Votes for Batangas mayoral bet may end up stray, says Comelec
BATANGAS CITY—Votes cast for the detained mayor of Mataas na Kahoy in Batangas province, who is running for reelection, may be considered stray after the Commission on Elections (Comelec) canceled the official’s certificate of candidacy (COC).
Mayor Jay Manalo Ilagan, a Liberal Party member, filed his COC in October while he was facing charges of rape and human trafficking in Ormoc City in Leyte province.
This became a ground for the petition filed by Mataas na Kahoy Vice Mayor Henry Laqui to cancel Ilagan’s COC, saying the mayor “misrepresented” himself as eligible to run for public office.
Under Section 40 of the Local Government Code, “fugitives from justice in criminal or nonpolitical cases here and abroad” are disqualified to run for office.
Ilagan eluded arrest when members of the police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) raided his farm in December 2015. He surrendered to the National Bureau of Investigation on Jan. 25, but denied the charges.
In a 13-page resolution on April 25, the Comelec’s Second Division found Laqui’s petition “meritorious.”
“Clearly, fugitives from justice are disqualified from running for elective local positions,” the resolution read.
It said Ilagan, at the time he filed his COC, was a fugitive from justice. “He was at the time fleeing to avoid prosecution after being charged and after having knowledge thereof,” it said.
“Considering that the respondent is a fugitive from justice, he therefore possesses a disqualification expressly stated under the law. Consequently, this renders his representation in his COC that he is eligible for the office of mayor of Mataas na Kahoy, Batangas undoubtedly false,” it added.
The resolution was signed by presiding Commissioner Al Parreño and Commissioners Arthur Lim and Sheriff Abas.
In his offer of evidence submitted to the Comelec, Ilagan said his trial is ongoing and “more importantly, there is no conviction.”
But the Comelec found no merit in his defense.
“[F]irst, being a fugitive from justice is a wholly different disqualification from the ones requiring conviction by final judgement and second, the term ‘fugitive from justice’ does not exclusively refer to those who flee after conviction to avoid punishment, rather it likewise refers to those, who after being charged, flee to avoid prosecution,” the resolution read.
In a telephone interview, Allan Enriquez, Batangas provincial election supervisor, confirmed that votes cast for Ilagan may be considered stray.
Enriquez, however, said the mayor had been given 15 days to file an appeal. “As far as the May 9 election is concerned, technically [Ilagan] is still a candidate,” he said.
Ilagan is detained in Ormoc, but his supporters, led by wife Janet, who is running for vice mayor, are doing the groundwork for his campaign.
The other candidates for mayor in Mataas na Kahoy are Gualberto Silva of the Nationalist People’s Coalition and Primely Regalado, an independent.
In a statement on Sunday, Ilagan’s legal team said the Comelec resolution was not yet final.
“Our lawyers are taking legal actions to fix this issue and ensure that the rights of [Ilagan] are protected,” the statement said.
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