The Supreme Court (SC) has upheld the election of Frank Ong Sibuma as municipal mayor of Agoo, La Union as it reversed two resolutions issued against him by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in May and June 2022.
Reversed by the SC were Comelec’s May 13, 2022 resolution that cancelled Sibuma’s certificate of candidacy (COC) and the June 29, 2022 order of the poll body which ordered the proclamation of Stefanie Ann Eriguel Calongcagon as the duly-elected mayor of Agoo.
A copy of the SC’s decision was not available as of posting. The SC’s public information office (PIO) issued a news briefer to journalists.
Sibuma, who ran under People’s Reform Party during the May 9, 2022 elections, garnered 21,364 votes as against Calongcagon’s 16,603 votes.
The petition before the Comelec on the cancellation of Sibuma’s COC was filed by Alma Panelo for alleged false representation. Panelo alleged that Sibuma is not a resident of Barangay Sta. Barbara in Agoo as reflected in his COC but a resident of Barangay San Eugenio in Aringay town.
Panelo submitted as evidence the certification of Sta. Barbara Punong Barangay Erwina Eriguel that Sibuna is not a resident of Agoo.
The Comelec’s rulings were elevated by Sibuma to the SC. On July 5, 2022, the SC issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) and a status quo ante order (SQAO) in favor of Sibuma. The TRO and the SQAO stopped Calongcagon from assuming the post of Agoo mayor.
In granting Sibuma’s petition, the PIO said that the SC “faulted the Comelec Second Division with grave abuse of discretion when it ordered the cancellation of Sibuma’s CoC without any prior finding that he had committed a ‘deliberately false and deceptive representation’ of his residence qualification.”
It quoted the SC as ruling that “it is essential that a false representation under Section 78 be committed with a ‘deliberate attempt to mislead, misinform, or hide a fact which would otherwise render a candidate ineligible.’”
In other words, the PIO said, the SC declared that “the false material representation ‘must be made with a malicious intent to deceive the electorate as to the potential candidate’s qualifications for public office.’”
It also said “the Court held that Sibuma’s declaration of residency in his COC proceeded from his good faith and firm belief that he possesses the required residency for the position vied for. That his domicile remains to be Agoo, La Union and that he is a bona fide resident thereof were confirmed by his documents in support thereof.”
At the same time, it said “the Court also faulted the Comelec Second Division with grossly unreasonable appreciation and evaluation of evidence when it relied on the Certification issued by Punong Barangay Eriguel, who is the paternal aunt of Eriguel Calongcagon, that Sibuma is not a resident of Sta. Barbara, Agoo, La Union.”
It said: “The Court explained that the certification’s pro-forma statement of no record of residency necessarily yields to Sibuma’s positive evidence collectively establishing not only his physical presence but also his domicile in Agoo, La Union.”
The PIO also said in its press briefer:
“Lastly, the Court pointed out that the Comelec Second Division failed to resolve Panelo’s petition prior to the May 9, 2022 Elections.
“Sibuma’s name remained on the ballots; and on the day of the elections, he was decisively elected by the people of Agoo as their Mayor.
“Sibuma prevailed with overwhelming 21,364 votes against Eriguel’s 16,603 votes. The Court ruled that all doubts should be resolved in favor of Sibuma’s residence qualification to give fullest effect to the manifest will of the people of Agoo electing him as their mayor.”
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