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MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Almost two weeks after a local Camarines Sur court ruled that Aga Muhlach and his wife Charlene are ineligible to vote in San Jose town, the Camarines Sur fourth district congressional candidate filed an appeal against the exclusion of his name on the voters' list.
According to a report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the ruling stated that Judge Ricky Begino of the San Jose-Presentacion, Camarines Sur Municipal Circuit Trial Court decided that Muhlach should be stricken off the new voters' list because the actor failed to meet the 6-month residency requirement in San Jose town that would allow them to vote.
On Tuesday, November 6, Muhlach's counsel, Romulo Macalintal, said in an interview on ANC's Headstart that the presiding judge had made a "very grave error" in his decision.
"In order to be a registered voter, you must be a resident of the area for at least 6 months before the election. Now if you would count… sa November 14 pa ang mag si-six months before the election. So I don't know what's the basis of the judge in making this ruling," said Macalintal.
"If you will compute the 6 months period, you have to start by November 14, to be a resident for 6 months in a said area before the election."
Macalintal said that it appeared the judge is "penalizing Aga Muhlach for registering early," despite the Commission on Elections' (Comelec) call-out to voters encouraging them to register in advance.
Muhlach registered to vote earlier than May 12, 2012. He is running under the ruling Liberal Party.
Macalintal also said that the local court's decision would have consequences that would affect other voters who registered early, including other politicians.
"President Erap registered early for Manila, so ganito pala… napakaraming botante ang maapektuhan (many voters will be affected)," he said.
"I don't see the logic in that particular decision by the judge. If Erap can register early, why can't Aga Muhlach also register early?"
In the court hearing, petitioners and witnesses testified that Muhlach and his wife were not residents of San Jose, saying they were not often seen around San Jose town.
Macalintal dismissed the testimonies as insufficient evidence for the decision.
"Hindi naman dahil hindi mo nakikita, hindi na siya resident," he said. "Hindi 'yun basis para sabihing hindi siya resident nang nasabing area… These are matters of evidence which we will prove before the regional trial court."
(Just because you don't see someone, it doesn't mean that person is not a resident. That's not a basis to say that someone is not a resident of the area).
Muhlach's counsel emphasized that his client has established residence in the province, owns a house there, and pointed out that none of Muhlach's opponents have filed a case questioning his residency.
"Even the opponents of Aga Muhlach would gladly admit that Aga Muhlach is a resident of that area," he said. "Ang dapat magreklamo ang mga kalaban ni Aga Muhlach (Those that should complain are his opponents)."
The case against Muhlach stemmed from a document submitted by the Election Registration Board (ERB) of San Jose, asking the court to rectify the error it committed when it approved the Muhlachs' registration on September 28.
The ERB said the couple "failed to meet the requirement of six months residence in said place prior to their registration on March 19, 2012 and they had filed their voter application on the disallowed period pursuant to Comelec Resolution No. 9149.”
Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr, for his part, said he was unaware of the ERB's move to reverse its earlier approval. "ERB is a low-level area... They're not reporting to us," Brillantes told Rappler in a phone interview.
But he explained withdrawing its earlier approval was the ERB's prerogative. The courts, nevertheless, "can consider all the evidence" and hear any appeal.
Aside from the residency case Muhlach is facing, the congressional hopeful is in the middle of another trial case with the Comelec questioning his citizenship and seeking to disqualify him from the elections.
Camarines Sur resident Gilmar Pacamara accused Muhlach of being a Spanish citizen, alleging that Muhlach applied for Spanish citizenship in 2011 and renounced his Filipino citizenship.
Macalintal said they have already filed a memorandum regarding the case, and expressed confidence that it would be easier to resolve than Muhlach's residency case.
"That is easier than our case in Camarines Sur. Balewala yun kasi ang pinaguusuapan lang doon ay dual citizenship and we have a lot of decisions by the Supreme Court that dual citizenship is not a [basis] to qualify a candidate," he said.
"What is not allowed is dual allegiance. Aga Muhlach never swore any allegiance to any foreign country and therefore there is no basis to disqualify him on the basis of citizenship."
Macalintal, a high-profile lawyer who has also defended former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has called the case politically motivated, but expressed confidence that his client would be cleared of both charges.
"At present, he is a registered voter. It is up to the petitioners to prove that he is not. While it is pending, the decision is not yet executory," he said. – with a report from Paterno Esmaquel II/Rappler.com
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