EDITORIAL - Confusion in Paniqui
Rosalinda L. Orosa (The Philippine Star) - December 4, 2014 - 12:00am

For some time now, tensions have been running high in the town of Paniqui, Tarlac, where two mayors have been holding office amid a continuing electoral dispute.

The latest round goes to Miguel Cojuangco Rivilla, a cousin of President Aquino, who was  proclaimed as the winner in the 2013 race for mayor. A month after the elections, Rivilla’s challenger, Rommel David, took the case to the Paniqui Regional Trial Court Branch 67 and asked for a recount.

RTC Judge Serafin Cruz dismissed David’s petition for insufficiency of form and content, and tossed out a motion for reconsideration filed a month later. But in December, RTC Assisting Judge Agapito Laoagan allowed David’s petition, saying the candidate had been denied due process.

Rivilla ran to the Commission on Elections, seeking to stop the RTC from ordering a recount in which disputed votes were invalidated. On Aug. 28 this year, Laoagan proclaimed David as the winner with 19,617 votes against Rivilla’s 19,010. On Sept. 24, the judge ordered Rivilla to vacate the mayor’s post.

Rivilla refused and filed another appeal with the Comelec. In a resolution dated Nov. 12, the poll body said David missed a five-day deadline to appeal the RTC’s original June 6, 2013 ruling, which rendered it final and invalidated subsequent court orders. It meant Rivilla would remain as mayor.

David had previously challenged Comelec orders on his protest, and it doesn’t look like the battle is over. Rivilla has been holding office on the second floor of the municipal hall where the mayor’s office is located while David is working on the third floor.

The conflicting orders from the Comelec and RTC are sowing confusion that can erupt in violence. For sure the confusion is also affecting the delivery of government services in Paniqui. Local government executives are already halfway through their three-year term. How long will it take for the Paniqui electoral contest to be resolved with finality?

The resolution of electoral disputes moves as slowly as the wheels of justice in this country. The snail’s pace leads to violence that often turns deadly. It favors poll cheats who don’t mind being unseated as long as they have occupied the disputed post for nearly the entire term. It undermines the people’s mandate and democracy. Speeding up the resolution process shouldn’t take rocket science. The needed reforms must be in place before the 2016 general elections.

ASSISTING JUDGE AGAPITO LAOAGAN COMELEC DAVID JUDGE SERAFIN CRUZ MIGUEL COJUANGCO RIVILLA ON AUG ON SEPT PANIQUI PANIQUI REGIONAL TRIAL COURT BRANCH RIVILLA
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