MANILA—The lawyer of Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III on Tuesday faced off with petitioners seeking to block his reelection bid, with both sides already anticipating this “purely legal” question to reach the Supreme Court.
The main issue before the Commission on Elections is whether Pimentel can still run for another 6-year term in next year’s senatorial election, having won in 2007 and again in 2013.
The constitution allows senators to be elected only to 2 consecutive terms or a total of 12 years.
But Pimentel served only 2 years of his first term after winning his electoral protest against Juan Miguel Zubiri.
Pimentel’s lawyer George Garcia said he presented during Tuesday’s preliminary conference a legal opinion from the Comelec’s law department to support his argument that he could still run.
Garcia earlier cited a Supreme Court decision allowing a Catanduanes town mayor to seek reelection because his term was interrupted.
“What is applicable to the local positions should likewise be applicable to the national positions,” he told reporters, claiming the Comelec document shared this opinion.
But petitioner Glenn Chong said the ruling applied only to local officials and he would prefer a “categorical ruling” by the Supreme Court later on.
The other petitioner, lawyer Ferdinand Topacio, described the case as a “purely legal” issue, which should not be difficult to settle.
“Wala pong personal to. Kaya hindi dapat nagagalit si Senator Koko sa ‘kin. Dapat nga natutuwa pa sya at napag-uusapan sya e,” Topacio told reporters.
Chong said settling the issue now would spare Pimentel from a possible legal challenge should he win in 2019.
Whoever would place 13th in the senatorial election, the petitioner said, might file a quo warranto case against Pimentel and question his right to occupy the position.
“This is a tactical step na question it now,” he said. “It’s better that the issue is settled now than later kasi gagastos na siya, both in terms of effort and time.”
The petitioners argued that allowing Pimentel to run in 2019–and assuming he wins—would lead to a situation where a senator would end up serving 14 years, or 2 years more than what is allowed by the constitution.
“Yun ang pinagbabawal ng constitution. Yun lang naman po ang aming kinu-question,” Topacio said.
But Garcia cited the case of his other client, former President Joseph Estrada, who was allowed to run for president in 2010 even if he had been elected for the same position in 1998.
The constitution allows a president to serve only a single term of 6 years.
Garcia said Estrada was able to prove that his stint of 2 1/2 years in Malacañang was a “tenure” cut short by his ouster in 2001, and not a “term.”
Had Estrada won in 2010, he would have served as president for more than 6 years, including his first “tenure” in Malacañang.