Supreme Court Upholds Election of Agoo Mayor Sibuma
The Supreme Court En Banc, in its session on January 24, 2023, upheld the election of Frank Ong Sibuma as the Municipal Mayor of Agoo, La Union.
The Court nullified the following issuances of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Second Division: (1) Resolution dated May 13, 2022, which cancelled, on the ground of false material representation, the Certificate of Candidacy (CoC) filed by Sibuma, who won as Mayor of Agoo, La Union during the May 9, 2022 elections; and (2) Writ of Execution dated June 29, 2022, which annulled Sibuma’s proclamation and ordered the proclamation of Stefanie Ann Eriguel Calongcagon in his stead.
Alma Panelo earlier filed before the COMELEC a petition under Section 78 of the Omnibus Election Code seeking the denial/cancellation of Sibuma’s CoC on the ground that he falsely represented in his CoC that he is a resident of Brgy. Sta. Barbara, Agoo, when allegedly he is a resident of San Eugenio, Aringay, La Union. Panelo offered in evidence the certifications issued by Punong Barangay Erwina Eriguel of Sta. Barbara, Agoo, La Union, stating that Sibuma is not a resident thereof. Panelo also submitted the affidavits of recantation executed by eight (8) of the original 41 affiants in Sibuma’s Affidavit of Residency.
Sibuma countered that he had established his residency in the Municipality of Agoo, La Union since his birth. He invoked, among others, that he was born in Agoo, La Union and completed his secondary education from the Don Mariano Marcos State University of Agoo. Sibuma asserted that while he may have been absent from Agoo for some time, his intention to return (animus revertendi) has always been shown.
The Court 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 Court explained 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 false material representation “must be made with 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 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. 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 Court added that the COMELEC Second Division could only surmise on the supposed incredulity of the declarations of the 41 affiants in Sibuma’s Affidavit of Residency on the sole premise that they jointly attested to the same narration of facts therein. First, the fact that the eight recanting affiants executed their affidavits individually and separately is too trivial for the COMELEC Second Division to consider. 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.
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.
The Supreme Court Public Information Office will upload the decision to the SC website once it receives an official copy from the Office of the Clerk of Court En Banc.