By Ray Chen S. Bahinting
The Judiciary Branch of the Silliman University Student Government dismissed all the disqualification cases filed by Concerted Action for the Upliftment of Student Endeavors (CAUSE) party against Students Union for Reforms (SURE) party last March 1.
CAUSE party filed disqualification cases against some of the candidates from SURE party for violating Article III, Section 6 of the Rules and Regulations for the Conduct of the Feb. 24, 2016 SUSG Elections, which states: “all campaign materials, including online propaganda, must be removed by the candidates and/or the political parties on or before midnight of Feb. 22, 2016.”
Contrary to the decision of COMELEC that this rule is void for vagueness, the Judiciary believed that the rule is “clear and free from any possible misapplication or misinterpretation.”
However, the Judiciary said that such rule was still not a ground for disqualification, much less punishable.
According to CAUSE party, some SURE party candidates violated the said rule since they did not remove their profile pictures with their official party ID on or before midnight of Feb. 22, which was the argument of CAUSE party in their complaints.
However, the Judiciary does not consider profile pictures with SURE party’s official ID as a campaign material, unless the photos had a caption.
In their consolidated-decision report, the Judiciary said, “[We] do not recognize the CAUSE Party’s mere assumption that a regular student voter who sees such picture and has gone through the campaign is led to the idea that such picture identifies them as a candidate and seeks their support for election.”
Kimberly Flores, vice-chairperson of CAUSE party, said that she does not agree with the decision of the Judiciary.
She said, “[The profile pictures must be considered as campaign materials] due to the fact that these pictures are exactly the same, [hence the same content] used in the identification card.”
Moreover, the Judiciary recognizes the fact that it is hard for all candidates to remove what they have shared and posted on Facebook.
According to the Judiciary, “a strict construction and adhesion of such law would result in the disqualification of most, if not all, of the candidates from, not just one party, but from both SURE and CAUSE parties.”
The Judiciary also said that disqualifying the candidates defeats the purpose of a healthy election race, most especially the electorate’s freedom to choose from among the candidates.
“The right to suffrage is one of the most fundamental rights brought by the blessings of democracy. It covers the right to vote and be voted upon,” the Judiciary report stated.
Furthermore, the Judiciary left to the COMELEC the credibility and reliability of the evidence, such as screenshots and timestamp.
Nonetheless, the Judiciary clarified that the dismissal of the cases was not just based on the evidence presented but on the proper appreciation of other factors and circumstances.
The Judiciary said that although Fritz Figueras did not actually or directly use her Twitter account, she had still committed a violation.
Figueras raised good faith in her case. She said that she did not intend to actually and directly use her Twitter account in campaigning online as her Facebook account is linked to her Twitter, making her Facebook posts to automatically appear in Twitter.
However, the Judiciary decided that it was a violation. Thus, the judiciary imposed a 500-peso fine on Figueras.
Furthermore, Kimberly Flores said that the CAUSE Party “gracefully” accepts the decision of the Judiciary.
Flores added: “The very purpose of CAUSE party to resort to due process as the guardian of parity, justice, and equity has been upheld. In the end, you judge your triumph not through the ends that it has reached but through the gravity of bravery that you’ve fought it for.”
Meanwhile, SURE party Chairperson Figueras, said: “I believe all candidates from SURE party, and even from CAUSE party, don’t deserve to be disqualified just because they did not change their profile pictures and cover photos on or before 11:59 p.m. This is also the reason why we didn’t file a disqualification case against them regarding the matter.”
Figueras added that she is ‘happy’ with the judiciary’s decision.
“In the end, we must not forget that the student government is all about service,” said Figueras.