Supreme Court upholds election of Frank Sibuma as Agoo mayor

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 25 2023 10:58 PM

MANILA — The Supreme Court on Wednesday said it is upholding the election of Frank Ong Sibuma as the mayor of the town of Agoo, La Union.

This, after his certificate of candidacy (COC) was previously cancelled by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) due to material misrepresentation.

The Supreme Court en banc, in its January 24 session, nullified the issuances of the Comelec Second Division, including the resolution cancelling Sibuma's CoC and the proclamation of Stefanie Ann Eriguel Calongcagon as the new mayor.

The Court also 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."

The issue stemmed from the petition submitted by Alma Panelo to cancel Sibuma's CoC for allegedly stating his residency. Panelo said Sibuma is a resident of Barangay San Eugenio in Aringay town, but his CoC stated that he is a resident of Barangay Sta. Barbara in Agoo town.

Sibuma countered that was born and raised in Agoo and that while he may have been living in another town, he has the intention to return.

According to the Court, false representation is committed if there was "a deliberate attempt to mislead, misinform, or hide a fact which would otherwise render a candidate ineligible", and if there was a "malicious intent to deceive the electorate as to the potential candidate's qualifications for public office."

"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," the Court explained.

The Court also faulted the Comelec Second Division for relying solely on the certification issued by a Punong Barangay Eriguel, who happens to be the paternal aunt of Eriguel Calongcagon.

"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," it added.

The Court likewise said the Comelec should have taken into consideration the declarations of the 41 affiants in Sibuma's Affidavit of Residency versus the eight others who recanted their affidavits.

"Second, ranged against the impending May 9, 2022 Elections, the general tenor of their repudiation is highly suspect. The Court found no convincing basis for the COMELEC Second Division to tilt the balance of credibility in favor of the repudiating affiants," the Court explained.

The Court also pointed out that the issue was left unresolved prior to the May 9, 2022 elections, wherein Sibuma prevailed with 21,364 votes against Eriguel Calongcagon'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," it said.

The official decision will be published on the website of the Supreme Court once the official copy is received from the Office of the Clerk of Court En Banc.

It was in July 2022 when the Comelec Second Division directed the Municipal Board of Canvassers (MBOC) of the Municipality of Agoo, La Union to reconvene to annul the proclamation of Frank Ong Sibuma as the mayor of Agoo, La Union.

Following this order, Calongcagon was proclaimed on July 5 and took her oath before senator Nancy Binay.

Calongcagon is on her third term as mayor of Agoo.