Leni Robredo
Image Source: gmanetwork.com

CHICAGO – Now that Philippine Senator Grace Poe has finally taken herself out of possible running mate of presidential candidate Mar Roxas by announcing her own presidential bid, all eyes are turned to Roxas’s Plan B – who is the charismatic but reluctant candidate Camarines Sur Rep. Maria Leonor “Leni” G.  Robredo.

Believe it or not, Leni Robredo decision on whether or not to accept Roxas’s offer hinges on the whatever action President Noynoy Aquino (PNoy) will take.

If Aquino wants to divide the women’s votes for Senator Poe and the solid votes of Bikolanos for Senator Poe’s vice presidential bet, Senator Chiz Escudero, my province mate in Sorsogon, PNoy can simply ask the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to do its job: Resolve the election cases pending before the Comelec en banc in 21 days.

But by doing so, PNoy would be alienating himself from Senator Poe in case Ms. Poe wins in the election. If PNoy hedges, he would be alienating himself from his anointed candidate –  Roxas.

For PNoy to force Leni to make a decision soon, he needs to ask his appointees to the Commission on Elections (including former Comelec Chair Sixto K. Brillantes and Brillantes’s successor, Andre Bautista) to stop dragging their feet and resolve outright the election cases filed against Ms. Robredo by her defeated opponents — Atty. Nelly S. Villafuerte and her husband, former Rep. Luis Robredo Villafuerte.

If Comelec rules against Ms. Robredo in any of the three cases of alleged Comelec rules violations, it could ground Ms. Robredo’s political career as it could even land her in prison, thereby eliminating her as a possible candidate for the No. 2 position in the land.

Ms. Robredo, who is a lawyer, was charged in a verified complaint docketed as E.O. Case No. 13-179 for alleged violation of Section 96 of the Omnibus Election Code (OEC) in relation to Sections 68 (d), 262 and 264 of the same code for soliciting and receiving campaign funds from foreign sources, an offense which is punishable with imprisonment and disqualification for holding public office.

Ms. Robredo is also charged (E. O. Case No. 13-200) for alleged violation of Section 261 (a)(1) and (o) in relation to Sec. 68 (d), Sec. 262 (a-1) and Sec. 262 for vote-buying in a verified complaint filed by “Luis R. Villafuerte for not recording or reporting “true names of foreign contributors.”

According to Section 257 of Article XXI of the Omnibus Elections Code, “The Commission shall decide all election cases brought before it within 90 days from the date of submission for decision. The decision of the Commission shall become final 30 days after receipt of judgment.”

Because the cases were filed on May 23, 2013 and May 25, 2013 right after Ms. Robredo was elected as Camarines Sur District III representative on May 10, 2013, it appears that the Comelec has sat on the cases for more than two years now in violation of Section 257.

Actually, Section 265 of OEC gives complainants Nely Villafuerte and former Rep. Villafuerte options to file their complaints with the office of the fiscal or with the Department of Justice in the event of the failure of the Comelec to act on their complaints for investigation and prosecution but for unknown reason, the Villafuertes waived this right.

If President Aquino is really serious in seeing to it that the Comelec live up to its mandate, he should ask his Justice Department to file charges against Director Romeo B. Fortes of Comelec Region V for his failure to resolve the cases against Ms. Robredo in 90 and/or 120 days “from their submission for decision.”

Acting Comelec Director IV Maria Norina S. Tangaro-Casingal, in an email sent to this writer on Sept. 15, 2015, said, “(T)here is no Resolution yet (on the Robredo cases). The records mentioned by Dir. Fortes are mere recommendations on findings of existence or non-existence of probable case. The same is pending review by the Law Department for Agenda to the Commission En Banc for the En Banc to finally resolve whether or not an Information will be filed with the proper court.”

Tangaro-Casingal also said the Comelec “is tasked to investigate and prosecute election offense cases but the cases will ultimately be decided by the proper courts of competent jurisdiction, i.e. the Regional Trial Court.”

My question to Ms. Tangaro-Casingal is this: If the Comelec cannot even resolve  to file information within 90 or 120 days in the Robredo cases, which have been gathering dust for more than two years now, how long more will the Regional Trial Court resolve the cases? Another two or three years? By that time, the term of office of those charged with election offenses would be long served out.

What if Robredo were innocent of the election offenses she accused of and she were not chosen as vice president by Mar Roxas because of her pending election offenses, isn’t the Comelec guilty of depriving the Filipino people of electing an honest, competent official?

What if Rep. Robredo were later found out guilty of election offenses after she was chosen vice president and elected by the people, weren’t the people given a damaged good and the right to due process by her accusers was violated?