SolGen not backing Comelec: It happened before

Paterno Esmaquel II
SolGen not backing Comelec: It happened before
It was unlikely that the President influenced the Solicitor General to support the SET decision on Grace Poe, an ex-poll chief says

MANILA, Philippines – Former elections chief Sixto Brillantes Jr on Tuesday, January 5, said it is not unusual for the Philippine government’s top lawyer to refuse to represent the poll body before the Supreme Court (SC).

Comelec Chairman Andres Bautista on Tuesday said the poll body is left to defend itself after the Solicitor General (SolGen) decided not to represent the poll body in the case involving the candidacy of Senator Grace Poe.

Brillantes said in an interview on dzMM: “Nangyayari naman ‘yan. Noong nandoon ako sa Comelec, sinasabi ng SolGen, ‘E kontra ang posisyon namin sa inyo so kayo na ang bahala.’”

(Those things happen. When I was in the Comelec, the SolGen would say, “Our position is contrary to yours so you can handle this yourself.”)

The SolGen previously defended the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) ruling in favor of Poe. The Comelec’s decision is contrary to that of the SET.

Brillantes also brushed aside speculations that President Benigno Aquino III influenced Solicitor General Florin Hilbay to support the SET position.

“He’s a very young lawyer, he’s a very intelligent lawyer. He really knows what he’s doing,” the former Comelec chairman said in a mix of English and Filipino. 

“He’s taking the position that protects his client,” he added, referring to the SET as Hilbay’s client.

According to Brillantes, the Comelec now has to rely on its own law department to defend itself before the SC.

“The law department of the Comelec knows what it’s doing. They are experienced lawyers already,” he said. 

‘SolGen can still represent Comelec’

A veteran election lawyer like Brillantes, Romulo Macalintal also weighed in on the issue on Tuesday

Macalintal pointed out that the SolGen “might not represent Comelec at the SC” as the SolGen’s position in the separate Poe case decided by the SET “would be inconsistent with the Comelec decision.” 

The SET earlier junked a petition to disqualify Poe on the basis of claims that Poe is not a natural-born Filipino. 

But Macalintal noted that the SET ruling revolves “only on the issue of citizenship.” 

He said the SolGen “could still lawyer for Comelec on Poe’s residency case.”

The Comelec earlier ruled to bar Poe from running for president because she failed to meet a 10-year residency requirement, aside from the fact that she is not a natural-born citizen.

“But if in both issues, the SolGen declines representation of Comelec, then Comelec has to get its own lawyer from the Commission, either one of its commissioners or the head of its law department,” Macalintal said.

He said Bautista “may not lawyer for Comelec because he dissented from the majority decision of the poll body.”

Reacting to the SET decision, Akbayan Representative Ibarra Gutierrez also said the SolGen’s decision not to back the Comelec is not surprising.

“We have to remember, the SolGen is the lawyer of the government, and that means all government agencies,” said Gutierrez, the spokesman of Poe’s rival, administration standard-bearer Manuel Roxas II.

He said that in a way, the SolGen serves government agencies on a “first come, first served” basis.

Poe’s case before the SET came before the Comelec cancelled her candidacy. – Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.