Comelec orders RTC-installed mayor to step down

Published January 14, 2021, 9:31 AM

by Ariel Avendaño

JAEN , Nueva Ecija – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has issued a cease and desist order on a regional trial court (RTC) that installed a candidate who lost to an incumbent mayor in the May 13, 2019 elections but was lately proclaimed winner in November following a ballots recount.

      In a three-page decision penned by Commissioner Socorro Inting of the Comelec’s 2nd Division dated January 12, 2021, a copy of which was obtained by the Manila Bulletin, a 60-day Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) was issued “enjoining” Judge Angelo Perez, of Gapan City  RTC  branch 87, to cease and desist from  enforcing and implementing the “Notice and Certificate of Finality, Order of Execution, and  Writ of Execution” of the December 16,. 2020 decision in favor of Antonio Prospero Esquivel.

      The ruling added that “in the event that Esquivel has already assumed office and performed the functions of municipal mayor, a [status quo ante order] is hereby issued” directing Esquivel to “peacefully turn over the subject post to petitioner Sylvia Austria.”

      The Comelec has set the hearing of the petition at 2 p.m. on January 28, 2021 via video conference.

     The Comelec also gave Esquivel a 10-day non-extendible period to submit an answer upon receipt of the document.

     The tussle between the two camps started when Esquivel contested the result of the May, 2019, election which was won by Austria.

      Austria garnered 20,815 votes against Esquivel’s 18, 461 with a slim margin of 2.354 votes in the final counting. 

     But Esquivel lodged an election protest and sought for a ballots recount in which he came up with 18,737 votes over Austria’s 14,392 votes for an advantage of 4,345 votes.

     Carrying a court order signed by Judge Perez dated December 16, 2020, Esquivel began performing and occupied the treasurer’s office in the ground floor while Austria stayed at the mayor’s office on the second floor of the municipal building leaving a stand off in leadership for five days.

    Brig. Gen. Valeriano De Leon, Region 3 police director, intervened and asked Austria to voluntarily step down on Dec. 21.

       But her lawyers questioned the decision of Judge Perez and elevated the case to the Comelec for review and reconsideration which granted the TRO.

     Renato Bernardino, provincial head of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), confirmed to the Manila Bulletin  that his office received an advance copy of the Comelec’s decision and that they “will recognize documents officially transmitted from the DILG central or regional office.”