Mayor being railroaded out of his seat? | Inquirer Opinion
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Mayor being railroaded out of his seat?

/ 12:10 AM October 27, 2014

The Philippine National Railways (PNR) is being criticized for not being able to transport the needed number of commuters fast enough in and around Metro Manila. It does not have enough trains and coaches so that commuters are crammed like sardines in the train coaches, and those left behind at the stations have to wait at least a half-hour for the next train to arrive. The national government and the PNR management have neglected our railroad which can do much to help ease Metro’s transport problems.

I have a candidate for PNR manager. His name is Agapito Laoagan. He is a judge, but he is very good at running railroads as proven by what happened to an election case in Paniqui, Tarlac (home province of President Aquino), that Judge Laoagan decided.

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Here are the facts:

Miguel C. Rivilla is the incumbent mayor of Paniqui, Tarlac. In the election of 2013, Rivilla ran for a third term (he won in the 2007 and 2010 elections) as an independent candidate. He was opposed by Rommel David, a candidate of the Nationalist People’s Coalition.

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Rivilla won by a margin of 3,233 votes and was proclaimed mayor on May 14, 2013.

David filed an election protest on May 24, 2013, before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Paniqui, which was then presided over by Judge Serafin Cruz. After several hearings, the court dismissed the protest on June 6, 2013, “for being insufficient in form and content.”

David received a copy of the dismissal order on June 23, 2013. Instead of filing a notice of appeal within five days as required by the Rules of Court, David filed a motion for reconsideration through registered mail on July 8, 2013. The court dismissed the motion for reconsideration on Sept. 17, 2013.

David filed a second motion for reconsideration.

Meantime, Judge Cruz was transferred by the Supreme Court to another sala. Enter Judge Agapito Laoagan.

Laoagan was previously assigned to faraway Buguias, Benguet, before he was appointed as assisting judge of the Paniqui RTC. Inexplicably, he granted the second motion for reconsideration on Dec. 23, 2013, and ordered a recount of the ballots.

Rivilla went to the Commission on Elections on July 4, 2014, to question the actuations of the assisting judge. He argued that the case had long become final and executory when David did not file an appeal. He added that David erred when he filed a motion for reconsideration instead of an appeal because the motion did not stop the period within which to appeal and that, in any case, such motion for reconsideration is a prohibited pleading.

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On July 25, 2014, the Comelec, through its First Division chaired by Commissioner Lucinito Tagle, issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) valid for 60 days ordering Judge Laoagan “to cease and desist from enforcing… his orders… as well as performing other acts incident to the above-mentioned case.”

Judge Laoagan received the TRO on July 28, 2014. Thus, he was prohibited from “performing other acts relating to the… case” until Sept. 26, 2014.

On July 30, 2014, within the 60-day TRO period, Judge Laoagan wrote the decision on the election protest, finding David winner over Rivilla by 607 votes.

On Sept. 4, 2014, and still within the 60-day period, Judge Laoagan promulgated his decision.

On the same day that Laoagan promulgated his decision, David filed a motion for execution of judgment pending appeal which Laoagan heard also on the same day—still well within the 60-day TRO period. On Sept. 24, 2014, Laoagan issued a special order installing David as mayor and ordering Rivilla to vacate his post—again within the 60-day TRO period.

The vice mayor, Genevieve Linsao, had taken over as acting mayor.

Rivilla again went to the Comelec with another petition, assailing the special order of Judge Laoagan. However, the First Division, which is handling the case and is chaired by Lucinito Tagle, has not acted until today when the 60-day TRO expires. Vice Mayor Linsao also filed another petition for the issuance of a TRO because she would be unseated as mayor if David assumes the post of mayor today as ordered by Judge Laoagan. The Comelec has not acted on both petitions. Is the Comelec under Tagle “dribbling the ball” so that David can assume the mayorship today? Is the case being railroaded?

What is wrong with Laoagan’s order?

The RTC decision of June 6, 2013, became final when David did not appeal, yet the new assistant judge, imported from faraway Benguet, reopened it.

The rules of the Comelec are clear: A decision of the RTC dismissing an election protest must be appealed within five days from receipt by the defeated party. Otherwise, the decision becomes final and executory. Judge Laoagan seemed determined to railroad the case and favor David: He granted the second motion for reconsideration, finished his questioned decision, promulgated it and granted its execution while a TRO against him was in effect.

One more thing: If the decision of Laoagan is not struck down, it would mean the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) ballot machines were wrong 87 percent in the 15 precincts that were contested by defeated candidate David. Otherwise put, Laoagan declared the PCOS machines wrong 245 times per precinct, out of 283 voters (on the average) per precinct.

In the 20 clustered precincts that are uncontested, Rivilla got 6,618 votes, or an average of 330 votes per precinct. How did it happen then that in the contested 15 precincts, Rivilla averaged only 32 votes per precinct, yet in the uncontested precincts he averaged 330 votes?

The Comelec must look into the case because Laoagan’s decision discredited the PCOS. The Supreme Court should also look into the actuations of Judge Laoagan.

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