FAST BACKWARD: The Mawab appointments case  

In the annals of Philippine jurisprudence, there is an abundance of cases that involve knotty issues affecting appointments of local officials long before the enactment of the Local Government Code of 1991. One of these celebrated cases was docketed as G.R. No. L-23301, which took five years before the Supreme Court ruled on it with finality.

Petitioners in the case were Celestino E. Esuerte, Maria Bitoy, Honorato Lucero, and Anatolio Barcena, while respondents were Delfin Jampayas, Eulogio Viajedor, Demetrio B. Hechanova, Antonio Macadangdang, Ricardo Bitoy, Francisco Esquierda and Hon. Salvador Marino, in his capacity as Executive Secretary to the President.

In a case originally filed before the Court of First Instance (CFI) of Davao, in Special Civil Case No. 3950, Judge Macapanton Abbas dismissed the action for prohibition and quo warranto filed by Esuerte and company. Disgruntled with the ruling, the petitioners appealed their case in the Supreme Court.

According to the facts of the case, Esuerte, Bitoy, and Barena, prior to their appointments, were designated in acting capacity as mayor, vice mayor, and councilors of the town of Mawab, Compostela Valley Province, by President Carlos P. Garcia. On June 1, 1961, they were appointed ad interim mayor, vice mayor, and councilors, but took their oaths of office only later.

Records show Esuerte took oath as ad interim mayor on Jan. 23, 1962; Bitoy, as ad interim vice mayor, on Jan. 10, 1962; and Barcena, as ad interim councilor, Jan. 10, 1962.

Based on the testimony of Benigno O. Aquino, senior executive assistant in the Administrative Division of the Office of the President, Asst. Executive Secretary Edilberto B. Gallares issued a directive on Dec. 18, 1961, expressing the desire of the President to convert all designations into ad interim appointments retroactively long before that year’s presidential elections.

In actuality, the appointments were only processed on Dec. 25, 1961, and a day thereafter a letter of transmittal was sent to the Commission on Appointments. Three days later the message was received by the commission. On April 27, 1962 the appointments were confirmed.

Prior to the confirmation, newly-installed President Diosdado Macapagal issued Administrative Order No.2 on Dec. 30, 1961, the day he took over as chief executive, revoking and recalling the ad interim appointments issued by his predecessor after Dec. 13, 1961.

Notwithstanding this development, Esuerte and company remained in the posts until Jan. 25, 1963, when Macapagal designated Jampayas as acting mayor of Mawab; Eulogio Viajedor as acting vice mayor; and respondents Antonio Macadangdang, Demetrio Hechanova, Ricardo Bitoy, and Francisco Esquierdo, as acting municipal councilors.

Given that Esuerte and company were appointed only on Dec. 25, 1961, and in ad interim capacity, there was no legal impediment for their removal and replacement. The petitioners, therefore, were part of the 350 ‘midnight appointments’ cited in Aytona vs. Castillo (G.R. L-19313, Jan. 19, 1962) and in Rodriguez vs. Quirino, (G.R. L-19800, Oct. 28, 1963).

In the Rodriguez vs. Quirino case, the Supreme Court argued:

“In the first place, while the petitioner’s ad interim appointments appear dated on the first of June 1961, it was not communicated to him until the 30th of December of that year, and nothing in the record indicates that its existence was made known to any one before the last days of 1961. It can be inferred from this secrecy that the appointing power did not desire to make the selection final and operative until the last day of President Garcia’s term. Consequently, this petitioner’s appointment should be regarded as part and parcel of the 300 and more ‘midnight’ appointments referred to in our decision in Aytona vs. Castillo, G.R. No. L-19313, and is covered by the rule laid down therein.”

Another argument raised in the case, which was decided en banc on Feb. 28, 1966, was the creation of the town by executive order, which the high tribunal has overturned in Pelaez vs. Auditor General (L-23825, Dec. 24, 1965), which made the verdict handed down by the CFI not to interfere with the appointment of the Jampayas and company as without error.

In another case filed by Esuerte and company (G.R. L-21122) where Judge Abbas was one of the respondents, the high tribunal en banc ruled on June 23, 1966, again in favor of Jampayas and company, saying the incumbent suit has been rendered moot and academic on account of the earlier Feb. 28, 1966 ruling the high tribunal issued on the same issue.

Historically, Esuerte was one of the early pioneers who braved the mainly unexplored regions of Davao. He was a young trade school graduate from Guimaras, Iloilo, who later put up a school in the area under the auspices of the Bureau of Public Schools, now Department of Education. Armed with the basic knowledge in carpentry and using indigenous materials, he built the town’s first school with the generous help of natives. To compensate the tribesmen for their labor, the wild game caught using government-issued shotgun became the currency.

Years later, waves of Christian settlers from the Visayas, told of the opportunities offered by the new settlement, started arriving in Mawab. Among those who decided to stay permanently were Jampayas, Lt. Feliciano Acopio, Felipe Bingil, and Vicente Lanuza, to name a few. Overtime, the influx of more migrants, which resulted in assimilation and intermarriage, forced the natives to move to the inner regions, in hilly areas where they could preserve their culture.