JAEN, Nueva Ecija: The duly-elected mayor of this town, Antonio Prospero Esquivel, finally attended to his official duties after entering the municipal hall on Tuesday as Sylvia Austria, the sitting mayor, stepped out of her self-imposed lockdown at the Jaen chief executive’s office on Monday evening.
The impasse regarding the leadership of the town was caused by an earlier issuance of a writ of execution order on December 7 by Judge Angelo Perez of the Regional Trial Court Third Judicial Region for Austria to vacate the office of the municipal mayor and give way to Esquivel, the declared winner of the 2019 local and national elections.
Esquivel took his oath of office on Dec. 16, 2020 as mayor before Gapan City Judge John Voltaire Venturina.
Also earlier, Austria filed for a temporary restraining order before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for 60 days, but the period has already lapsed.
After the 60 days were over, she filed another petition before the Comelec’s Second Division for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction on November 18.
The motion was denied, however.
On Dec. 17, 2020, Esquivel and his supporters trooped to the town hall while Austria defied the court order, saying she was waiting for an answer to her query from the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) and locked herself down in the anteroom of the mayor’s office for almost a week.
Esquivel and Austria both stayed at the municipal hall, adopting their respective health and safety protocols on social distancing, among others, in light of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic.
Esquivel occupied the treasurer’s office on the ground floor while Austria took the mayor’s office on the second floor.
Austria and her close partisans refused to leave even as water and electricity were cut off.
Esquivel then decided to entertain visitors at home while informing all department heads and employees that he would be the mayor of Jaen and the authorized signatory to all necessary documents and all transactions of the municipal government.
On Sunday afternoon, Dec. 20, 2020, residents began to fear that the dispute between the two politicians would erupt into violence, especially after two consecutive blasts were heard at the back of the town hall.
No casualties from the explosions were reported though.
The residents heaved a sigh of relief when Austria stepped down on Monday night with the intervention of the DILG central office.
Renato Bernardino, DILG provincial director, and Jacquelyn Paulino, regional legal officer, went to the town hall and told Austria that the DILG central office could not do anything about it anymore because the order for her to vacate the mayor’s office emanated from the court.
The Comelec issued an order, saying, “In fact, further interruption of the proceedings in the court…shall cause delay in the determination of who between the parties obtained the plurality of votes for the position of municipal mayor of Jaen in Nueva Ecija in the last elections.”
Esquivel got 18,737 votes, and Austria received 14,392 votes or a margin of 4,345.
Esquivel had served as mayor for three terms between 1992 and 1998 and from 2004 to 2007.
He initiated the “Rektang Bayanihan Adopt a Family Program” at the height of the pandemic.