2022 PH presidential race

Estelito Mendoza is lawyer for Bongbong Marcos in Comelec, ‘moves’ instantly felt

Lian Buan

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Estelito Mendoza is lawyer for Bongbong Marcos in Comelec, ‘moves’ instantly felt

POWER OF TITONG MENDOZA. Estelito Mendoza, a Marcos-time solicitor general, has delivered wins for three plunder defendants, including former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Lian Buan/Rappler

(5th UPDATE) Comelec eventually confirms information coming from Bongbong Marcos' camp that they have been granted extension to file their response to the disqualification case

Lawyer Estelito Mendoza is used to winning, even by means that a Supreme Court dissenter once called “highly irregular.”

As soon as he joined the legal team of presidential aspirant Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. in the petitions challenging his candidacy, Mendoza’s moves were instantly felt as he tried to get the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to extend its non-extendible deadline for his client.

“[Our motion for extension] was approved yesterday,” Marcos’ spokesperson Vic Rodriguez told CNN Philippines’ The Source in an interview on Thursday morning, November 18.

“We were given an extension of time…. I think we were granted seven days from yesterday,” said Rodriguez.

But Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez denied the information afterwards, saying that he confirmed with a commissioner of the handling Second Division that there has been in fact no resolution to the motion for extension.

At 2:53 pm Thursday, after Jimenez’s press conference, petitioners’ counsel Ted Te received via email Comelec’s notice that the motion was indeed granted. Jimenez confirmed it eventually.

Rodriguez, who was not a counsel of Marcos on record, was still one day early than both the Comelec spokesperson and the petitioners in getting the decision.

Procedurally, every notice and pleading is served to both the petitioner and respondent. The Comelec has yet to explain why the Marcos camp got the information ahead of the petitioners and the Comelec spokesperson.

In the two-page resolution, the 2nd Division simply said it found “justification” in the request for extension.

Asked how they could have gotten an advanced information, Rodriguez told reporters, “What’s wrong with that?”

Asked how it was possible and if they have contact inside, Rodriguez repeated: “What’s wrong with that? Hindi naman puwedeng kayo lagi ang nauuna sa balita. (You can’t always be the first ones to know the news.)”

Mendoza is known in legal circles for his maneuvers. Comelec reporters were trying to ask Jimenez if it was possible that the Marcos camp got advanced insider information that made their spokesperson so confident to declare on live television that their motion had already been granted.

According to Jimenez, he did not know for sure if voting had already happened, and the resolution just wasn’t official yet. What’s clear, he said, was that there was no resolution to speak of at the time of Rodriguez’s interview.

“Are you looking for some admission of a back channel somewhere? This not something that has not happened before. Parties make allegations all the time. Parties always say this is happening in our favor, they always say that, but always we say, we wait for the official promulgation,” said Jimenez in a press conference Thursday afternoon.

Does Comelec have contempt powers, and is Rodriguez’s premature statement a basis for contempt? Jimenez said, “Let’s cross the bridge [when we get] there.”

The deadline for Marcos to file his answer was November 16. Mendoza filed his motion for extension on November 15. If there is no decision on the motion for extension yet, and the deadline has lapsed, is Marcos’ right to reply already considered waived?

“There is a pending motion, so that would have to be resolved first. Let’s see what happens,”said Jimenez.

Mendoza, who served as the solicitor general of Bongbong’s father, the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, counts among his wins the plunder acquittals of Senator Bong Revilla and former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and the bail grant of plunder defendant Juan Ponce Enrile. Mendoza scored wins in the Arroyo and Enrile cases before the Supreme Court.

Marcos’ camp was supposed to file his answer to the first petition to cancel his COC by Tuesday, November 16.

In his motion for extension, Mendoza said he was only hired on November 15.

“Considering counsel’s current workload and the time required for him to review the petition and prepare for an adequate response, respondent BBM is constrained to request for an extension of additional five days from November 16,” Mendoza said in his motion submitted to the Comelec on November 15.

Rule 23, Section 4(6) of the Comelec’s rule of procedures says that the five-day period within which to file an answer is “non-extendible.”

The provision adds, “The failure of the respondent to file his verified Answer within the reglementary period shall bar the respondent from submitting controverting evidence or filing his memorandum.”

In a press statement on Thursday, Te said they opposed the motion for extension.

“Petitioners reminded the Comelec that the consequence of granting respondent’s motion for more time would be for the Comelec to flout its own rules, which the Supreme Court had already ruled in previous instances as grave abuse of discretion,” Te said in his statement.

Rodriguez said they needed to study the petitions thoroughly because they came “in trickles,” as a second petition was filed a week after Te’s group, and a new disqualification petition was filed on Wednesday, November 17.

The requirement of Comelec was only to answer the petition of Te’s group.

“They are doing it in trickles; it’s like systematized. Upon briefing, these are all trash petitions but we need to answer so we’re studying thoroughly,” Rodriguez said in a mix of English and Filipino in his CNN Philippines interview.

Rodriguez said in a statement on Thursday, November 18, that the disqualification petitions are “cheap political gimmicks from the same people who do not want the country to move ahead and get out of the pandemic.”

“They refuse to elevate political discourse and instead resort to dirty campaigning, character assassination, and mudslinging,” said Rodriguez. 

In the legal circle, Mendoza is perhaps most infamous for his maneuvers to deliver a win for Philippine Airlines (PAL) in a 20-year-old retrenchment case that the unions had already won thrice in the Supreme Court.

Mendoza was able to revive the case and then win in a flip-flop decision, by writing letters that were later considered as motions. A dissenter to that decision, Associate Justice Marvic Leonen, said it was “highly irregular, suspect, and violative of due process of law.”

Arroyo’s acquittal in the Supreme Court set a precedent in plunder cases that require an identification of a main plunderer. It caused a domino effect that obliterated all of the cases related to the P365-million Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) fund scam, and helped secure bail for plunder defendant Jinggoy Estrada.

The bail grant to Enrile also helped Bongbong’s mother, Imelda Marcos, secure post-conviction bail in the latter’s conviction for seven counts of grant.Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.