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SC unseats Leyte Rep. Lucy Torres-Gomez

(Updated 9:04 p.m.) The Supreme Court on Tuesday unseated Lucy Torres-Gomez as congresswoman of the fourth district of Leyte province, ruling that replacing her husband Richard Gomez in the May 2010 elections was invalid. Voting 7-4-4, the high tribunal sitting en banc granted a quo warranto (Latin for "by what warrant?") case filed by Silverio Tagolino, who lost to Torres-Gomez in the May 2010 elections. In his petition, Tagolino questioned a March 2012 decision of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) that upheld Torres-Gomez's eligibility as a candidate and as substitute to her husband in the automated polls. "SC en banc voted today in Tagolino v HRET 7-4-4 that Cong. Lucy Torres-Gomez did not validly substitute as candidate for the ousted Richard Gomez in connnection with the May 2010 elections... Torres-Gomez ousted," said Supreme Court Public Information Chief Theodore Te. Torres-Gomez, meanwhile, said she would file a motion for reconsideration. "I continue to trust the system," she said at a press briefing. "What is important is that coming into my first term I had the mandate of the people. I have the lead of over 26,000 [votes]. Rest assured that I have done my part, I have served my people well, and I know that I enjoy their overwhelming support," she added. In his petition with the high court, Tagolino claimed that the certificate of candidacy of Mr. Gomez was cancelled, meaning he could not be substituted. Tagolino also contested the eligibility of Torres-Gomez, alleging she is not a resident of Ormoc, Leyte. The HRET, however, sided with the Commission on Elections when it issued Resolution 8890, declaring that the certificate of candidacy of Mr. Gomez was neither cancelled nor denied due course, hence the substitution of Torres-Gomez was legal and valid. The HRET further said that Torres-Gomez had sufficiently presented evidence to show she is a resident of Ormoc City. Torres-Gomez received more than 101,250 votes in the May 2010 polls, while Tagolino got 493 votes, according to the Comelec. In 2010, the poll body granted the petition for disqualification filed by former village chairman Buenaventura Juntilla against Mr. Gomez for his alleged failure to fulfill the legal residency requirement of at least one year. In its ruling, the SC en banc noted the difference in legal effects between a candidate who is disqualified and one whose certificate of candidacy (COC) has been cancelled, with Mr. Gomez falling under the latter category. "One who is disqualified… is still technically considered to have been a candidate. The said candidate is considered to have complied with the eligibility requirements as prescribed by law… but is, however, ordered to discontinue such candidacy as a form of penal sanction brought about by the commission of any …election offenses," the court said. "On the other hand, a denial of due course or a cancellation of a COC …is premised on a person’s false misrepresentation of any of the material qualifications required for the elective office aspired for,” it added. The Supreme Court also said that while the Comelec en banc resolution on Juntilla's petition only mentioned Gomez's "disqualification," the poll body's First Division also granted Juntilla's request that his COC be cancelled as well, something the en banc "overlooked" when it reviewed the division's ruling. "The confusion stemmed from the use of the terminology ‘disqualified’ in the February 17, 2010 Resolution of the COMELEC’s First Division, which was adopted by the COMELEC En Banc in granting the substitution of (Rep. Torres-Gomez), and even further perpetuated by the HRET in denying the quo warranto petition,” the court said. "The Comelec should have been more circumspect and realized that (the) non-compliance with the residency requirement is not even a ground for disqualification but for denial of due course and/or cancellation of COC," it added. Asked for comment on the decision, Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. said he has yet to read the ruling. “Hindi ko alam ang detalye I’ll have to read. Hindi ko alam ang facts, hindi ko alam ang nangyari sa kanya,” he told reporters. — with Amita Legaspi/KG/KBK, GMA News