Who is ‘Senior’ among La Union Board Members?

SAN FERNANDO CITY, La Union – In terms of ranking and designation, who is “senior” among the ten elected members of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of La Union?

The regional offices of the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) including members of the provincial board are in a quandary as to whom they would designate as ‘senior’ among themselves.

The DILG, through provincial director Roger Daquioag, said that their office had no authority to determine the ranking of SP members and the
Comelec likewise can not rule on seniority based on the number of votes obtained by the winning board members.

The number one in rank among the provincial board members is vital because the person will succeed the vice- governor, if he or she is incapacitated or dies while in office, based on the law of succession.

The issue cropped up during the regular session of the provincial board here last September 8 when Lawyer Reynaldo Mosuela, one of the five board members in the first district, questioned the designation of board member Francisco Ortega, Jr. as temporary presiding officer in place of Vice- Governor Aureo Nisce, who was absent at that time.

“The SP is faced with a problem in the absence of the Vice- Governor. Who will assume as acting Vice- Governor? Is it the number one in rank or the so-called “senior board member’ from among the SP members? Who and how then is the number one in rank determined? Who will preside at the session,” Mosuela said.

Records of the provincial office of the Comelec in the May 2016 elections showed that Ortega was only third in the ranking based on percentage of votes he obtained.

Board member Annabelle De Guzman got 113,800 votes or 53.89 percent of the total votes cast, followed by board member Christian Rivera with 106,959 votes or 50.65 percent, both in the second district, while Ortega, who was number one among the five elected board members in the first district, has 91, 866 votes with 50.52 percent of the total votes cast.

Mosuela presented a letter dated Aug. 13, 2016 from Lawyer Dominique Jose Puzon, the provincial legal officer, stating that De Guzman is considered the highest ranking SP member but did not mention if she is the ‘senior board member.’

Puzon issued the confirmation based on the Supreme Court ruling on the Jan. 10, 1994 case of Victoria vs Comelec and Calisin wherein the high court ruled “the law is clear that the ranking in the Sanggunian shall be determined on the basis of proportion of the votes obtained by each winning candidate of the total number of registered voters.”

However, Mosuela said that although the Comelec’s computation on the votes cast is correct, it could not be relied upon as basis in the determination of would be ‘senior board member.’ He even said the SP itself cannot solve the matter.

“We do not know which is which, who or which will determine who the number one in rank is and who is the last. We (SP) do not have the legal authority to do so,”  Mosuela said.

The SP secretariat put the issue before the DILG regional office but the officer-in-charge, Lawyer Joseph Apolonio, endorsed the matter to the provincial director, who declared that his office has no authority to rule on the matter.

De Guzman, for her part, asked the SP secretariat to provide a copy of their reference when they selected Ortega as the ‘senior board member’ in 2013 election although he came out only second in the total votes cast compared to the votes garnered by board member Nancy Bacurnay who topped the SP election.

Board member Bellarmin Flores II, who nominated Ortega as temporary presiding officer, suggested that the matter be discussed by the committee on laws, rules and privileges.