By Gerry Albert Corpuz, Bb. Joyce Cabral and Billy Javier Reyes
MANILA, Philippines- The Second Division of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has junked the disqualification case filed by the militant fisherfolk alliance Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) against former Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap.
Pamalakaya received a copy of the 10-page resolution penned by Comelec second division presiding Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer, Lucenito Tagle and Elias Yusoph dated May 13, 2010 denying the instant petition for disqualification of Yap.
“After thorough examination of the proofs presented by both parties, we are convinced that Respondent Yap has met such requirement. The term “residence” is to be understood not in the common acceptation as referring to “dwelling” or “habitation” but rather to “domicile” or legal residence, that is, “the place where a party actually or constructively has his permanent home, where he, no matter where he may be found at any given time, eventually intends to return and remain,” the Comelec second division said.
The poll body further said: “It has been established that the domicile of origin of the respondent is in Metro Manila. When respondent Yap decided to make Loboc, Bohol as his residence, such a decision did not begin and end by his intimation to Judge Fernandez of his intention. In 2007, Yap was laying the groundwork for his transfer to the said municipality.”
The Comelec said Yap visited local government officials and neighboring towns whenever his regular visits to the place permitted him. The election body said Yap’s intention was made clearer when he finally purchased the house of his mother-in-law in Barangay Buenavista in Loboc, Bohol.
“Although property ownership is not an indicia of domicile, the fact that the respondent bought the property wherein he resides adds to his foothold to the municipality. His attendance in barangay assemblies as member of barangay is indicative of his desire to integrate himself in the community,” the poll body added.
The Comelec noted that Yap’s contributions in the community were recognized when he was conferred the title “adopted son of Loboc, Bohol by way of Resolution No. 131 adopted on October 24, 2005. The commissioners said the law does not state that in abandoning his domicile, the candidate must divest any and all of his properties and interest attached to his previous domicile.
“We must take note of the fact that prior to his running for a House seat; he was the secretary of agriculture serving as alter ego of the President. Close proximity to Malacanang entails regular visits to the Metropolis. To maintain properties in furtherance of his profession could not be seen as an indication of non-abandonment of his previous domicile as held in Fernandez vs. HRET case,” the Comelec asserted.
But Pamalakaya national chair Fernando Hicap and Pamalakaya-vice chairperson Salvador France, both petitioners in the disqualification case said the fight for the disqualification of Sec. Yap is far from over, and in fact’ the protracted fight against the removal of the former agriculture secretary from public office has officially started.
“The junking of our disqualification case against Secretary Yap is highly predictable from the very start. It is not surprising to us that Comelec had junked our case against Yap. It will be a major surprise of the election season if Comelec decided on our favor,” the two Pamalakaya leaders said.
However, Hicap and France said they would ask their lawyer on what would be the next legal action to be taken in connection with the Comelec decision. They said a motion for reconsideration may be filed before the Comelec or they may bring the case all the way to the Supreme Court.
“We see the junking of the disqualification case against Yap as an opportunity rather than a tragic defeat. The venues for the all out exposition of and opposition to secretary Yap as a power hungry and opportunist bureaucrat capitalist and corrupt public official will further go places including but not limited to Comelec and other appropriate courts,” the Pamalakaya officials added.
Pamalakaya said it will explore all available legal remedies to stop Yap’s illegal and immoral claim to represent the people of Bohol in the third district.
“His electoral victory is a product of political horse trading, highly questionable and totally ridiculous. We will explore all legal remedies to stop Sec. Yap from misrepresenting the third district of Bohol and use his illegally acquired position to get away with high crimes of corruption he committed during his tenure as chief of the agriculture department,” the group said.
Prior to the May 13 decision of the poll body, the lawyers of Sec. Yap said the poll body should immediately dismiss the disqualification case filed by Pamalakaya on March 9, saying that their client was able to garner 126,390 votes out of 173,539 total votes cast. According to Yap’s lawyers, this represents 72.8 percent of the total votes cast or an overwhelming majority.
Citing a Supreme Court ruling in the case of Sinaca vs. Mula (G.R No. 135691, September 27, 1999, 315 SCRA 266,282), Yap’s legal counsel asserted that when a candidate has perceived popular mandate overwhelmingly and clearly expressed, all possible doubts should be resolved in favor of the candidate’s eligibility for to rule otherwise is to defeat the will of the people. Ex-sec. Yap lawyers said, the determination of the true will of the electorate should be paramount, and that the voice of the people should prevail which is the essence of democracy.
Meanwhile, Pamalakaya will send appeal letters to incoming congressmen and senators to investigate cases of corruption involving Sec. Yap particularly the P 455 million overpriced ice-making machines. The militant group said they will also ask the new congress under the Aquino presidency to investigate the unchecked operations of the National Agribusiness Council (Nabcor), an attached agency of DA which is implicated the questionable importation of 98 quick freezing machines.
On top of the P 455 million ice making fund scam, Pamalakaya said Yap and other NABCOR officials should also be investigated on the P 7.14 billion which the Commission on Audit (COA) cited in its’ 2008 report was missing, diverted or bungled. #