By Billy Javier Reyes and Sugar Hicap in Tagbilaran City, Bohol
and Gerry Albert Corpuz in Manila
MANILA, Philippines-Some 298 Lobocanos signed a sworn statement affirming that former Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap, now running unopposed in the third district of Bohol is a true blue Lobocano entitled to run for congressional seat.
In a supplemental information filed before the Second Division of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) national office in Manila, lawyers of Yap asserted that the sworn statement of 298 residents in Barangay Buenavista is strong proof that Sec. Yap is a legitimate resident in the village and his plan to run in the third district of Bohol is not questionable contrary to what petitioners Fernando Hicap and Salvador France, chair and vice-chair of Pambansang Lakas ng Kilusang Mamamalakaya ng Pilipinas (Pamalakaya) had raised in the disqualification case they filed against their client on March 9.
The Yap camp had previously questioned the legal capacity of Pamalakaya to file the disqualification case, citing Rule 25 of the Comelec, that groups like Pamalakaya can only question and file disqualification case against national candidates and not on local candidates. They said Yap is running for a seat in the third district of Bohol, and only the people in the third district of Bohol could question his candidacy.
But Pamalakaya’s Hicap said Yap, although running in the third district of Bohol, is no ordinary person in local politics. The Pamalakaya leader said Sec. Yap is the former secretary of agriculture, an influential national figure and one of the most cherished members of the Macapagal-Arroyo cabinet.
“Secretary Yap is a national public figure and influential member of the Arroyo cabinet who has been hounded by high crimes of corruption over the last six years. His misrepresentation of Bohol’s third district is already a big crime. The Filipino public will not allow Yap to use his congressional representation in Congress to evade charges of super corruption against him. Therefore, it is in the national interest of the people to frustrate Yap’s bid for Congress and instead have him prosecuted for first-rate crimes of corruption on multiple counts,” said Pamalakaya.
Pamalakaya said 298 Lobocanos who signed the sworn statement do not represent the 250,000 populace of the third district of Bohol. He said the town of Loboc has 11,000 registered voters and 298 is just about 2 percent of the registered voters.
More than a week ago, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo declared former Agriculture Secretary Yap a sure winner in the third district of Bohol, which the fisherfolk alliance viewed as a marching order to the poll body to junk Pamalakaya’s disqualification case filed against Yap.
“We were not born yesterday. President Arroyo’s political prophecy declaring Secretary Yap as congressman of third district of Bohol is a marching order from Malacanang to Comelec to kill the disqualification case against Yap,” the group said.
President Arroyo who was the guest speaker at the first anniversary of a housing project for squatters moved out of Pasig River and victims of typhoons in Marikina and Pasig cities said she was sure of Yap’s unopposed victory in the third district of Bohol.
“Even if he alone votes for himself, Arthur Yap will become congressman because he is unopposed,” said Ms Arroyo.“I asked Yap to sit with me because even if he was already a former government official and now in the private sector and will become congressman,” Arroyo said.
Two weeks ago, Pamalakaya asked the Comelec to immediately tackle the disqualification case against Secretary Yap, adding it was puzzled by the development that the poll body has yet to tackle the case against Yap.
The group likewise filed supplemental information to Comelec to beef up the disqualification case they filed against Sec. Yap. The supplemental information was signed by three officials of Barangay Buenavista, municipal of Loboc disproving Yap’s claim that he lives in the village and a resident of the far-flung barangay, which the former agriculture secretary claimed as his present address as shown in his certificate of candidacy.
The supplemental information carried the signatures of former Barangay Buenavista secretary Corbino Cuhit, incumbent barangay councilor Basilio Balog and resident Mateo Ratonel, brother of incumbent barangay councilor Boy Ratonel which said that Yap was never been a resident of the barangay and the controversial secretary just arrived in their village at the start of the election season.
The three said the house and the address referred by Sec. Yap as his official domicile in Buenavista, Loboc is a far-flung community which is not passable to any regular vehicle except single motorcycles due to rough road and mountainous curves.
In their 4-page disqualification case against Yap filed last March 9, Pamalakaya said the former agriculture secretary lacks qualification to run as congressman for the third district of Bohol because he is not a resident of province 3rd district. The group asserted the position for which Yap filed a certificate of candidacy requires that a candidate be a resident of the district (3rd District of Bohol) for a period of not less than one year immediately preceding the May 10, 2010 elections.
Pamalakaya maintained Secretary Yap failed to meet the qualification because the former agriculture secretary still lives in Ortigas, Pasig City and there is no evidence or overt act that Yap abandoned his domicile of origin. The group said their case against Yap is similar to the recently concluded case decided by the poll body against actor Richard Gomez who was barred by Comelec from running in Leyte over the question of domicile.
“More than the issue of residency is the stockpile of graft charges filed by against Secretary Yap before the Office of the Ombudsman regarding irregular and highly questionable use of taxpayers’ money by the agriculture department. This disqualification case pertaining to lack of qualification to run on the basis of residency is just part of the whole process to unearth the truth on controversies surrounding this controversial cabinet of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo,” said Pamalakaya.
Last January 6, Pamalakaya filed plunder and other criminal and administrative charges against Yap in connection with the P 455 million overpriced ice-making machines. Included in the charge sheet are President Arroyo and other officials of the National Agribusiness Council (Nabcor), an attached agency of DA. On top of the P 455 million ice making fund scam is the P 7.14 billion which the Commission on Audit (COA) cited in its’ 2008 report was missing, diverted or bungled.
“We filed this case not to spoil the political ambition of Sec. Yap. We filed this case because we want truth and justice to prevail over the narrow interest of new breed of traditional and corrupt politician like Sec. Yap,” Pamalakaya added.