Comelec orders ousted Lucena City mayor to vacate post for vice mayor

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LUCENA CITY, Quezon, Philippines—The Commission on Election has ordered ousted Lucena Mayor Barbara Ruby Talaga (Lakas-Kampi) to vacate her post for Vice Mayor Roderick Alcala (Liberal Party).

In a resolution dated May 20, a photocopy of which was distributed by the Lucena Public Information Office Tuesday, the Comelec en banc ordered Barbara to cease and desist from discharging the functions of the city mayor’s office.

The poll body, in its latest ruling, also annulled the election and proclamation of Barbara as mayor of Lucena and cancelled the certificate of canvass that declared her as the winner in May 10, 2010 election.

Consequently, the poll body reversed and set aside the resolution by the Comelec 2nd Division last January that ruled Barbara’s election as valid and legal.

The latest ruling also granted the petition for intervention of Alcala and ordered him to succeed Barbara as provided under Section 44 or the “succession rule” for elected local officials under Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991.

Barbara’s husband, former Lucena Mayor Ramon Talaga Jr., now acting as city administrator, said his lawyer received the copy of the Comelec decision Monday (May 23).

He told newsmen that their lawyer would soon file for a petition for certiorari and a temporary restraining order before the Supreme Court to block the implementation of the Comelec order.

Five poll commissioners—Rene Sarmiento, Lucenito Tagle, Armando Velasco, Elias Yusoph and Christian Robert Lim—voted to unseat Barbara and replace her with Alcala.

Commissioner Augusto Lagman did not take part in the deliberation of the case.

However, Comelec chief Sixto Brillantes Jr. dissented and maintained that the election and proclamation of Barbara was valid and legal. He took note of the fact that the people of Lucena knew on election day that her husband had been disqualified from running and that she had substituted for him in the mayoral election.

Talaga blasted the Comelec decision and alleged that Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and the Liberal Party exerted their “political influence.”

The vice mayor is a nephew of Secretary Alcala, a close ally of President Benigno Aquino III.

Secretary Alcala strongly denied the accusation. He argued that if the position of Barbara was legal and valid, no amount of influence could thwart the truth.

Talaga’s youngest son, number one Lucena Councilor Ramil Talaga, will replace Alcala as vice mayor.

Vice Mayor Alcala said his lawyer also received the copy of the decision Monday.

“I called on the other party to respect the Comelec ruling as I also respect their rights to contest it before the Supreme Court,” the younger Alcala said.

The vice mayor said his lawyer would file a writ of execution before Friday, the grace period provided by law for the losing party to contest the decision.

In a message addressed to local residents, Barbara said: “I am still your mayor and only until such time that I receive an official document that says otherwise, I will continue to serve as the city mayor.”

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.

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.

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