FIRST PERSON - Alex Magno (The Philippine Star) - May 22, 2021 - 12:00am

Vice President Leni Robredo is the only viable presidential candidate for the Liberal Party to field. But she has yet to decide about what to do in the next elections.

In a recent radio interview, Robredo says she is considering three options: run for president, seek a local executive post or quit politics altogether. She says her daughters prefer the third option. That is an important consideration.

In fact, she has only two options: run for president or quit politics altogether. Seeking a local executive post will run into insurmountable residency issues. It will serve Robredo well to closely study the cases of two candidates – both for posts in Camarines Sur – who were disqualified on residency issues.

Let me detail Robredo’s residency predicament.

A couple of weeks ago, Robredo filed for her national ID at Barangay Caragcang, Magarao, Camarines Sur. She had acquired a tract of land in the town and is currently building a house there.

Her appearance at Magarao raised speculation that she might be gunning for the governorship. However, acquiring a tract of land does not meet the one-year residency requirement for filing candidacy. She could not have possibly resided in a half-built house. By her own admission, she has been to her home province only twice this year.

Besides, Robredo remains a registered voter of Naga City, an independent component city of Camarines Sur. Naga City voters cannot vote for the governor, much less seek the governorship.

The same principle should hold if Robredo decides to seek the congressional seat for the third district of Camarines Sur. She did represent this district even if she remained a registered voter of Naga City.

The 1987 Constitution and the Local Government Code enumerate very clear requirements for anyone seeking provincial governorship. The candidate must be a registered voter of the province for at least a year immediately preceding the election. The deadline for transferring her voter registration from Naga City to Magarao has just passed.

While the construction of a house in Magarao may signal an intention to settle in the place, it does not establish residency. The law on this is clear. It requires actual permanent residence and not merely the maintenance of a vacation home.

It will do Robredo well to have her lawyers study the tragic cases of former Solicitor General Jose Anselmo Cadiz who tried to run for governor in 2013 and Maria Isabel Andaya-Eusebio who tried to run for the province’s second congressional district in 2019.

Cadiz filed his certificate of candidacy for congressman representing the province’s third district on Oct. 3, 2012. He changed his mind shortly thereafter, cancelled the first filing and ran instead for governor on Oct. 5, 2012.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec), in a resolution dated June 7, 2013, declared Cadiz ineligible to run for governor since he was a resident of Naga City. The Supreme Court, in Larrazabal vs. Comelec, ruled on the matter of independent cities: “This independence from the province carries with it the prohibition or mandate directed to their registered voters not to vote and be voted for the elective provincial positions.”

The case of Andaya-Eusebio further clarifies the requirements on residency. Although she is a native of the province and sister of Rolando Andaya Jr. (who lost the governorship contest in 2019), she was a resident of Pasig City. In fact, she served as Pasig mayor as did her husband.

Andaya-Eusebio petitioned the Comelec to transfer her registration to a house on Zone 4, Extension 2, Barangay Puro Batia in Libmanan town. In a hearing, however, she admitted that she never once slept in the house she claims to be her new residence.

The Supreme Court’s landmark ruling in Gallego vs. Verra ruled that the term “residence” as used in election law must satisfy three conditions: 1) residence or bodily presence; 2) intention to remain there and 3) intention to abandon the old domicile.

Andaya-Eusebio went to the regional trial court to appeal the ruling. The court upheld the Comelec ERB ruling as did the Commission en banc eventually. Not being a voter in the district she sought to represent, the Comelec declared her ineligible to seek the post.

Robredo will be running against the thick wall of precedence if she decides to run for governor of Camarines Sur. The entrenched political clans in the province are not about yield to her whims.

Robredo, it appears, has not been able to sustain the local alliances formed when she sought a congressional seat in her home province. Rolando Andaya Jr. used to be her staunchest ally. Now, he is reported to be viciously attacking Robredo over local radio. The attacks have become increasingly bitter and personal, touching on allegations of improper romantic liaisons involving the Vice President.

According to sources in the locality, the relationship between Andaya and Robredo began to sour after the latter skipped a press conference where she was supposed to endorse the former’s bid to be governor. Andaya lost a hotly contested electoral battle with the scion of the powerful Villafuerte clan.

Faced with residency issues and failing to win the support of local powerbrokers, Robredo’s only open path to remain in political play is to gun for the presidency. But this will require politicking at the highest level. Robredo has so far shown little of the coalition-building skills required to prop up a presidential bid.

As she dilly-dallies, each day that passes seems to bring her closer to the option preferred by her daughters.

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