Friday, December 11, 2009

Naga's Robredo: I am the next target of Comelec

12/11/2009 | 02:19 PM

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(Updated 6:45 pm) Jesse Robredo isn’t too confident about finishing his term, his fifth as Naga City Mayor.

After all, odds are stacked against his favor.

Two of his fellow Liberal Party (LP) members – Governors Grace Padaca of Isabela and Joselito “Jonjon" Mendoza of Bulacan – have been unseated by the Commission on Elections (Comelec), in what is widely perceived as the Arroyo administration’s move to secure a foothold in both vote-rich provinces.

Padaca vowed to support LP’s standard bearer, Senator Benigno Simeon “Noynoy" Aquino III, in the coming May elections, while Mendoza’s party – Partido del Pilar – coalesced with the LP for the same polls.

Another LP member, Pampanga Governor Ed Panlilio, is also facing a disqualification case filed against him by Lilia Pineda, a close ally of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Together with Padaca and Panlilio, Robredo has spearheaded the Kaya Natin! movement, a national movement that claims to bring genuine change and ethical leadership in the Philippines.

But like Panlilio, Robredo is also facing a disqualification case, prompting the Mayor to say that he might be the Comelec’s next “target."

“Baka isunod na ako (I might be next)," Robredo told GMANews.TV in a phone interview.

His expectations are not unfounded.

Anytime soon, the poll body will rule on a disqualification case filed against Robredo in 2007 by Jojo Villafuerte, the Naga City mayor’s cousin and political rival who ran against him twice in the local elections.

Villafuerte, a nephew of Camarines Sur Representative Luis Villafuerte Sr., continues to insist that Robredo is Chinese.

Or at least that’s according to the case which he filed shortly after Robredo won his fifth term as mayor in 2007.

Question of citizenship

The case is nothing new.

In 2004, Villafuerte – then running for Naga City Mayor – filed a similar case against Robredo, asserting that the incumbent local chief executive is a Chinese national.

Robredo’s citizenship had been previously questioned by Villafuerte’s sister, Pura Luisa Villafuerte-Magtuto; Orlando Tan, a known supporter of Villafuerte; and Rodolfo Fortuno, a former city councilor who ran against him during the 2001 mayoral race.

After Villafuerte filed his 2004 case, the Comelec’s First Division, reversed its 2003 en banc ruling which says Robredo is a natural-born Filipino.

The First Division – composed of then-presiding Commissioner Romeo Brawner and poll body commissioners Nicodemo Ferrer and Resurreccion Borra – asserted that Robredo was of Chinese descent.

Robredo’s grandfather, Lim Teng, was a Chinese citizen who had no proof of residence in the country, the body added.

The same decision also said that the mayor had “forfeited" the opportunity to become a Filipino citizen by failing to show any intention to become a Filipino during his stay in the country.

However, the case was decided after Robredo had already served his term as Naga City Mayor, making the decision moot and academic.

And so, in 2007, when Robredo became Naga City Mayor for the fifth time, Villafuerte questioned his rival’s citizenship again.

As with earlier circumstances, the case fell within the jurisdiction of the Comelec’s First Division.

Except that this time the body was composed of commissioners Rene Sarmiento, Armando Velasco, and Gregorio Larrazabal.

Last November 25, the Comelec’s First Division issued a resolution consolidating the two cases and elevating it en banc, allowing the whole body to affirm or reverse the case.

Comelec going for the ‘kill’

Robredo’s prospects aren’t that bright. And he himself has admitted it.

“I received information that my disqualification case will [also] be resolved before the end of my term," he said. “I am not surprised that the division of Commissioner Ferrer resolved the case against Gov. Padaca."

He also thinks that “the Comelec is going for the kill."

“They started with Bulacan Gov. Joselito Mendoza and now Padaca. In a week or two days the case against Governor Panlilio will be resolved and in all likelihood it will be resolved against his favor," he added.

The decision to unseat Mendoza and Padaca was issued by the Comelec’s Second Division, which is currently presided by Ferrer – the commissioner who was a former member of the First Division which declared Robredo a Chinese national.

The Second Division has recently received flak owing to its “controversial" decisions, which include denying accreditation to a lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered individuals on “moral grounds."

The same body also refused accreditation to the Magdalo Group, founded by a group of reformist officers, for its members’ reported refusal to admit their “wrongdoing."

No truth to rumors

Ferrer, who has recently shied away from the media, is reluctant to talk about “controversial" cases but said that he stands by past and present decisions of his division.

“May mga ebidensya eh (There’s evidence)," he told GMANews.TV in a phone interview.

The commissioner added that if people have any problems with their decisions, they should bring it to the right platform to complain.

“Yung mga nagrereklamo, dalin nila sa korte, hindi sa peryodiko (For those who have complaints, you should bring it to court, not to the media)," he said, adding that this is one of the reasons why he tries to avoid doing interviews.

Moreover, Sarmiento, who currently presides over the Comelec First Division, said that the public should not doubt the Comelec’s credibility.

“On our part, we do our best to settle cases fairly and judiciously," he told reporters Thursday.

He added that Robredo’s disqualification case is yet to be discussed in one of the poll body’s en banc meetings. - with Floro Taguinod, RJAB, Jr., GMANews.TV

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