MANILA, Philippines – With only a hairline lead separating vice presidential candidates Leni Robredo and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr, it’s not surprising that both camps have tapped the services of battle-tested election lawyers.
Veteran poll lawyers Romulo Macalintal and Sixto Brillantes Jr are back in the national scene. Macalintal is currently lawyering for the leading Robredo, while Brillantes – who just ended in 2015 his stint as Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman – is set to represent Marcos in the canvassing of votes in Congress.
It’s a rematch of sorts for the two, following their face-off in the 2004 presidential elections. Macalintal defended former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, while Brillantes lawyered for her opponent then, Fernando Poe Jr.
Arroyo won the presidential race, while Poe accused Arroyo’s camp of committing election fraud.
According to a profile story published by Newsbreak in 2004, both lawyers began their election law practice in the 80s, and then went on to win quite a number of cases.
Brillantes graduated from San Beda Law School – the same as president-elect Rodrigo Duterte – and then passed the Bar in 1965. He placed 7th in the Bar exams.
Meanwhile, Macalintal obtained his law degree from the University of the East and passed the Bar in 1978.
During the campaign period for the 2004 elections, the two were first pitted against each other in a local disqualification case, the same Newsbreak story said.
“Brillantes and Macalintal first squared off over the candidacy of former Manila Rep. Harry Angping, who was later disqualified after being declared an alien. Brillantes represented Angping while Macalintal was counsel of barangay chair Alejandro Gomez, who filed the disqualification petition,” said the same story.
Even in Comelec
The confrontation between the two lawyers went beyond winning cases.
A report by the Philippine Daily Inquirer alleged that the two were in competition in 2011 for the post of then outgoing Comelec chair Jose Melo. The opposing factions in Malacañang had their own preferences at the time.
Based on the report, the Balay faction – which supported the vice-presidential candidacy of Manuel “Mar” Roxas II in 2010 – was eyeing Macalintal, while the Noy-Bi (short for Noynoy-Binay) group – which was associated with Benigno Aquino III and Jejomar Binay – was pushing for Brillantes.
Both lawyers had worked for Aquino on separate occasions. Macalintal was Aquino’s lawyer when he first ran as Tarlac representative, while Brillantes was with Aquino when he ran for president.
In the end, Aquino appointed Brillantes as the next poll chairman. Upon retirement in February 2015, Brillantes left the Comelec – just a year before the May 2016 elections.
Though often competitors, the two lawyers shared common opinions in at least two instances – when they urged Roxas to withdraw his electoral protest against Binay, and when they insisted that suspended Makati Mayor Jejomar Erwin “Junjun” Binay could still file his candidacy despite a disqualification order from the Ombudsman.
But for the 2016 national elections, the two went on divergent paths. Apart from the vice-presidential race, the two had also held clashing views on whether or not Duterte could legally substitute PDP-Laban’s original presidential bet, Martin Diño.
Brillantes said Duterte should be allowed, while Macalintal opposed it. – Rappler.com