Comelec unseats Lucena mayorBy Delfin Mallari Jr. |Inquirer Southern Luzon
LUCENA CITY, Philippines—Incumbent Lucena Mayor Barbara Ruby Talaga (Lakas-Kampi) was unseated on Friday and replaced by her vice mayor, Roderick Alcala (Liberal Party), in a decision by the Commission on Election, former Lucena Mayor Ramon Talaga Jr. disclosed Monday morning.
“We lost in the Comelec en banc decision,” Ramon, husband of Barbara and now the city administrator, told city employees in a program after the flag raising ceremony at the City Hall.
Although they have yet to receive a copy of the Comelec decision, he claimed that based from their information, five poll commissioners voted to unseat his wife as she was not a valid substitute candidate in the last elections.
It was Ramon who originally ran for mayor in the May 2010 polls but was substituted by his wife six days before the elections because Ramon was by then already serving his third term in office.
Under existing elections law, a local elected official (councilors to congressmen) can only serve for three consecutive three-year terms.
Barbara did not attend the flag raising ceremony but her husband read her message addressed to local residents: “I am still your mayor and only until such time that I received an official document that said otherwise, I will continue to serve as the city mayor.”
Talaga said they still have 30 days to contest the Comelec decision before it became final and executory. “We will appeal our case to the Supreme Court. That’s the next battleground,” he said.
Questions on the legitimacy of Barbara’s assumption to office first arose after she filed documents with the Comelec in her bid to substitute for her husband Ramon.
Ramon, while then serving his last term, was allowed to file a certificate of candidacy after he argued 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 to run for another term.
Ramon then scrambled to have himself substituted by his wife just six days before the elections, a fact that was hidden from Ramon’s 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 existing election laws on substitution, the votes garnered by Ramon were automatically considered votes for Barbara.
Castillo, however, argued that Barbara could not be considered a valid candidate since her substitution and certificate of candidacy were only given due course and approved by the Comelec on May 13 or three days after the election.
Although not an original party to the poll protest between Castillo and Talaga, Vice Mayor Alcala filed a petition for intervention with the Comelec last July 22, 2010 to implement Section 44 or the “succession rule” for elected local officials under RA 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991.
Lucena Councilor Rey Olivier Alejandrino, minority floor leader and Alcala’s political ally, confirmed Talaga’s report in a radio interview Monday.
Talaga blasted the Comelec decision and alleged that it was the result of “political influence” of Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and the LP.
According to Talaga, Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. dissented while new poll commissioner Gus Lagman abstained and did not participate in the deliberation of the case.
The vice mayor is a nephew of Secretary Alcala, a close ally of President Benigno Aquino.
In an earlier interview, Talaga said: “Binaraso ang desisyon (The decision was forced).”
He noted that Elias Yusoph, one of the poll commissioners who voted to unseat her wife, was the “ponente” (author) in the decision by the Comelec-2nd Division last January that ruled that the victory proclamation of Barbara after the May 2010 election was valid and her incumbency as local chief executive was legal.
“He (Yusoph) reversed his own decision last January. Would you believe that?” he asked.
During his speech, Talaga often pointed to the poster of Secretary Alcala every time he took potshots of the vice mayor as “who have nothing but [is] just a nephew of the secretary.”
The INQUIRER tried to contact Vice Mayor Alcala for his reaction but the efforts proved futile.
This correspondent also tried to reach Secretary Alcala through phone calls and text messages for his reaction to Talaga’s allegation against him but the Cabinet official has yet to make his reply.
Talaga’s youngest son, number one Lucena Councilor Ramil Talaga, will replace Alcala as vice mayor.
Talaga said they expect to receive a copy of the decision within the day.