelectionist City Councilor Franklin Gacal Jr., a lawyer and one of the petitioners, said Comelec should wait for the final decision of SC and allow the election to push through, count the votes and proclaim the rightful winner.
"If the court eventually decides that the IRR is valid, we will respect it," he said.
Gacal said Comelec "should now respect the SC, which is the final arbiter of all legal questions."
Nograles urged residents in this city and the first district towns of Polomolok, Tupi and Tampakan in South Cotabato to cast their votes for the congressional seat and make sure that they will be counted.
She debunked claims from "certain individuals" that the votes for the post will eventually be declared as "stray" by Comelec.
"That's not how the Comelec works. If the votes are already there, they will be counted. Even those considered as stray votes are actually counted," she said.
Miguel said the pronouncements made by the PCM camp have created confusion among voters in the area.
"Let me clarify that since it is status quo, the previous decision that all votes for the first district congressional seat will be counted as stray will remain in effect," she said.
The official said she was not aware as of Sunday morning whether the Comelec en banc has already issued its comment to the SC regarding matter as the notice was only served last Friday.
But she expects the commission en banc to immediately comply with the court's resolution. (PNA)