What is ‘it’ they will do?
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - February 1, 2019 - 12:00am

It was exactly a year ago when erstwhile presidential adviser on political affairs adviser Francis Tolentino was the featured guest in our weekly Kapihan sa Manila Bay at Café Adriatico in Remedios Circle in Malate. It was a few weeks after President Rodrigo Duterte designated Tolentino as his “point-man” in the brewing disaster at that time following the latest phreatic or ash explosions of Mayon Volcano in Albay.

President Duterte picked his presidential adviser on political affairs to coordinate all national government efforts to ensure the safety and wellbeing of thousands of residents who were evacuated away from the 8-kilometer danger zone around Mt. Mayon. With so many Cabinet officials who comprise the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC), the Chief Executive entrusted the big task to Tolentino apparently for the reason that the latter was born and raised in Albay. 

It is not exactly a new or a big challenge to Tolentino since he had personal experience of supervising rescue and relief operations during disaster incidents in the past during his stint as chairman of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA).

A year later, Tolentino came back to attend our Kapihan sa Manila Bay, this time as one of the administration-backed senatorial candidates. No less than President Duterte personally endorsed and is actively campaigning for “Tol,” the campaign monicker of Tolentino under the “other name” he submitted in his certificate of candidacy  (COC) filed at the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

Before anybody could link his “Tol” monicker to any campaign gimmick, Tolentino doused cold water to loose talks he has anything to do with the local movie entitled “Tol” that would be soon shown in cinemas reportedly starting next week. The movie’s title “Tol” is the popular short form for Tagalog street language “utol,” or sibling. The movie has young actress Jessy Mendiola in its title role.

Tolentino swears he is neither the producer nor involved in any part of the “Tol” movie, not even a cameo role on it.

Speaking as a lawyer, Tolentino believes his having filed COC to run in the coming May 13 mid-term elections did not render his protest against Sen. Leila de Lima as withdrawn automatically. It remains pending before the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET). Running as “independent” candidate, Tolentino lost the Senate race to De Lima, one of the Liberal Party (LP) senatorial candidates.

De Lima, however, currently languishes in detention at Camp Crame while the illegal drugs conspiracy and other criminal charges remain pending before different regional trial courts.

Tolentino placed 13th during the last Senate race in May 2016, next to De Lima who landed in the last slot of the winning “Magic 12” circle. Per Comelec official count, De Lima won 14,144,070 votes as against Tolentino’s 12,811,098 votes. Or, there were more than 1.3 million margin of votes won by De Lima over Tolentino.

While it may be a huge difference of votes – as he noted historical statistics of the 12th and 13th placers to win the last slot in the Senate race have shown the margin of votes would not reach more than 100,000 and certainly not more than one million – he believes this was obviously padded to reach more than one million to forestall protest.

Unperturbed, however, Tolentino filed an electoral protest and questioned the alleged manipulation of the automated election system during the transmission process of the results of the votes. One of his technical expert witnesses in Tolentino’s SET protest is Glenn Chiong who testified how Smartmatic, in connivance purportedly with Comelec insiders, allegedly fiddled with the transmission process.

Chiong, a former Congressman of Biliran, also acted as one of the technical experts invited by the Senate and the House inquiries into these alleged manipulation of the May 2016 election results.

Ironically though, Chiong is among the 63 senatorial candidates who were officially qualified by the Comelec to run in the coming May elections. Chiong registered in his COC the Katipunan ng Demokratikong Pilipino as his political party.

Tolentino though welcomed Chiong’s candidacy even as both of them are running against each other in the Senate race. For his part, Tolentino registered as official candidate of the Partido Demokratiko Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan (PDP-Laban) whose nominal chieftain is no less than President Duterte. His Senate bid is also backed by Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte’s Hugpong ng Pagbabago coalition.

Citing the legal opinion of ex-Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes, Tolentino insists that his protest against De Lima stands alive and waiting for resolution from the SET. Since De Lima did not file a counter-protest against him, the initiative whether to pursue the election protest pending at the SET is at his sole discretion, Tolentino argued.

However, Tolentino admitted he is at a loss on the status of his SET case due to the recent changes at the leadership of the Supreme Court (SC). Before she retired, Chief Justice Teresita de Castro previously sat at the SET. Incumbent Chief Justice Lucas Bersamin, Tolentino recalled, also was once a sitting member of the SET hearing his case.

Or, Tolentino mused, De Lima can make it easy for him to get into the Senate by resigning.

According to Tolentino, a precedent case was already established when then Sen. Migz Zubiri did not appeal the SET ruling in favor of protestant, Aquilino Pimentel III. Zubiri resigned instead which thus created a vacancy at the 24-man Senate. Pimentel was immediately sworn into office to serve the remaining three years of the six-year term of the resigned Senator.

While it was just a wishful thought, Tolentino is ready to take another shot at the Senate race as part of the “Du-it!” team of senatorial candidates. To be endorsed by no less than President Duterte, the “Du-it” senatorial team will be known officially before Valentine’s day. As to what “it” they (Du-It!) will do, voters’ beware.

FRANCIS TOLENTINO MANILA BAY
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