Comelec: We ‘promptly respon’ to SC TROs on poll bets

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) said it is answering the temporary restraining orders (TROs) issued by the Supreme Court (SC) on the cases of candidates in the May 2022 polls.

“Every time a TRO is sent to us and we are asked to comment we do participate. We are part of the process to resolve these issues. Those cases are not neglected. It is just that we need to start printing and that is what we did. We will be printing a lot. We are going to print more than 65 million ballots,” Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said in a recent online forum.

Jimenez noted that they are following schedules as far as the preparations for the polls are concerned. “If we wait any longer, we might run into problems later on. Basically, we might have to crash timelines. We might have to hurry things up and when you hurry a lot of things get left by the wayside…We hope the Supreme Court (SC) will understand the urgency on this matter for us and that they are fully aware of the timetables we are operating under,” he said.

Jimenez comment  was in response to a statement by election lawyer Romulo Macalintal that the poll body might have been overstepping the bounds of its jurisdiction after they went ahead with the printing of ballots despite the TROs issued by the high court.

At least 13 party-list groups, one vice presidential and one senatorial aspirant were earlier declared nuisance candidates by the Comelec en banc but were able to secure relief from the SC.

“Last Sunday everything for the preparations for the printing of the ballots has already been completed and at that point, ballots have already been serialized. There were already serial numbers attached to the ballots. The ballot faces were already fixed and ready to go. At that point it was either we went ahead or we didn’t. We are keeping to a schedule because we are very concerned, because if we don’t start right now then we might run into problems later on,” Jimenez explained.

Macalintal also cited a Comelec statement that the ballot printing for the May 2022 polls started way earlier than the May 2019 elections where the ballot printing started on Feb. 9, 2019, and was finished on April 26, 2019, way ahead of the May 2019 elections.

“I would just have to point out that this is a presidential election and 2019 was a senatorial election so it is a little more complicated this time. And we are also talking about more voters this time which means you have a lot more allocations to handle, so the situation is a bit different,” Jimenez added.

Macalintal added that one of those affected was a certain Norman Marquez, a senatorial candidate, who was earlier disqualified by the Comelec for being allegedly a “nuisance candidate.”

On January 19, the SC issued a TRO directing the Comelec to stop implementing its decision on Marquez’s case and directed it to comment on his petition within a non-extendible period of 10 days. Despite the TRO, his name was not included in the ballot.

In his letter to Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo, Marquez called the Comelec’s action an “arrogant defiance” of the TRO. Macalintal noted that the poll body should have advised the SC it could no longer obey its TRO before it started printing the ballots and should have asked for authority from the SC to proceed with the ballot printing despite the existence of said TROs on certain candidates.

“The Comelec has all the time to seek such clarification from the SC and advise the court of its plan to start printing the ballots instead of just saying that “the ballots are ready to go, so we went ahead” which practically ignored the restraining orders of the court,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jimenez said the issue between the two Partido Demokratiko Pilipino–Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) factions is on “status quo”.

The poll body was asked to determine who is the legitimate group between Energy Secretary Alfonso Cusi’s faction and the cluster of Senators Manny Pacquiao and Aquilino Pimentel III.

“Right now, the PDP-Laban case is on status quo, that is why we have not declared independent from their competing slates. So they are both given the opportunity to use the party name, whether or not that will change in the future, I really can say,” he said.

The camp of Cusi filed a petition before the Comelec to declare the group of Pacquiao and Pimentel as illegitimate. Both groups claim to be the legitimate group of the ruling political party.