CEBU CITY -- With barely five months left in his term, former Bogo mayor Celestino "Tining" Martinez III will take oath and immediately assume office as congressman of Cebu Province's fourth district, after the Supreme Court (SC) declared him as the winner.

He intends to take oath before Liberal Party (LP) standard-bearer Senator Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III, said lawyer Frank Malilong, one of the Martinez family's legal advisers.

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Martinez's rival, Representative Benhur Salimbangon, filed a motion for reconsideration before the SC on Wednesday.

He questioned the margin of some 5,000 votes determined in the recount ad will request the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET) to use the C-Cimpel election returns in the recount instead.

The C-Cimpel is a church-based election watchdog. Some of its election returns were used in 2007, when allegations of tampering and fraud sent the much-delayed canvassing of results from the fourth district congressional race to the Commission on Elections (Comelec) head office in Manila.

Salimbangon clarified Wednesday to his constituents that he remains the district's congressman and that the SC decision is not yet executory because he has a pending motion at the SC.

"I have to maintain my membership in Congress," he said.

Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG)-Central Visayas Director Pedro Noval said Martinez cannot take his oath and assume the post yet, because of Salimbangon's appeal.

Martinez also cannot do anything with what's left of Salimbangon's Priority Development Assistance Fund.

"There's a presumption of regularity in the Comelec's declaration of Salimbangon as winner of the 2007 elections," Noval said in a phone interview.

Right away

Malilong disagreed.

Martinez, he said, "can take oath immediately upon the promulgation of the decision. Tining can take his oath before anyone who is allowed to administer the oath. He can take his oath before a judge, before a notary public if he wishes to."

He said the matter is beyond Noval's jurisdiction as DILG director.

"I hate to say this because Benhur is also a very good personal friend. But the way the decision is worded, there is no doubt, it leaves no doubt whatsoever, that it is immediately executory. It has to be implemented. There is no more need for any further order from the court. It is the SC that said Tining should in effect take his oath and only the SC can stop him," Malilong said.

Salimbangon, for his part, said he will continue serving the district.

On Monday, he will submit a list of infrastructure projects to the Department of Budget and Management (DBM) to avoid getting hit by the election ban in March.

Among these are road concreting in Medellin (Corva to Poblacion), with a project cost of P80 million, and Tabuelan-San Remigio, for P72 million. Also included are school building projects.

League

Representative Pablo John Garcia (Cebu Province, third district), an ally of Salimbangon, said the SC decision is not yet final because the motion was already filed.

He cited the case of the League of Cities, whose victory was reversed when the SC reconsidered and decided in favor of 16 newly created cities.

"The camp of Benhur Salimbangon can cite a very simple case. The League of Cities versus the new cities. The decision was final and executory, yet it was reversed...It seems the SC is adopting a new procedure and I think Benhur Salimbangon can avail himself of this," he said.

Cebu Governor Gwendolyn Garcia said she does not want to speculate on possible conflicts and sees no need to order increased police visibility in the district.

"We will see how things will go from here. As of now, I would like to believe that everything is normal we don't want to create horror scenes where there is none," she said.

She urged everyone concerned to stay calm, avoid issuing inflammatory statements, and for the Philippine National Police to uphold peace and order. (Rizel S. Adlawan/Sun.Star Cebu)