The Supreme Court yesterday ordered the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to immediately disclose and release the names of the nominees of party-list groups or organizations accredited to participate in the party-list elections on May 14.

In a 15-page unanimous decision penned by Justice Cancio C. Garcia, the Court En Banc said that the Comelec “commited grave abuse of discretion in refusing the legitimate demands of the petitioners for a list of the nominees of the party-list groups subject of their respective positions.” It directed the Comelec to submit a compliance report within five days upon notice. The decision is immediately executory.

“In all, we agree with the petitioners that respondent Comelec has a constitutional duty to disclose and release the names of the nominess of the party-list groups,” the Court said.

The Court cited section 7, Article III of the Constitution (the right of people to information on matters of public concern) and section 28, Article II of the Constitution (the State adopts and implements a policy of full public disclosure of all its transactions involving public interest) as bases in ordering the poll body to divulge the said names.

“It has been repeatedly said in various contexts that the people have the right to elect their representatives on the basis of an informed judgment. Hence the need for voters to be informed about matters that have a bearing on their choice. The ideal cannot be achieved in a system of blind voting, as veritably advocated in the assailed resolution of the Comelec,” said the Court.

The Court also said that no national security or like concerns is involved in the disclosure of the names of the nominees of the party-list groups in question.

The Court said that the prohibition imposed on the Comelec under section 7 of RA 7941 (Party-list System Act) is limited in scope and duration as it extends only to the certified list which the same provision requires to be posted in the polling places on election day. It further said that to stretch the coverage of the prohibition to the absolute is to read into the law something that is not intended.

“As it were, there is absolutely nothing in R.A. No. 7941 that prohibits the Comelec from disclosing or even publishing through mediums other than the ‘Certified List’ the names of the party-list nominees. The Comelec obviously misread the limited non-disclosure aspect of the provision as an absolute bar to public disclosure before the May 2007 elections,” said the Court.

While it sided with the petitioners on the issue of public disclosure of the names of the party-list nominees, the Court however turned down its appeal to cancel the Comelec’s accreditation of 32 party-list groups.

The Court said that such course of action would entail going over and evaluating the qualities of the sectoral groups or parties in question, particularly whether or not they indeed represent marginalized/underrepresented groups. It stressed that the exercise would require the Court to make a factual determination, a matter which is outside the office of judicial review by way of special civil action for certiorari.
Concurring were Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno, Senior Associate Justice Leonardo A. Quisumbing, and Justices Consuelo Ynares-Santiago, Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, Antonio T. Carpio, Conchita Carpio-Morales, Adolfo S. Azcuna, Dante O. Tinga, Minita V. Chico-Nazario, Presbitero J. Velasco, Jr., and Antonio Eduardo B. Nachura. Justices Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez and Renato C. Corona were on leave. –Jay B. Rempillo, Supreme Court PIO

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