JUNE 17, 2009 (STAR) By Evelyn Macairan - While there might not be any legal impediment that could prevent President Arroyo from seeking a seat in Congress, an official of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) yesterday said the Chief Executive might be hounded by moral and ethical issues.

Comelec spokesman James Arthur Jimenez said in a forum held at the Ilustrado Restaurant in Manila that he does not see any legal problems if Mrs. Arroyo decides to run for Congress in Pampanga.

“Is it okay for the President to run for a lower position? Absolutely, why not. There is no legal impediment to a president seeking any other position. She can run for municipal councilor if that is her pleasure or as barangay captain if she wants,” Jimenez said.

As to the question of whether the Chief Executive would be required to tender her resignation when she files her certificate of candidacy (COC) in November in order to run, Jimenez said that this was a “novel question” that has yet to be answered by the poll body.

“We will have to look more deeply into that but my sense of it is that no, she will not be required to resign and if she still had some time on her term left over then she could come back,” he said.

He admitted that this is a serious issue with questions such as “will she be able to use the awesome powers of the presidency to overwhelm her local opponents” that would have to be addressed.

“My suspicion is that it might be more of an ethical, rather than a legal, issue,” the Comelec official added.

Jimenez said the public should also consider if the rules regarding incumbent senators would apply to the President.

Right now, if a senator decides to run for president and loses, he can return to the Senate.

“The same rules apply, if she is President and she runs for a lower position, except that she might have nothing to return to because her term might already be over,” he added.

The official said that in the case of former President Joseph Estrada, if he wants to represent his constituents in San Juan as their congressman, he also does not see any impediment.

“It is the ministerial duty of the Comelec to accept all COCs. If anyone files a COC then yes, we will have to accept it. After we accept it, that is when you will have a little bit of complication. You can either give it due course in which the name ends up on a ballot or you can refuse to give it due course,” Jimenez said.

He clarified that they only deny petitions of those considered to be nuisance candidates and Estrada does not belong to this category. “No one in his right mind would probably be stupid enough to call former President Estrada a nuisance candidate. So obviously it would not be as simple as that,” he said.

CBCP spokesperson Monsignor Pedro Quitorio III added that apart from the moral issues, Mrs. Arroyo’s reported plans to run for Congress might have propriety considerations.

“We should look into the propriety aspect. It is not really proper. If you really want to serve, if the agenda is to serve the common good, serve the public, then this has no logic,” he said.

He added that people would certainly ask whose interest Mrs. Arroyo is trying to protect – is it the public’s interest or somebody else’s.

Some people believe that if she becomes a member of the House of Representatives, it might be used as a jumping board to promote constituent assembly (con-ass).

The Church official also believes that the President should listen to the advice given by Speaker Prospero Nograles, who discouraged her from running for a congressional seat in the May 2010 elections.

“That is a nice advice,” he said, citing CBCP president and Jaro, Iloilo Archbishop Angel Lagdameo’s unsolicited advice to former President Estrada not to run for president.

Meanwhile, Pampanga Bishop Pablo David yesterday dissuaded Mrs. Arroyo from running for a congressional seat in her home province, saying she should give way to others.

“She should not run anymore after her term ends. She should give others a chance,” David told the Church-run Radio Veritas.

Meantime, Secretary to the Cabinet Silvestre Bello III said President Arroyo listens to the advice being given to her by her allies but this does not mean that she would heed them.– With Marvin Sy, Dennis Carcamo

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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