Comelec rule confuses mayoral bets

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SAN PEDRO, Laguna—A Commission on Elections (Comelec) resolution denying the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) the authority to unseat this town’s Mayor Calixto Cataquiz drew varying interpretations from contending parties here.

The Comelec, on April 24, said it could not give “due course” to the request of the DILG for a prior approval to remove Cataquiz because removing him from office would be graver than mere suspension, the latter being among acts that require the commission’s  approval before it could be implemented.

The DILG, through Undersecretary Austere A. Panadero and acting on the order of Malacañang to remove Cataquiz, has sought permission from the poll body, in view of the Comelec rule that prohibits the “appointment, personnel movement and suspension of local officials” within the election period from Jan. 13 to June 12 without prior approval from the Comelec.

In the case of Cataquiz, however, the poll body said that since the DILG was seeking to have him removed and not just suspended from office, “the commission cannot extend to the DILG the authority to implement the penalty of removal,” said the resolution, a copy of which was furnished the Inquirer on Friday.

The Comelec also said the administrative nature of the case prohibited the implementation of the removal of Cataquiz.

“The commission cannot extend due course to the request of the DILG, made through Undersecretary  Austere A. Panadero, for approval to implement the suspension order dated April 5 issued against [Cataquiz],” read the resolution.

Cataquiz, in a phone interview on Sunday, expressed his relief over the resolution signed by Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr. and Commissioners Lucenito Tagle, Elias Yusoph, Christian Robert Lim and

Ma. Gracia Cielo Padaca.

“I’m just lucky [the Malacañang order] is covered by the election ban. I feel safe now, and I’m sure we can all move on with a peaceful election,” he said.

Lawyer Ariel Reyes, legal counsel of San Pedro Vice Mayor Norvic Solidum, however, believed the Comelec resolution should pave the way for the DILG to remove Cataquiz since the poll body was saying it had the power to give prior approval to suspension but not on matters involving removal from office.

“The order of Malacañang is removal [of Cataquiz] and not suspension as cited in the Comelec resolution,” he stressed.

Solidum, a member of the Liberal Party, is challenging Cataquiz, who is seeking reelection with the Nacionalista Party on May 13.

Malacañang has ordered Cataquiz to step down after he was convicted of graft by the Supreme Court. The high court ruling stemmed from a complaint of Laguna Lake Development Authority employees.

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