Chiz links Mar to Poe DQ

Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - December 3, 2015 - 10:00am

Pure fiction, says lawyer

CEBU, Philippines - Sen. Francis Escudero yesterday linked lawyer Estrella Elamparo to administration candidate Manuel Roxas II in the efforts to exclude Sen. Grace Poe from the 2016 presidential race.

Escudero said Elamparo, who had served as Government Service Insurance System chief legal counsel, is connected with a law firm used by former defense secretary Avelino “Nonong” Cruz, a campaign supporter of Roxas.

“She is with the Divina law firm, which was the firm used by Nonong Cruz in the case he filed versus Pancho Villaraza. Nonong Cruz is of course with Mar (Roxas),” Escudero said when asked if Elamparo is connected with the administration party.

Cruz denied links with Elamparo.

“The story of Chiz Escudero is pure fiction. I have no connection whatsoever with attorney Elamparo or Divina law. They are not my lawyers,” Cruz told The STAR yesterday.

He said lawyer John Balisnomo was the one who handled the case against Villaraza when their law office, known as “The Firm” during the Arroyo administration, broke up.

Balisnomo is a senior litigation partner of Cruz Marcelo and Tenefrancia, the law firm that Cruz set up when they broke away from Villaraza’s group. Marcelo is former ombudsman Simeon Marcelo.

“We have so many lawyers. Why will we hire another law firm?” Cruz said.

Villaraza, on the other hand, told The STAR last night, when asked if the Divina law firm had handled the case filed by Cruz, “That’s what we know.”

Escudero also brushed aside Cruz’s denial, saying it was expected: “Alangan naman na aminin po niya.”

“Of course he will deny it, but does he mean to say that he does not personally know at all Elamparo’s law firm or Divina Law Firm?” Escudero told The STAR.

Elamparo is a senior partner at the Divina and Uy law offices, which was founded by Nilo Divina, reportedly a supporter of the administration Liberal Party. Reports also claimed Divina is a close friend of Commission on Elections (Comelec) Chairman Andres Baustista.

The Comelec chief has denied being pressured to rule against Poe.

On Tuesday, the Comelec’s Second Division granted the petition filed by Elamparo seeking to disqualify Poe for lack of residency.

Elamparo also sought to exclude Poe’s name in the printing of official ballots.

“Her over eagerness is astonishing. Perhaps she is simply trying to gain publicity or attention to her cause given that, as a lawyer, she should know that the relief she is asking for is not in accordance with the law and rules of the Comelec,” Escudero said.

Escudero stressed the Comelec ruling against Poe is not yet final.

He said Poe is “still alive and is still in the race.”

Escudero said there are three other disqualification cases against Poe filed with the Comelec that are still pending. He said the poll body has not bothered to consolidate all the cases against Poe and decide on them.

Asked where he thought the votes would go if Poe would be disqualified, Escudero replied, “What if she won’t be disqualified? Let’s not divide the votes while she’s not yet disqualified.”

Escudero said Poe’s camp will file a motion for reconsideration before the Comelec full session on Monday.

‘No legal acrobats’

Poe, on the other hand, said there is no backing down from the fight as she stood firm that “no legal acrobats” can deter her from running for higher office.

“We are not yet disqualified because this is just the decision of the Comelec’s Second Division. This is not yet final,” she added. 

Poe took potshots at her detractors for trying to derail her presidential bid, coupled with efforts to also use the decision of the Comelec’s Second Division to sow confusion among the voting public.

“Admittedly, I feel I am fighting city hall. Powerful groups with personal agenda are behind the disqualification cases filed against me. But afraid I am not. Not when the people are behind me,” Poe said.

Poe said she smelled something fishy in the slew of disqualification cases filed against her.

“The string of disqualification cases were filed against me when I was still contemplating a run for the presidency by people whose motives were suspect at best. It was not an easy decision,” she said.

Poe admitted it would have been easy if she had accepted the offer of President Aquino to become the running mate of Roxas.

“I know that it would have been easier for me if I decided to join them, and I knew that when I was making a decision. I know the path will be easier and that there will be no stumbling blocks like this if I ran as (Roxas’) vice president,” she said.

Poe said she has been preparing for more cases to be leveled against her in a bid to derail her presidential bid.

She said she has accepted that these are all part of the challenges in her decision to run for president.

In a press briefing, Poe was elated over the decision of the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) denying the motion for reconsideration filed by petitioner Rizalito David.

