“Last Vacancy”

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The selection of a person to occupy public office is not always through election. An incumbent official may be elevated to a higher one through succession and someone may be appointed to occupy a vacant position. These usually happen if a position becomes permanently vacant when and elective official fills a higher vacant office, refuses to assume office, fails to qualify, dies, is removed from office, voluntarily resigns, or is otherwise permanently incapacitated to discharge the functions of his office. Upon the happening of a vacancy the question is asked as to who shall occupy the vacant position. Can the candidate who garnered the second highest votes succeed? Will it be the spouse or child or parent? The answer is provided in the Local Government Code on the rules of succession or appointment. The gray area is on who is being referred to as the person who “created the last vacancy”.

Navarro vs. CA

The mayor of Mapandan, Pangasinan died and as a result, the vice mayor succeeded as the chief executive. The highest ranking sanggunian bayan member in turn succeeded as the new vice mayor and presiding officer. Purto Navarro who belonged to the political party of the highest ranking Sanggunian member who succeeded as the new vice-mayor was then appointed as the new SB member. A civil case was then filed by members of the Lakas-NUCD-Kampi who claimed that the last vacancy was created by the elevation of the vice mayor as mayor therefore the appointee must come from the political party where he belongs. The case was referred to the Court of Appeals which then decided that the “last vacancy” was created by the elevation of the lowest ranking SB member when the highest ranking member was elevated as vice mayor. The CA said that the nominee should come from his political party.

The CA Erred in its Decision and Reasoning

The Supreme Court held that the Court of Appeals not only erred in its decision but the reasoning does not conform with the provisions of the law. “The reason behind the right given to a political party to nominate a replacement where a permanent vacancy occurs in the Sanggunian is to maintain the party representation as willed by the people in the election.” (G.R. 141307, March 28, 2001). The decision of the CA goes against this principle. If the “last vacancy” will mean the vacancy created by the lowest ranking member by reason of the elevation of the highest ranking member, party representation will shift or modified contrary to the will of the people. “The term “last vacancy” is thus used in Sec. 45 (b) to differentiate it from the other vacancy previously created. The term by no means refers to the vacancy in the No. 8 position which occurred with the election of Rolando Lalas to the seventh position in the Sanggunian. Such construction will result in absurdity.

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