By MARK MERUEÑAS
|Aga Muhlach ... a big relief, for now|
MANILA: The Court of Appeals on Tuesday issued a 60-day temporary restraining order against a Dec 17 ruling of a San Jose, CamSur court that removed actor Aga Muhlach and his wife Charlene Gonzales-Muhlach from the province's voters' list for the May 2013 polls.
The Muhlach couple's lawyer, Romulo Macalintal, confirmed to reporters that the appeals court issued the TRO following oral arguments on Tuesday on the petition that his client filed earlier this month, contesting the Dec 17 ruling of the Regional Trial Court of San Jose, Camarines Sur.
Macalintal said the two-month TRO was "effective immediately".
"The CA ordered the Election Registration Board (ERB) of San Jose to reinstate the couple on the voters' list," Macalintal said. He also said that the CA ordered the Muhlach couple to post a P200,000 bond "to esnure good compliance ... in case damages are later on incurred by any of the parties."
Aga's removal from the voter's list imperils his candidacy for congressman of CamSur's fourth district in the upcoming midterm elections in May, as the Constitution requires running district representatives to be a registered voter of the district he or she intends to represent.
Macalintal earlier said his clients "will suffer grave and irreparable damage and injury as they will be deprived of their constitutional right of suffrage" unless the CA issues a TRO.
Macalintal explained that his clients filed their application for registration as voters of San Jose, Camarines Sur on March 19, 2012.
The applications were approved last September 28 by the ERB of San Jose.
On October 5, however, a group of registered voters contested the approval of the Muhlachs' voter registration, saying the two failed to comply with the required period of residency for a voter.
The Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of San Jose eventually reversed the ERB's approval of the couple's registration - a decision that was upheld by the San Jose RTC in a Dec 17 ruling.
Both local courts ruled that the Muhlachs have not been residents of San Jose for six months when they applied to be voters there in March 2012.
Macalintal, however, insisted that the six-month period of residency should be counted relative to the May 13, 2013 elections and not to the date of the application for registration.
He said the six-month period only started on November 14, 2012, way after the petition against the Muhlachs was filed.
He also said the count for the period or residency should start six months before the elections, and not before registration.
He further said the local courts made an "absurd interpretation" of Resolution No. 9149 of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), which provides, among others, that new registrants may register not earlier than May 12, 2012.
"The use of the word 'may' clearly shows that this provision is not mandatory. While the Muhlachs applied for registration on March 19, 2012, the same is not a violation of the 'May 12, 2012' date provided for by the Comelec because even the poll body urged new voters to register early," Macalintal said.
"This is clear abuse of discretion because the law is very clear in that a voter must be a resident of the place for at least six months before the election and not before registration," he added.
"Since the courts found that the Muhlachs have been residing in San Jose as of Feb 17, 2012 then it is as clear as the sunlight that they have more than complied with the 6-month residency before the May 13, 2013 elections, or a period of one year and 3 months from Feb 17, 2012 to May 13, 2013," Macalintal said.
Macalintal also accused the San Jose RTC of showing "undue interest or unseemly haste" when it junked the Muhlachs' appeal without awaiting for the memorandum from the couple's camp.
As a candidate for Congress in CamSur, Aga is going against Felix William "Wimpy" Fuentebella, son of incumbent Rep. Arnulfo Fuentebella and a member of an established political family in the province. — BM, GMA News