AGOO, La Union

Heaving a sigh of relief, Agoo, La Union mayor Frank Sibuma, believed that “justice has prevailed” in this week’s final ruling of the Supreme Court upholding his election as the town’s chief executive.
The Supreme Court (SC) has reversed two resolutions by the Commission on Elections in May and June 2022 cancelling his certificate of candidacy (COC) and the June 29, 2022 proclamation of Sibuma’s rival — Stefanie Ann Eriguel Calongcagon as the town’s mayor.

Sibuma, who ran under People’s Reform Party during the May 9, 2022 polls got 21,364 votes against Calongcagon’s 16,603 votes. Agoo town villager Alma Panelo petitioned the Comelec to junk Sibuma’s candidacy before the May 2022 polls claiming the then candidate committed false representation for being not a resident of Barangay Sta. Barbara in Agoo but a resident of Barangay San Eugenio in adjacent Aringay town. P anelo submitted as evidence the certification of Sta. Barbara Punong Barangay Erwina Eriguel, a close relative of Sibuma’s rival Calongcagon.

Sibuma’s older brother, Aringay town Mayor Benjamin earlier said that they were all born in Agoo but only moved to Aringay because of their mother’s trade then. His younger brother Frank had reestablished residence in Agoo though before the May 2022 polls. Sibuma taking oath as Agoo mayor on June 27, 2022, sought the SC, which on July 5, 2022 issued a TRO and a status quo ante order (SQAO) which halted Calongcagon’s assumption as Agoo town mayor.

In granting Sibuma’s petition, the SC’s PIO said that the High 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 SC ruling was quoted as “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.’”

The SC declared that “the false material representation ‘must be made with a malicious intent to
deceive the electorate as to the potential candidate’s qualifications for public 8office.’” The SC 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 SC further faulted the Comelec’s 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.” It said: “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.”

Further, the SC also cited the failure of the Comelec Second Division 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.”

Artemio A. Dumlao/ABN

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