The Commission on Elections (Comelec) First Division has dismissed all petitions to cancel Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte's certificate of candidacy for president
The consolidated cases filed by broadcaster Ruben Castor, student leader John Paulo delas Nieves and presidential aspirants Rizalito David and Elly Pamatong were dismissed due to lack of merit.
The Castor and Delas Nieves cases were also dismissed for the petitioners' failure to appear at the preliminary conference.
Presiding Commissioner Christian Robert Lim announced the development on Wednesday. He said the vote to dismiss four petitions against the tough-talking mayor was unanimous.
"We'd like to announce that the First Division has ruled that 'The Punisher' will live to die another day," he said. "Today, the First Division has ruled to deny all the petitions filed against Mayor Rodrigo D. Duterte."
"We've threshed out all the issues and discussed by the petitioners and ruled on them. It was a unanimous decision of the First Division," he added.
Aside from Lim, the First Division also includes Commissioners Luie Tito Guia and Rowena Guanzon.
Guanzon—who the Duterte camp had asked to inhibit from the case—would be submitting a separate opinion.
With this, Duterte's name currently stays on the list of presidential candidates that the Comelec en banc is finalizing for the printing of ballots, due to start on February 8.
The petitioners, however, will have five days to appeal the decision, which will then be taken up by the Comelec en banc.
'No material misrepresentation'
In its 50-page ruling, the First Division said Duterte did not commit material misrepresentation, which could have been grounds for the cancellation of his COC for president.
It said that the "discrepancies" pointed out by petitioners David and Delas Nieves were "immaterial and irrelevant" to the "valid" filing and substitution for PDP-Laban's Martin Diño.
Notably, it struck down the claim of petitioners David and Delas Nieves, who scored Duterte over the fact that his statement of cancellation/withdrawal for Davao City mayor and his COC for president were notarized on the same day "and, allegedly, at the same time."
"The Commission (First Division), however, does not find this implausible or improbable, because it is a matter of judicial notice that the travel time from Manila to Davao City, via an airplane, lasts only a maximum of two hours, and with hourly flights available, the probability is high that respondent Duterte had had these two documents notarized and submitted to the offices concerned on the same day," it said, adding that the petitioners failed to present proof of their claim.
It also said that Duterte's first filing of COC for re-election "does not contradict his bona fide intent to become a candidate for President," as rules provide that a candidate who fielded two or more COCs "may choose one of which he or she shall be eligible for" and cancel the others via a sworn declaration.
The First Division also said that it did not see Duterte's supposed running for re-election under the local party Hugpong sa Tawong Lungsod as a reason to invalidate Duterte's COC for president as the PDP-Laban, where he is now standard-bearer, indicated that he is a member and nominated as its candidate.
'Substitution is valid'
The division also pointed out that "existing statutes" allowed for Dino's withdrawal of his candidacy for president, as well as Duterte's withdrawal of candidacy for re-election and subsequent substitution.
"Given that the law itself allows the substitution of a withdrawing candidate, and that respondents Diño and Duterte exercised their right to withdraw and substitute pursuant to the law, then the Commission is duty-bound, pursuant to its constitutional role, to give effect to and respect the same, no matter the reason for the withdrawal and the subsequent substitution effected by the political party," it said.
It also said that Diño's COC was "validly filed" for the position of president, and not for mayor of Pasay City, which the petitioners had underscored.
It said that while Diño "erroneous(ly)" wrote "Mayor of Pasay City" in the declaration of candidacy, he used a COC intended for those who wish to run for president, and had "related documents," particularly a certificate of nomination and acceptance (CONA) from PDP-Laban, fielding him as their presidential candidate.
Further, it pointed out that Diño is not a resident of Pasay City, and that he filed his COC with the Comelec law department at the main office in Manila, which only accepted certificates for the positions of president, vice president, and senator.
It also turned down Pamatong's plea to declare Duterte a "nuisance COC filer." —JST/KBK, GMA News