Even if their proclamation as winners has been nullified, four Cebu City councilors will not have to vacate their posts until the Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc’s decision becomes final and executory.
Comelec Regional Attorney Ferdinand Gujilde said that for now, Councilors Eugenio Gabuya Jr., Renato Osmeña Jr., Raul Alcoseba and Phillip Zafra may remain active members of the City Council.
He said should the late Marie Velle “Amay” Abella win in the special recount of votes scheduled on September 16, 2021, her position will be considered vacant subject to the appointment of her replacement.
“Not yet, if there is no writ of execution ordering them to vacate,” said Gujilde, when asked if the Comelec en banc’s decision to nullify the proclamation of the four councilors means they would have to step down.
Their proclamation as winners in the May 2019 elections was nullified to give way for the recount of votes in favor of Amay, who ran for a south district seat in the Council under the local group Bando Osmeña-Pundok Kauswagan (BOPK).
The conduct of a special recount of votes came after the Comelec en banc issued a writ of execution of the Comelec First Division’s ruling declaring Sherwin Luie Abella as a nuisance candidate in the 2019 polls.
The result of the recount may affect the ranking of the candidates for councilor in the south district, particularly Gabuya, Osmeña, Alcoseba and Zafra who ranked fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively.
Councilor Raymond Alvin Garcia, the Council’s majority floor leader, said the four councilors will continue their official duties and will attend the Council sessions.
He said the Council will acknowledge the decision of the Comelec en banc only when it becomes final and executory.
Until then, the four councilors are still official members of the Council, he said.
Besides, he added, the four councilors may still appeal the en banc decision.
Zafra, who may lose his seat in the council should Amay get more votes than any of the four councilors, said he will wait for the final ruling, adding that he has endorsed the matter to his legal counsel.
Gabuya said he does not mind if he slides down in the ranking.
Garcia, though, said he doesn’t see this happening before the election next year since the recount of votes and the appeal process would take time.
And if Amay is proclaimed a winner after the recount, the Council will have to wait for the appointment of her replacement, he added.
Amay succumbed to pancreatitis on May 26, 2020. She was 37.
The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), the national party of Amay, will have to nominate her replacement subject to the President’s approval, Gabuya said.
In the May 2019 midterm elections, Amay got 110,131 votes, while Sherwin Luie, who ran as an independent, got 20,262 votes, ranking 18th among all candidates.
If Sherwin Luie’s votes would be added to Amay’s votes, the latter may get a total of 130,393 votes.
Zafra, who used to be an ally of the administration party Barug PDP-Laban, got 115,292.
When asked why there was a delay in the issuance of a writ of execution of the Comelec First Division’s ruling declaring Sherwin Luie as a nuisance candidate, Gujilde said he cannot be certain “because it is with the Comelec en Banc in Manila, but one usual cause is clogged dockets, among others.”
Amay filed a petition in October 2018 against the candidacy of Sherwin Luie, arguing that the latter had no means of conducting a city-wide campaign for the election as he was unemployed.
Sherwin was then declared a nuisance candidate by the Comelec First Division and his certificate of candidacy was cancelled on June 28, 2019, more than a month after the elections.
Gujilde said the recount of votes will push through even if Amay already died so they can determine the ranking of the candidates for councilor.
He explained that the nullification of the proclamation of the four councilors as winners is just a matter of procedure and whether or not it could affect their performance in the Council can be better addressed by the Department of the Interior and Local Government.
If Amay has more votes than any of the four councilors, this will raise the number of BOPK allies in the Council from six to nine, including the ex-officio members—Association of the Barangay Councils President and Kasambagan Barangay Captain Franklyn Ong and Sangguniang Kabataan Federation President Jessica Resch.
With Barug having nine allies in the Council, having one more BOPK ally may affect the decisions of the Council, especially on voting on resolutions, ordinances and motions filed by the councilors.
The recent declaration of Zafra and Councilor Donaldo Hontiveros as independent members of the council, though, may further affect the numbers.
City Vice Mayor Michael Rama declined to comment on the matter since he has yet to read the Comelec’s decision. (JJL / WBS)