An acting mayor’s power to appoint

A bizarre political twist happened in Tagum, then a town, in 1956. The municipal mayoralty changed hands four times in just two days! The aftermath of this event led to a case (G.R. No. L-14569) that reached the Supreme Court after the trial court favored the new appointees.

In order to attend to a sick brother in Negros Occidental, Tagum mayor Hermenegildo C. Baloyo designated on January 24, 1956, his vice mayor to act as local chief executive while he was on leave. But the designate failed to assume the following day because he was found to have lung ailment, forcing him to appoint Macario Bermudez, highest-ranking councilor, to serve instead effective that same day, January 25, 1956, until notified to the contrary. Because Bermudez was also not feeling well, he decided to designate Jose L. Martinez, third-ranking councilor, to act as mayor effective on the same date.

As acting mayor, Martinez’s first official act was the separation from the service of three town policemen, namely, Benito Codilla, Perfecto Melendres, and Leonardo Castor. Appointed in their places were Eduardo M. Duaso, Juan Redoble, and Policarpio Lagura, respectively.
Duaso’s appointment was approved by the President and Civil Service Commission (CSC) while Redoble’s was also authorized by the CSC. On the other hand, Lagura’s appointment was issued by mayor Baloyo who had by now returned to assume his duties.

Aggrieved, the trio, on February 15, 1956, filed a petition of mandamus before the Court of First Instance (CFI) of Davao against Martinez and Baloyo, with the newly appointed cops as co-respondents, arguing “their separation from the service as municipal policemen was illegal because being civil service employees their employment cannot terminate except for cause.”

In view of this, the dismissed cops wanted (i) to be restored to their former positions with payment of back salaries and (ii) asked moral and exemplary damages, including attorney’s fees. As defense, they invoked their appointments, in temporary capacity, were effective under Sec. 682 of the Revised Administrative Code given that they were not civil service eligible. Under the same provision, they were good only for three months.

They also argued that even if Martinez did not have the authority to end their work, “his action was validated when incumbent Mayor Baloyo endorsed and ratified the same by his subsequent official actuation; and that, not being civil service eligibles, petitioners may be separated from the service under the provisions of Republic Act No. 557 upon the expiration of the term of three months given to them in their appointments.”

The dismissed cops pointed out that Martinez’s appointments were not legal because his designation as acting mayor was contrary to the Revised Administrative Code and the Revised Election Code “under which such designation should be made by the provincial governor with the consent of the provincial board.”

The CFI also held the position that “the designation of Martinez as acting mayor [was not] entirely void, or one that would make him a usurper, but at most a de facto officer whose acts may be given validity in the eye of law,” adding:

“Although the designation made by a ranking municipal councilor of the third ranking Councilor of a municipal councilor of the third ranking Councilor of a municipality to act as acting Mayor was irregular, because it was not made in accordance with the provisions of Section 2195 of the Revised Administrative Code and Section 21 (a) of the Revised Election Code, still he was acting under a color of authority, as distinguished from usurper who is one who has neither title nor color of right to an office. His acts are therefore official acts of a de facto officer. If they are made within the scope of the authority vested by law in the officer of the Mayor, such acts are valid and binding.”

The high court’s First Division, in its November 23, 1960 ruling, cited that the other factor that validated the acts of Martinez “[was] the fact that all his official acts done under his designation were subsequently endorsed and ratified by the incumbent mayor when he returned to office. This ratification served to cure any legal infirmity the acts of… Martinez may have suffered because of his irregular designation.” In affirming the CFI decision, the SC stressed:

“While it may be gleaned from the surrounding circumstances that the hand of politics has intervened in the separation of petitioners who apparently had been… serving the government as policemen during the previous administration, we cannot escape the fact that they were merely given temporary appointments for the reason that they do not have civil service eligibility thus making their status as employees wholly dependent upon the grace of the ruling power. And this we say because, as we ruled in a series of cases, “A temporary appointment is similar to one made in acting capacity, the essence of which lies in its temporary character and its terminability at the pleasure of the appointing power.” We also postulated that “The replacement of non-eligibles by non-eligibles is lawful and under and pursuant to Section 682 of the Revised Administrative Code.”

Petitioners cannot, therefore, invoke in their favor the provisions of Republic Act No. 557 because this Act only guarantees the tenure of office of policemen who are eligibles. Non-eligibles do not come under its protection.

Hence, much as we sympathize with petitioners, our hand is stayed by the inexorable provisions of the law.” (Paragraphing mine.)