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SC refers poll watchdog's case vs. Comelec to CA

The Supreme Court has referred a petition filed by a poll watchdog against the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to the Court of Appeals (CA).

At a briefing on Tuesday, SC Public Information Office chief Theodore Te said the order was contained in a writ of habeas data issued to petitioner Automated Election System (AES) Watch.

"The Court through a minute resolution issued a writ of habeas data and referred the case to the Court of Appeals," Te said.

In its petition, AES Watch members accused Comelec officials of spying on them using the P30-million intelligence fund that was given to the poll body by Malacañang.

Te clarified the difference between the "issuance" of a writ and the "granting of privilege" under the writ.

"The issuance of a writ of habeas data will prompt the procedure of submission of a verified return or answer of the respondent," Te said. "Upon submission, the court may conduct a summary hearing and render judgment. The judgment may constitute granting of the privilege of a writ of habeas data."

In its petition filed last July 3, AES Watch, joined by Rodolfo "Jun" Lozada, a whistleblower in one of the graft scandals that rocked the Arroyo administration, also asked that Malacañang "permanently cease and desist" from giving intelligence funds to the Comelec.

Habeas data aims to protect the image, privacy, and freedom of information of a person, and can be used by any citizen to find out what information is being held about him or her.

The petitioners wanted the SC to order the respondents to disclose to the courts any information they have on them, and "permanently suppress, destroy or permanently seal” these information.

They also wanted the Comelec to stop from "using these illegally-gathered information to prosecute critics of the PCOS automated elections technology suite for election sabotage and other applicable offenses or crimes."

Named respondents were Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes; Comelec commissioners Lucenito Tagle, Elias Yusoph, Christian Robert Lim, Luie Tito Guia, Grace Padaca and Al Parreño; Comelec finance director Dulay Mejos; Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.; and deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte.

AES Watch was a vocal critic of how the Comelec handled the May 13 automated midterm elections. — Mark D. Merueñas/KBK, GMA News