MANILA - (2ND UPDATE) Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III is facing a disqualification case that could derail his bid for re-election in the 2019 midterm elections.
Complainant and lawyer Ferdinand Topacio argued that Pimentel cannot run for senator anew as he is already serving his second and maximum allowed consecutive term.
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's election protest, allowing him to assume the remaining 2 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.
“Noong sinabi ng electoral tribunal na annulled ang proclamation ni Zubiri, ibig sabihin retroactive 'yun. Ang talagang nahalal for that term is si Sen. Pimentel at hindi si Sen. Zubiri," Topacio said.
(When the electoral tribunal annulled the proclamation of Zubiri, that was retroactive, and it mean that Sen. Pimentel was the one elected, not Sen. Zubiri.)
"It did not matter whether or not he was able to serve all of the 6 years," he told ANC's Dateline Philippines in a separate interview.
Topacio, a known ally of Pimentel, said that he filed the disqualification case out of his own accord. He said doing so gives him "scant joy" when he had been friends with the senator.
The lawyer had supported all of Pimentel's election campaigns since 1995. The senator, meanwhile, is a godfather of Topacio's eldest child.
“Kaibigan ko po siya. Kailangan ko lang po talagang ipatupad ang batas sapagkat sinumpaan ko naman 'yan bilang abogado to uphold and defend the laws of the republic,” he said.
(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 said he was simply being consistent because when Pimentel asked him to do research on this, he told the lawmaker that he "cannot run anymore."
Pimentel, who was re-elected in 2013, had said he can still run in next year's elections, because he did not complete his first term as senator.
“We are very sure with our legal theory,” Pimentel said after filing his certificate of candidacy last week.
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 decides on the matter.
If the Comelec junks the case, Topacio said he will elevate it to the Supreme Court.