Cordova mayoralty bet, Comelec official meet in resto to discuss Wakee’s pending poll case about residency ruleBy Marian Z. Codilla
Cebu Daily News
Two weeks before he filed his controversial bid to run for Cordova mayor, boxing promoter Red “Wakee” Salud was spotted having lunch with an Commission on Election (Comelec) official in a Mandaue City restaurant.
Over hot soup, served shabu-shabu style, they discussed, among other things, Salud’s case involving the disqualification of his residency status in Cordova where he tried to register as a voter.
A photo of them huddled over lunch at Shabu Way in Parkmall was taken by Cebu Daily News correspondent Jucell Marie P. Cuyos who happened to be having lunch in a nearby table.
At the time, Cuyos only recognized Salud when she clicked her iPhone camera. Only later in the newsroom did she discover the identity of one of his lunch companions , Marchel Sarno, Comelec officer of Cebu city north district. (See separate story on page 31).
Sarno, in a later interview, confirmed his presence in the lunch with Salud on Sept. 22, a Saturday.
When he was shown the CDN photo, Sarno said there was nothing irregular about his meeting and that Salud only asked his opinion about the period of reckoning for voter’s registration.
“Wakee was there in Shabu Way. We just chanced to eat together because we met there. I also know him because he is a friend of Atty. Cadungog (Cebu City north district election officer),” Sarno said.
Sarno said he personally knew Salud long before the boxing promoter decided to run for mayor of Cordova town.
“Who doesn’t know Wakee?” he said.
Nonpartisan conduct is one of the requirements of the Comelec in its role as the constitutional body mandated to “enforce and administer all laws and regulations relative to the conduct of an election” in the 1987 Constitution.
Its powers as an “independent” comission include the function to “decide, except those involving the right to vote, all questions affecting elections, including determination of .. registration of voters.”
Comelec officers, who are usually lawyers, are prohibited from engaging in the private practice of law during their term.
Sarno said he didn’t plan on meeting Salud last Sept. 22.
He said he was in Shabu Way to eat with his staff, and had a chance meeting with a lawyer-friend, who was also a friend of Salud.
At the time they were having lunch, Salud had just lost his case in the Municipal Trial Court in Cities (MTCC) where the judge who inspected his newly rented house in Cordova threw out his claim of residency. The Cordova Election Registration Board earier disqualified him as a registered voter.
On Oct. 2, the Regional Trial Court upheld the decision rejecting Salud’s claim that he was a Cordova resident which is a basic requirement for a candidate seeking a position there.
That didn’t stop Salud from filing his certificate of candidacy on the last day on Oct. 4 at the Comelec provincial office.
Cordova Mayor Adelino Sitoy’s lawyer who is seeking reelection warned Salud that he risks being cited in contempt of court if he continued to file his candidacy.
Sarno said he had lunch with Comelec staff at the Shabu Way restaurant in Parkmall Mandaue last Sept. 22.
Sarno said he wasn’t lawyering for Salud since this is prohibited by law and that there was nothing wrong with being asked about election laws and requirements.
“Anybody can ask. Politicians are our clients, they are one of the stakeholders so when we are asked our opinion, we will give our opinion based on what we know according to the law,” said Sarno.
Sarno just laughed when he was showed the camera image of him with Salud.
He joked that he may be subject to a lawsuit by someone who thinks the meeting was irregular.
Sarno was relaxed and casual during the interview at the Comelec office, confident that his conduct was above board.
Sarno said that if he was doing something illegal he wouldn’t have done it in a public place like a restaurant.
Asked who paid the lunch and who was the man seated on his left in the photo, Sarno said he didn’t know.
“They were just asking me when is the time of reckoning of the six-month residency for a candidate and I explained it to them. I hope they will not consider that as lawyering for Wakee,” Sarno said.
The photo showed Sarno seated across Salud in the table with two other men, including Salud’s lawyer.
Sarno had his back to the camera with part of his profile visible. Sarno and Salud’s lawyer play basketball together in matches as members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.
Gearing up for a high-profile campaign of Salud, Cordova Mayor Adelino Sitoy said he will hire celebrities in Manila to counter Salud, who counts among his supporters boxing icon Manny Pacuqiao, Saranggani congressman.
Sitoy said he has relatives in Salud’s slate like Cora Borromeo who is running for municipal councilor.
Sitoy said he would file a disbarment case against Salud’s lawyers for advising their client to file his candidacy bid despite an adverse court decision.
Sitoy said he also planned contempt and perjury charges against Salud and will move to cancel his certificate of candidacy (COC).
The Cordova mayor earlier threatened to file contempt charges against the Comelec officer in Cordova who received Salud’s COC.
However, Cebu provincial election supervisor Marco Lionel Castillano said Salud’s COC has to be received without comment because “the duty of the election officer is just ministerial.”
Castillano said a petition for disqualification could still be filed against Salud for failing to meet the six-month residency requirement of a candidate.
A candidate should also be a registered voter in the area where he or she will run for office, Castillano said.
Under the Constitution, the right to vote belongs to a citizen at least 18 years old who resided in the country for at least one year, and in the place where he or she proposes to vote for at least six months before the elections. With Correspondent Norman V. Mendoza