She admitted that she contemplated quitting the race and her public office but she hesitated to turn back on fighting for the rights of other foundlings, and to pursue further her advocacies while in public office.

Poe said she will continue the fight, not just for herself but also for the country and the rights of foundlings.

Poe reiterated the stand of her legal team that a foundling like her acquires natural-born status even if abandoned by biological parents.

“God-given rights are not subject to the whims and caprices of men. They are universal. They are constant. They are inviolable. They are forever. And no amount of legal acrobats can alter or worse, take away our basic, inherent rights,” Poe added.

Poe also maintained she has met the 10-year residency requirement for presidential candidates.

She said the Supreme Court will ultimately be the one to give a final decision on the matter.

At least 10 years

Poe’s spokesman, Valenzuela Mayor Rex Gatchalian, also stressed the Comelec ruling is not final.

He said Elamparo’s move to disqualify Poe is “premature.”

“As a lawyer, she should know better than not to wait for the en banc (full session of the Comelec) to resolve the matter on hand. Elamparo’s actions reek of politics and mind conditioning more than seeking clarification from the Comelec,” Gatchalian said.

Gatchalian maintained Poe complied with the 10-year residency requirement of a presidential candidate.

“She will be a resident of the country for at least 10 years and 11 months by May next year,” he said.

Gatchalian said his proof is a five-page US Department of State questionnaire on “possible loss of US citizenship,” which Poe filled out on July 12, 2011.

He furnished reporters copies of the questionnaire.

Gatchalian said Poe twice indicated in the US document that she has been residing in the Philippines from “05 (May) 2005 (to) present.”    

“Using this as the reckoning date, she sufficiently complies with the 10-year residency rule and she should therefore not be disqualified as a candidate in next year’s elections,” Poe’s spokesman stressed.

Gatchalian stressed the senator’s answer of “six years and six months” to a question in her 2013 COC as a senatorial candidate was an “honest mistake.”

The Comelec Second Division noted such answer and used it against her. According to the ruling, by Poe’s own admission in her 2013 COC, she would be a resident of the country for only nine years and six months by May 2016, six months short of the requirement.

The division used another standard in determining the presidential aspirant’s compliance: a Supreme Court ruling in a case involving former Eastern Samar congressman Teodulo Coquilla – that residency should be counted from the time a candidate applies for reacquisition of Filipino citizenship and the application is granted.

Applying the Coquilla case, the Comelec division said Poe would still be two months short of the 10-year requirement since she applied for and was allowed to reacquire Philippine citizenship on July 18, 2006.

Poe’s lawyer Garcia maintained the senator established domicile when she returned to the Philippines in 2005 after the death of her adoptive father, Fernando Poe Jr.,  to give moral support to her mother, actress Susan Roces.

Garcia accused the Comelec division of committing abuse of discretion when they did not look into the evidence which Poe presented before the division that proved her physical and actual residency in the Philippines.

On the composition of the Comelec, most of whom were appointed by President Aquino, Poe said she is worried but remains hopeful that they will be objective in coming out with the decision.

Poe said she still believes in the integrity of the Comelec as an institution and that they will take a good look at the arguments.

Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Colmenares said Poe has a strong legal case favoring her. He said the issues against Poe are political in nature.

Colmenares challenged the Comelec to decide on the disqualification cases against Poe based on their merits, as he pointed out that seven commissioners of the Comelec were appointed by Malacañang.

Lawyer and senatorial candidate Lorna Kapunan also questioned the credibility of the three commissioners who decided to disqualify Poe.

Kapunan said none among Commissioners Parreño, Art Lim and Abas was a legitimate election expert.

Kapunan said Parreño, chairman of the division, earlier admitted that he was appointed for his expertise in information technology, not his knowledge of election law.

“The last job Parreño held before joining the Comelec was with the Land Transportation Franchising and Regulatory Board (LTFRB) when Mar Roxas was secretary of the Department of Transportation and Communications. He was not an election lawyer,” she said.

“Art Lim, on the other hand, is known as a feisty litigator, and was even a part of the team that prosecuted (former) chief justice (Renato) Corona. However, for all of his years in practice, he was never known to have engaged in election law,” Kapunan added.

Kapunan said Abas also had no background in election law practice. She said Abas’ tenure as legal officer in the Civil Service Commission’s Cotabato office “may have given him a familiarity with civil service laws, but not election laws.”

Because of this, Kapunan said when the case is elevated to the SC, “our justices may be better equipped to appreciate the elements of the case.”  – Jess Diaz, Danny Dangcalan, Edu Punay

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