Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III on Tuesday denied the claim of lawyer Ferdinand Topacio that the senator consulted him over his reelection bid, saying he would never solicit the views of a lawyer “better known for starting personal squabbles than winning legal battles.”
“There is no truth to Atty. Topacio’s statement that I consulted him about the legal issues surrounding my candidacy,” said Pimentel.
“I have never asked Atty. Topacio for any legal opinion in my entire life. There is a very short list of election lawyers I would consult regarding this matter, and he is not on it,” added the senator from Mindanao.
The former Senate President said Topacio is known for feuding with public officials, colleagues in the legal community, and members of the media.
The controversial lawyer, has had clashes with former Presidential Management Staff Undersecretary Karen Jimeno, former Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, radio host Mo Twister, and Inquirer columnist Mon Tulfo.
But Pimentel welcomed the filing of a disqualification case filed against him by Topacio at the Commission on Elections, as the case “will pave the way for this issue to be settled, so we can focus on the issues that really matter to our people.”
Pimentel, also the PDP Laban president, disputed the legal arguments raised by Topacio against his reelection bid and said that the Constitution does not bar him from running in the May 2019 midterm polls.
“The Constitution, the law, and jurisprudence are on my side. Well-regarded legal minds known for their expertise in elections law have likewise chimed in; they agree with my position: I can run for reelection.”
In a forum earlier this month, respected election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, who is running for a Senate seat with the opposition, said that Pimentel’s first years as a senator should not be counted.
According to Macalintal, it is “clear in the Constitution” that the term of office of a senator shall be six years.
“In order to be counted, there should be no gap in the service. If you don’t complete the six years not of your doing, you can run again,” he said.
In August 2011, Miguel Zubiri resigned from the Senate following a poll protest case filed against him by Pimentel in connection with the results of the 2007 senatorial race. Pimentel replaced Zubiri and continued the latter’s unfinished term.
“As a senatorial candidate, Atty. Macalintal could stand to benefit from my disqualification, but he has consistently argued that I can run,” Pimentel said.
Former Comelec Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal was likewise asked online during the first day of filing if Pimentel was eligible for reelection. Using his personal Twitter account, Larrazabal answered, “yes he is.”
Pimentel said that a reading of Topacio’s petition was indicative of the “shallowness of his arguments.”
“The two cases he is citing (1) Aratea v. Comelec, GR No. 195229, Oct. 2012, and (2) Latasa v. Comelec, GR No. 167591, May 2007, are even inapplicable to my situation. In the Aratea Case, the candidate really served three consecutive terms and was even disqualified by a final judgment in a criminal case,” said the 1990 bar topnotcher.
“In the Latasa Case, the three-term municipal mayor ran again for a fourth term when the municipality became a city.”
Pimentel said that his lawyers are ready to answer the petition of Topacio and ask for its summary dismissal “as the Constitution and the Law, Jurisprudence, and the basic concept of Fairness all support our position that I can still run again for Senator in the May 2019 elections.”
Topacio has argued that Pimentel already completed his two terms as senator since 2007, and should not be allowed to run in 2019.
During the 2007 elections, Pimentel was narrowly edged out by Juan Miguel Zubiri for the 12th and last Senate spot.
Pimentel contested Zubiri’s victory, alleging that the latter benefited from wholesale cheating carried out by his party, the United Nationalist Alliance.
The Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) in 2011 ruled in favor of Pimentel, paving the way for him to assume the remaining two years of Zubiri’s term.
Topacio said Zubiri’s entire term legally belongs to Pimentel because the SET declared that he was the rightful 12th placer. He added that when the electoral tribunal annulled the proclamation of Zubiri, it has become retroactive.
Topacio said this means that Pimentel was the one elected, not Sen. Zubiri.
“It did not matter whether or not he was able to serve all of the six years,” said Topacio, who said that he filed the disqualification case on his own accord.
He said doing so gives him “scant joy” even if he claims to be a friend of the senator.
“He is my friend. I just need to enforce the law because I swore as a lawyer to uphold and defend the laws of the republic.
Topacio added that he was simply being consistent because when Pimentel asked him to do a research on this, he had told the lawmaker that he “cannot run anymore.”
The Commission on Elections is expected to order the senator to answer the petition. Pimentel and Topacio will then hold a conference and probable oral arguments before the en banc decide on the matter.
If the Comelec junks the case, Topacio said he will elevate his petition to the Supreme Court.