Historical Parallels: Lessons for COMELEC
Santayana, the sage, famously said that “those who do not learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat .”
WHEN the Commission on Election’s First Division disqualified Abraham “Baham” Kahlil Mitra as a candidate for governor of Palawan back in February 10, 2010 for lack of residence and registration qualifications, the decision was written by Commissioner Gregorio Larrazabal, who as it turns out, possesses much more than a working knowledge of disqualification cases based on residency.
Commissioner Gregorio “Goyo” Larrazabal is the youngest son of former Leyte governor Adelina “Inday” Larrazabal, who won the Leyte gubernatorial election in 1988 but was later disqualified by the Comelec for failing the same residency requirement, a decision that was affirmed by the Supreme Court in 1991.
Goyo Larrazabal, the youngest Comelec commissioner, simply knew whereof he spoke based on his family’s experience. His mother’s case is so eerily similar to Baham Mitra’s that it would most probably be used as a basis for the Supreme Court decision on whether to affirm or revoke the Comelec disqualification case against the Palawan congressman.
Like Inday Larrazabal, Baham Mitra also won as governor of Palawan—though in the latter’s case, quite narrowly, with a lead of less than 15,000 votes, or 5% of the vote total—this, despite a disqualification case against him which was decided with finality in 04 May 2010 by the Comelec En Banc.
Both Inday Larrazabal and Baham Mitra tried to change their residence one year before the election in order to qualify as gubernatorial candidates.
Inday Larrazabal, was a substitute candidate of her husband, the former Ormoc City OIC Mayor Terry Larazabal (now deceased) who was also disqualified by the Comelec based on the same residency requirement.
Ormoc is an independent component city, not subject to regulation from the provincial government of Leyte. The two Larrazabals (husband and wife), being natives of Ormoc, were automatically disqualified from running for any provincial post in Leyte.
So Inday Larrazabal tried to register at Kananga, Leyte one year before the 1988 election so she could run for governor, since her husband had already been disqualified.
In the same manner, Baham Mitra, a three-term congressman in the 2nd district of Palawan, is a resident of Puerto Princesa City, a highly urbanized city with its own charter that is administratively independent of the province of Palawan. He too cannot qualify as a candidate for any provincial post in Palawan.
So Mitra tried to transfer his residence from Puerto Princesa City to Aborlan, Palawan so he could run for governor.
The fundamental issue in Inday Larrazabal’s and Baham Mitra’s cases is residence and both of them failed the residency requirement as affirmed by the Comelec. Both of them were found to have misrepresented their residence in their respective COCs just so they would qualify as candidates.
In Inday Larrazabal’s case, the Comelec said “the residency requirement should be read as legal residence or domicile, not any place where a party may have properties and may visit from time to time.” Residence, in short, is the place where the candidate actually lives or has his or her home.
The fact that Inday Larrazabal occasionally visited Kananga did not signify her intention to live there. Both the Comelec and later the Supreme Court found the evidence showed that she and her husband still lived in Ormoc City, and that her attempt to change her residence one year before the 1988 election by registering at Kananga clearly shows she considered herself a resident of Ormoc City.
This is why, in the end, The Supreme Court did not find any reason to reverse the Comelec decision disqualifying Inday Larrazabal, who by that time, had been sitting as governor for about three years already. The Comelec did not act in excess of its jurisdiction or in grave abuse of discretion. In other words, the Comelec was right, and the Supreme Court upheld the poll body’s decision.
It didn’t even matter that Inday was a native Waray who probably knew the conditions of the province as well as anyone else in Leyte, and was very well fit to serve as governor as she had proved during the interim while her disqualification case was pending.
Baham Mitra was disqualified by the Comelec because, like Inday Larrzabal, he never actually, physically lived in the place where he supposedly transferred residence, in Aborlan Palawan. In fact, he couldn’t live there as the place he listed as his residence is the mezzanine of an animal feeds factory where nobody lived, not the owners, not even the workers of said factory. The place didn’t even have a toilet, for Pete’s sake. The residents of Aborlan and the workers and customers of the feedmill never even saw him visiting.
In short, he lied in his COC, which is a public document one executes under oath, when he listed the animal feeds factory as his residence.
The Comelec is right in disqualifying him as candidate for governor, just as it was right in disqualifying Inday Larrazabal. As Inday’s son, Commissioner Goyo Larrazabal knew this only too well.
Sure, no doubt, Baham Mitra is from Palawan, but just like Inday Larrazabal, who is, no doubt, from Leyte—they were both disqualified because they happen to live in that part of their provinces that are independent from the provincial government.
They failed to satisfy the residency requirement of the Comelec, hence, the poll body disqualified them.
Now will the Supreme Court uphold the Comelec disqualification case against Baham Mitra, just like it did that of Inday Larrazabal?