Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Tawi-Tawi judge slams ‘persona non grata’ resolution

TAWI-TAWI Judge Grace Tillah slammed a provincial board resolution declaring her “persona non grata” after she affirmed Benzar Tambut winner in the 2019 general elections following an electoral protest he filed against Simunul Mayor Wasilah Abdurahman. 

Mayor Benzar Tambut with President Rodrigo Duterte and Senator Bong Go. (Mindanao Examiner)

Tillah, of the Regional Trial Court Branch 26, also ordered Abdurahman to vacate her post. 

In challenging Abdurahman, Tambut claimed massive fraud, anomalies and other irregularities in the elections and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) was tapped to conduct technical examination of election documents, including official ballots which yielded to the discovery of the following – deceased persons were able to cast their votes, illiterate voters were able to sign their names in the ballots legibly and there were inconsistent thumb marks in the Book of Voters, registration records and posting of the list of voters.

According to the court’s decision, Tillah invalidated over 5,000 votes of Abdurahman due to massive fraud. The Court also took reliance on the findings of the NBI during the examination of pertinent election documents. The technical examination is one legal process allowed by law to protect the sanctity of ballots and mandate of the electorate. In this process, the NBI takes charge of the examination of documents being the only agency possessing expertise on the matter. 

In her six-page decision dated October 5, Tillah invalidated Abdurahman’s proclamation on the ground of “massive fraud, anomalies and other irregularities” in 23 clustered precincts.

“The proclamation of protestee Wasilah Abdurahman is hereby held invalid, annulled and set aside on the ground of massive fraud, anomalies and other electoral irregularities in the 23 clustered precincts. Protestant Benzar Tambut is hereby declared as the legally and duly elected mayor in the municipality of Simunul being the winning candidate with the highest number of plurality of valid votes cast,” Tillah said.

“Protestee Wasilah Abdurahman is hereby ordered to vacate her position and to cease and desist from further discharging the duties and functions officially vested in the office of the municipal mayor of Simunul which are now conferred in favor of protestant Benzar Tambut, who is hereby ordered to act, perform and discharge the duties and responsibilities and all incidents pertaining thereto,” she added.

Municipal authorities were also ordered to enforce and implement and assist in the implementation of the court’s order. Tambut and his supporters praised the decision of the court.

Persona non Grata

But the Provincial Board presided by Vice Governor Michael Ahaja, in a resolution approved by its members on October 16, declared Tillah “persona non grata” and saying she was found to be remised of her duties as an officer of the court as can be gleaned from her actuations – that Tillah seldom reports to her court of assignment and she had not been conducting hearings regularly and due to her irregular reporting for duty in the province it resulted to postponement of hearings and delay in court proceedings.

The resolution further claimed that Tillah seldom reports to her court of assignment and detainees due for release were delayed release, and those who wish to post bail to secure their provisional liberty cannot do so due to her absence and unavailability causing undue delay in the dispensation of justice. And because of the failure of the detainees to post bail the same contributed to overcrowding in the correctional facilities of the province.


It said Tillah was also seen together with the lawyer of the protesting party boarding the same private plane from Zamboanga City to Tawi-Tawi and vice versa; and it was observed that her Clerk or Court - under her direct supervision and authority - personally used her influence (as an officer of the court) to facilitate the entry of such lawyer and his client for the two to be able to do away with the minimum health protocols in utter disregard of the quarantine guidelines in the province.

The resolution said Tillah rendered an “unjust decision” on the election protest case involving the municipal mayor in Simunul annulling 5,093 votes in 14 clustered precincts resulted in the disfranchisement of the registered voters of their constitutional rights of suffrage and currently, creating tense situation in the municipality.

“Now therefore, on motion of Sukarno U. Asri and seconded by ABC President Hasanal Jeoffrey Sali and the majority resolved to declare Tillah as persona non grata in Tawi-Tawi,” the resolution, signed by Provincial Board Secretary Jerry Mercader, reads.

It also discourages hotels, resorts, restaurants and other public places from accepting Tillah as guest in their establishments. 

Among those who signed the resolution were Ahaja and Board members Asri, Sali, Sabuddin Abdurahim, Renil Samnsuya, Mohammad Yusof Tidal, Abdulhamil Ishmael, Ismael Masdal, and SK President Maharie Hairil and Sectoral representatives Carlsum Jumaide, Amilbahar Jamalul and John Anthony Lim.


Reacting to the resolution declaring her unwelcome in Tawi-Tawi, Tillah said: “This resolution is clear evidence that ignorance resonates in the provincial administration. They who did not witness court proceedings arrogated unto themselves judicial power and seeks ouster of a judge who only followed the law. Lawlessness and ignorance should not characterize each Tawi-Tawian. This is a disservice to the community.”

Tillah further said that courts should be respected as a co-equal branch in a Republican government and that executive and legislative branches should work in their own jurisdictions.

“Only courts have the power to try and decide electoral protests subject to appeals process, including issuance of temporary restraining orders. Ours is a government of laws and not of men. Just because a court decision is not to one’s liking is not license for the other branches of government to cast aspersion, hence eroding confidence on the judicial system otherwise people will just take the law into their own hands. This does not augur well for a stable government and a stable community because the three branches (Legislative, Executive and Judicial) belong to one entity - the Republic of the Philippines,” she said.

Abdurahman petitioned the Commission on Elections to issue a temporary restraining order that would hold in abeyance Tillah’s order unseating her as mayor.

In filing the petition, Abdurahman called on the court to stop her electoral opponent Tambut from taking over. Abdurahman said this will also enable her camp to file a petition for reconsideration.

The poll body said Abdurahman filed a notice of appeal on October 15. The status of the case (EAC No. 012-2020) said: “Notice dated October 29 inquiring the trial court if the notice of appeal was given due course and that the records thereof were transmitted to the Commission in accordance with Section 4, Rule 22 of the 1993 Comelec Rules of Procedure.” (Mindanao Examiner)

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