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Opinion

So what if BBM lawyer has just been hired?

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

"Unbelievable.” “Unprecedented.” “A mockery of election rules.” So remarked election lawyers when the Comelec extended for Bongbong Marcos its strictly “non-extendible” period to rebut his disqualification. Oldtimers recalled how the Comelec in the 1970s-1980s bowed to BBM’s dictator-father Ferdinand Marcos.

BBM’s absolute deadline to reply to the DQ petition was supposed to be the other Tuesday, Nov. 16. That’s based on long-standing Comelec Rule 23, Section 4 (6): “Within a non-extendible period of five (5) days from receipt of summons, the respondent shall personally or through authorized representative file his verified answer.”

The aim is to avoid delay in disposition of cases. The Comelec must expedite decisions for the voters’ sake: “Failure of the respondent to file his verified answer within the reglementary period shall bar him from submitting controverting evidence or filing his memorandum.”

A petition to debar BBM as presidental candidate was filed Nov. 2. He allegedly is unqualified, being a three-time tax-evasion convict. Such conviction is “moral turpitude,” a ground for exclusion. His certificate of candidacy is invalid since he perjured in denying any previous criminal conviction. He received the Comelec Second Division summons on Nov. 11.

Enter Estelito Mendoza on Nov. 16 as BBM lawyer. Instead of filing an answer he sought extension of BBM’s non-extendible deadline. Supposedly he had just been hired the previous day. Due to his “current workload” he needed “time to review the petition and prepare an adequate response.”

That defied jurisprudence. Countless times in various cases the Supreme Court has ruled and reminded that a lawyer cannot alibi workload to delay legal proceedings. For decades, the appellate and lower courts have reiterated that. Longtime lawyer and former solicitor general Mendoza must know it.

BBM spokesman had bragged that “around 500 lawyers volunteered their service for us.” That BBM dawdled is his fault. Under its rules, the Comelec must act with speed and efficiency.

And yet, on Nov. 18, 2nd division Commissioners Socorro Inting and Antonio Kho extended by a week BBM’s non-extendible time limit.

Atty. Theodore Te, lead counsel for the DQ petitioners, had lost no time in opposing the Nov. 17 request for extension. He filed a “motion to bar” the very next day Nov. 18. And when the division persisted with the extension later that day, Te swiftly moved for reconsideration on Nov. 19.

“This is not a matter of hyper-technicality or over-insistence on rules over substance,” Te stated. “It goes to the very nature of fairness, or the perception of fairness. The Commission cannot, without flouting its own rules and the very basic tenets of fairness, grant a new period of time to respondent – without basis pleaded and without authority from its own rules. That, with due respect, is grave abuse of discretion.”

Te also took exception to the BBM spokesman’s “undue, intimate, insider familiarity with the Commission.” That spokesman is not a BBM “counsel on record, therefore an outsider.” Yet he announced in the morning of Nov. 18 that they had been granted an extension the previous day, Nov. 17. The Second Division acted only in the afternoon of Nov. 18.

Te asked the Division to make the spokesman explain. “That preternatural ability to dictate the Second Division’s decision a day before the Commission even deliberated the matter... cast a long shadow (of doubt) over the Commission’s credibility,” he said.

The SC has time and again admonished the Comelec against abuse of discretion. Justices reminded that arbitrariness, especially in bending its own rules, can lead to corruption or suspicions of it.

Under the Marcos dictatorship the poll body often was criticized for ‘Comelecting.” Political allies of Marcos were “Comelected,” that is, put in office not by the people’s will but by Comelec manipulation and bias.

Accommodating BBM can taint the Comelec anew. Conviction for tax evasion is a case for DQ; and lying in the COC, for cancellation. It makes people think twice about paying taxes when a favored “presidentiable” is a tax evader.

The DQ case was filed by Marcos martial law torture victims: Fr. Christian Buenafe, Fides Lim, Ma. Edeliza Hernandez, Celia Sevilla, Roland Vibal and Josephine Lascano.

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“Gotcha: An Exposé on the Philippine Government” is available as e-book and paperback. Get a free copy of “Chapter 1: Beijing’s Bullying and Duplicity.” Simply subscribe to my newsletter at: https://jariusbondoc.com/#subscribe. Book orders also accepted there.

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