Vicious cycle of distrust
COMMONSENSE - Marichu A. Villanueva (The Philippine Star) - May 17, 2019 - 12:00am

Barely two days after the holding of our country’s national and local polls, many candidates who believed they could win – as expected – decried alleged cheating for their loss in last Monday’s elections. Of course, who will they turn to?

Naturally, they hire the best election lawyers they can get to file in their behalf electoral protest cases before the Commission on Elections (Comelec). No worries. Veteran election lawyer Romulo “Romy” Macalintal is back into practice. This, after he became the first Otso Diretso senatorial candidate to concede defeat last Tuesday. “I must practice what I preach to my clients,” he says.

Macalintal’s typical advice to some of his prospective loser-clients: Accept defeat with grace and wisdom.

He ran as independent candidate but was invited to join the senatorial ticket of the Otso Diretso opposition coalition. Sadly for Macalintal, the administration’s campaign machinery of President Rodrigo Duterte’s 12-man senatorial slate from the PDP-Laban, in coalition with other major political parties, routed the Otso Diretso ticket. 

Macalintal’s very short-lived career in politics ended in what he describes as his “first and possibly last climb to the political ring.” The 71-year-old Macalintal is not bitter though as he happily went back to his “apos-tolic” duty, or attending to his five doted grandchildren.

Macalintal was obviously adopted to join the Otso Diretso because he is one of the principal legal counsels of Vice President Leni Robredo in the election protest pending before the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET). He went on official leave as VP Robredo’s counsel after he filed his certificate of candidacy in October last year. Now that Macalintal’s foray into politics is over, he is back into the saddle in the PET case.

Potential clients immediately called up Macalintal who throughout his legal practice has not joined any law office. Instead, he started a one-man law firm with his wife as his secretary. His one-lawyer office grew several years later when their daughter and a son took up law degree and passed the Bar exams one after the other. The Macalintal law office got another member of their legal team when their daughter got married to a fellow lawyer.

Without any hangover from his Senate loss, Macalintal quickly jumped back into action when I invited him to join fellow veteran election lawyer George Garcia for a discussion of election issues during this week’s Kapihan sa Manila Bay breakfast news forum last Wednesday at Cafe Adriatico in Remedios Circle, Malate. Actually, Macalintal revealed that Garcia, along with former Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes acted as his pro bono election lawyers during the 90-day campaign period.

Incidentally, Garcia represents former Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. as client in this PET case filed against former Camarines Sur Congresswoman Robredo in the contested results of the May 2016 vice presidential race. Also, Garcia is the current legal counsel of the ruling administration party PDP-Laban as well as the Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino (PMP) headed by ex-president and Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada.

Speaking of Mayor Estrada, he may have lost his re-election bid for a third and last term but he will be stepping down from his office at Manila City Hall with his “womb to tomb” legacy of public services. His prudent fiscal management has enabled the Manila City government to pay off the more than P4 billion of debts he inherited in office but still ending with more than P14 billion of city government funds available to his successor. He was edged out in the mayoralty race by much younger ex-vice mayor Francisco Domagoso aka Isko Moreno.

The rest of the members of the Estrada political clan who run in last Monday’s national and local elections, either lost or are losing. Only Jana Ejercito, niece of Mayor Estrada, won a councilor seat in San Juan City. She is the daughter of movie producer Jessie Ejercito, the youngest brother of Mayor Estrada.

According to Garcia, Mayor Estrada was “surprised” by the election turn-out, his client has not instructed him to prepare for electoral protest, except to monitor the still ongoing random manual audit of votes where several ballot boxes of the city of Manila were included. As far as he knows his client, the former president is a “very forgiving person with a kind heart” even to his foes.

Garcia recalled it was Mr. Estrada who conceded first during the maiden holding of automated election system in our country in the May 2010 presidential elections. We could only wish other losing candidates would all have the same sense of nationhood to accept the obvious loss like having more than 100,000 margin of votes deficit to the winner.

“You have no business to insist on a wrong notion that you won if you are behind more than 100,000 votes. If you cannot protect your own votes, how can you protect the interest of the public you supposedly want to serve?” Macalintal rhetorically asked.

Now on fourth time of automated elections, the seven-man Comelec is not helping any to restore the trust of the people on the integrity of the poll results. Except for the most outspoken commissioner Rowena Guanzon, the poll body has left to the Comelec spokesman James Jimenez to do all the talking.

The joint congressional oversight committee on the automated elections system has set on June 4 a public hearing into the reported glitches of more than 600 vote counting machines and more than 1,000 defective secured digital (SD) cards, and rampant vote buying that marred the midterm elections.

While Jimenez has been doing an excellent job, Comelec chairman Sheriff Abas must come out more often to explain to the public how the poll body would address these election glitches, bugs and problems that could cast doubts on the election results, Macalintal urged.

“The voters do not trust the candidates. The candidates do not trust the Comelec. The Comelec does not trust the candidates,” Garcia deplored. It’s a vicious cycle of distrust indeed.

COMMISSION ON ELECTIONS OCAL POLLS
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