By NITZ ARANCON with EDWIN IYO
THE 1st Division of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has cancelled the certificate of candidacy for Gingoog vice mayor of Misamis Oriental Rep. Pedro Unabia, a document shows.
The decision was signed by elections commissioners Al Pareño, Ma. Rowena Guanzon and Marlon Casquejo on May 29, 2019, two weeks after the local elections that saw the representative of the province’s 1st District winning the vice mayoral post of Gingoog City.
The ruling was an offshoot of a Nov. 9, 2018 petition filed by Gingoog councilor Miguel Paderanga who questioned Unabia’s certificate of candidacy and his residency.
In his petition, Paderanga said there was a “material misrepresentation” on the part of Unabia when he filed his certificate of candidacy for vice mayor on Oct. 16, 2018.
Paderanga said Unabia claimed to be a resident of Barangay San Luis in Gingoog City in his cerificate when he was really registered in Sugbongcogon town in Misamis Oriental.
He said Unabia has not lived in San Luis, Gingoog City, for one year. Paderanga showed a Feb. 26, 2018 building permit given to Unabia by the Gingoog city hall to point this out.
Unabia has maintained that Sugbongcogon used to be his residential address until he bought a property in Gingoog which he subsequently developed. He also argued that Gingoog is under the province’s 1st District which he represented in the Lower House for three consecutive office terms.
Despite Unabia’s explanation, the Comelec’s 1st Division said it “simply cannot afford to allow respondent (Unabia) to run for vice mayor of Gingoog City simply because of his ‘intimate knowledge’ of the constituency of the said city due to his service as representative of the 1st District of Misamis Oriental.”
The Comelec added: “Doing so would surely open the door for all provincial elective officials of Misamis Oriental to run for local elective positions in any city or municipality in the said province regardless of where they actually reside, all they have to do is to claim that they already have intimate knowledge and deep familiarity with the local community for being a part of their current wider constituency.”
In a statement, Unabia’s lawyer Dale Bryan Mordeno said the Comelec resolution “did not attain finality because we have timely filed a motion for reconsideration.”
“In fact, we intend to exhaust all legal remedies available in the proper courts of law should our motion be denied. Let it be known that Cong. Unabia will not stand idly,” said Mordeno.
He laughed off speculations that Unabia would not be able to assume as Gingoog vice mayor by June 30 because of the assailed Comelec resolution, and that the ruling meant that the congressman’s rival, Mayor Marie Guingona, is entitled to the position.
Mordeno said the issue about Unabia’s residence is “old hat,” and “whether or not there is truth to such accusation, there is no better proof than the overwhelming votes cast in his favor during the election. No less than the people have consented to his candidacy. What disqualification are they talking about?”
He said the Unabia case calls to mind similar situations in the past like when the then governor Vicente Emano ran for Cagayan de Oro mayor in 1998 or when the then governor Oscar Moreno ran for mayor of the cityin 2013.
“Indeed, there is nothing irregular if a person opts to transfer his residence. It is a question of intent,” Mordeno said.
Meanwhile, many Gingoog city hall employees wept as Mayor Marie Guingona bid them farewell during Monday’s flag-raising rites.
Guingona, who lost to Unabia in the May elections, hugged city hall department heads and employees.
The outgoing mayor was dressed in black with a brown scarf, and sported dark sunglasses. She spoke before them for the last time, and thanked them for supporting her administration for six years.
Guingona said she hoped her successor would carry out programs for indigenes in the city’s hinterland barangays.
“Ginoo nay bahala,” she said.