SC unseats Lucena mayor, orders vice mayor to take overBy Delfin T. Mallari Jr.
Inquirer Southern Luzon
LUCENA CITY—A court battle looms anew between the top two officials of this city despite a Supreme Court ruling that unseated incumbent Mayor Barbara Ruby Talaga (Lakas-Kampi) and ordered her replaced by Roderick Alcala (Liberal Party), her vice mayor.
Barbara’s lawyers are now preparing to file a motion for reconsideration before the high tribunal, questioning its Oct. 9, 2012, ruling posted on its website on Thursday that affirmed the Commission on Elections (Comelec) decision on May 20, 2011, that annulled her election in May 2010.
“We will exhaust all legal remedies to fight for the will of the electorate that voted her into office. This is no longer her own battle. She’s fighting to preserve and respect the collective voice of Lucenahins,” Ramon Talaga Jr., Barbara’s husband and the city’s former mayor, now the city administrator, said over the phone.
He said Barbara was still the city mayor and “will continue to hold office and perform her official function as the mayor of Lucena.”
Alcala received the copy of the SC decision on Thursday afternoon but decided to wait for the SC to issue a writ of execution before taking any move to take over the mayoral seat, said Councilor Rey Olivier Alejandrino, a lawyer and political ally of Alcala.
“Once the court issues the order, the DILG (Department of the Interior and Local Government) is bound to install Vice Mayor Alcala as city mayor,” Alejandrino said over the phone.
He said the SC decision in effect revoked the “status quo ante” order that it issued in June last year that enabled Barbara to return to her post despite the Comelec en banc decision replacing her with Alcala.
Ramon, the wedding godfather of the vice mayor, is running for mayor against Alcala, a nephew of agriculture secretary and presidential ally Proceso Alcala.
The Talaga and Alcala clans are bitter political rivals in Lucena.
Questions on the legitimacy of Barbara’s assumption to office arose when she substituted for her husband, Ramon, then the city mayor, in the 2010 election.
Ramon, while then serving his last term, filed his certificate of candidacy (COC) on the belief that he was still qualified to run for a fresh term because he was suspended for three months and thus failed to serve three consecutive terms in office.
The Comelec later ruled he was no longer qualified as candidate for another term. Under existing elections law, a local elected official (councilors to congressmen) can only serve three consecutive three-year terms.
Ramon had himself substituted by his wife just six days before the elections, a fact that was hidden from their political foes and the city electorate.
In the final tally, Ramon received 44,099 votes while his opponent Philip Castillo, a former vice mayor, earned 39,615. Based on election laws on substitution, the votes for Ramon were automatically considered votes for his substitute, his wife Barbara.
Castillo consequently asked the Comelec to declare him the winner as he argued that since Ramon’s candidacy was voided, it meant he ran unopposed.
But the Supreme Court said that while Ramon’s disqualification rendered his COC invalid and thus could not be substituted, it also dismissed Castillo’s assertion that he was entitled to assume the mayoral post.
“A candidate obtaining the second highest number of votes for the contested office could not assume the office despite the disqualification of the first placer because the second placer was ‘not the choice of the sovereign will,’” the SC ruled.
The SC added: “There was to be no question that the second placer lost in the election, was repudiated by the electorate, and could not assume the vacated position. No law imposed upon and compelled the people of Lucena City to accept a loser to be their political leader or their representative.”
The SC said Barbara’s dismissal had resulted to a permanent vacancy in the office of Lucena mayor and such vacancy should be filled pursuant to the law of succession as defined under the Local Government Code.