MITCH M. LIPA
Lawyers of former congressman Alfredo Benitez are preparing the evidences to support the validity of his application to transfer his voter registration record to Bacolod City.
Lawyer Jose Max Ortiz admitted to have been asked by a group of supporters of Benitez to help in preparing their documents for the hearing of the Election Registration Board on July 19.
Ortiz was tasked to answer questions from the media, particularly on the opposition filed by three Bacolod residents before the Commission on Elections on the transfer of the voter registration of Benitez from Victorias City.
Ortiz said he is not certain yet if he will stand as counsel for Benitez during the ERB hearing.
“One does not need to buy a property to qualify one to be a candidate. A person can only rent a room to qualify him to be a candidate,” Ortiz said.
He added that ownership of a property in one place is not a requirement to be a candidate or to become a voter.
Ortiz was reacting to the statements of the counsels for the three complainants against Benitez’s application, who claimed that the former solon is not a resident of Barangay Mandalagan.
In a press conference on July 14, Atty. Marcus Vaflor, one of the counsels for the petitioners, said that Benitez only bought a piece of land in Bacolod three days before he filed his application to transfer his voter registration.
“The property has no water and electricity which proves that Benitez does not reside there,” Vaflor added.
The lawyer admitted that the oppositors, namely Hector Yula, a mechanic; Teodoro Abao, a former barangay kagawad; and Jonah Abao, are affiliated with Grupo Progreso. The leaders of different groups from various barangays of Bacolod are the complainants for the 241 other applications also being contested.
Disqualifying the voter registration of Benitez in Bacolod will prevent him from running as mayor in the May 2022 elections, Vaflor said, adding that they are also planning to file criminal complaints for lying under oaths in claiming that they are residents of Bacolod.
Benitez earlier said the opposition on his transfer of voter registration is already expected, but he is confident that the move will not prosper, since all documents required by law were fully complied with.
Bacolod Election Officer, Atty. Kathrina Trinio-Caña, said Benitez and the 241 others, whose applications are under protest, were told to show proofs that they are residents of Bacolod and can cast their votes in the City in next year’s elections.
Caña said the ERB will first tackle the opposition filed against Benitez’s application, since he was the subject of the first protest filed by three individuals before the Comelec Bacolod.
There were 10,199 registrants, from April 13 to June 30, 2021, whose applications will be heard by ERB on Monday.
Caña said that with the huge number of registrants under protest, it might take the ERB five days to do the summary hearing procedure. The ERB hearing is calendared until July 23. – MML