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SC: Runner-up, not vice-mayor, to replace ineligible mayor of Mabalacat City

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The Supreme Court (SC) has affirmed the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) proclamation of Crisostomo Garbo, the runner-up in the 2016 elections, as mayor of Mabalacat City, Pampanga, in place of the ineligible winner Marino Morales.

In a recent 19-page en banc decision, the SC denied the petition of Vice-Mayor Christian Halili seeking to replace Morales and contesting Garbo’s proclamation under the Comelec’s August 3, 2016 resolution.

The SC also denied the petition of Morales to be reinstated as mayor.

Although he already won the May 2016 elections, the Comelec on August 3, 2016 cancelled Morales’s candidacy since he already served three consecutive terms since 2007.

Garbo argued that the terms that began in 2007 and 2010 should not be counted, because Mabalacat was still a municipality then and only became a city in 2012.

The SC, however, agreed with the Comelec that the conversion of a municipality into a city did not interrupt the incumbent mayor’s continuity of service. This was already settled in 2003 in the case of former Digos City Mayor Arsenio Latasa.

It noted that the jurisdiction of Mabalacat did not change when its status was upgraded, and its elective officials continued to exercise their powers and functions until the next election cycle.

“The delineation of the metes and bounds of Mabalacat City did not change even by an inch the land area previously covered by the Municipality of Mabalacat. Consequently, the inhabitants are the same group of voters who elected Morales to be their mayor for three consecutive terms, and over whom he held power and authority as their mayor,” read the decision penned by Associate Justice Antonio Carpio.

It sustained the Comelec’s finding that Morales misrepresented his eligibity to run because he knew that he had already served for three consecutive terms. Thus, his candidacy was void ab initio and he was never considered a candidate at all.

As for Vice-Mayor Halili’s bid to become mayor, the SC said the rule on succession under Section 44 of the Local Government Code would not apply if the vacancy was caused by an official whose candidacy was void to begin with.

“The person legally entitled to the vacant position would be the candidate who garnered the next highest number of votes among those eligible,” the SC said in siding with Garbo.

The SC stressed: “In a choice between provisions on material qualifications of elected officials, on the one hand, and the will of the electorate in any given locality, on the other, we believe and so hold that we cannot choose the will of the electorate.”

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