THE conflict on who is the rightful congressman of the fourth district of Cebu spilled over to the Palace of Justice yesterday, with one accusing the other of usurpation of authority.

Celestino Martinez III, in the complaint filed by lawyer Misty Leah Escolar-Hupp, cited Benhur Salimbangon for continuing to use the vehicle plate number 8, which only congressmen are entitled to, and for prefixing his name with the title “Cong” in all his billboards and election posters.

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“Benhur Salimbangon continues to knowingly and falsely represent himself to everybody, most especially people in the fourth district of Cebu, that he continues to hold a seat in the House of Representatives,” Martinez said.

But Salimbangon, in an interview last night, said he is the rightful congressional representative of the district and both Congress as a whole and House Speaker Prospero Nograles agree with him.

“As far as Congress is concerned, my name is still there, my office is still there. What is he talking about?” Salimbangon told Sun.Star Cebu.

Martinez, who was adjudged by the Supreme Court in an order last Jan. 12 as the winner of the May 2007 election after a re-count, is saying he is the lawful congressman of the district, not Salimbangon.

He said he took his oath of office before Associate Justice Antonio Carpio last Jan. 15 and before Rep. Eric Singson of the 2nd district of Ilocos Sur.

But, in his two-page complaint addressed to Provincial Prosecutor Jane Petralba, he lamented how Salimbangon is still claiming the post.

No more right

“He has no right to continue discharging the functions of office as a member of the House of Representatives,” he said. ““Neither does he have any more right to represent to the people of the fourth district of Cebu that he is.”

He said Salimbangon also issues press releases “claiming that he remains to be” congressman.

“The foregoing acts of Benhur L. Salimbangon constitute a criminal offense of usurpation of authority,” Martinez said.

“As the representative of the fourth district of Cebu, I feel aggrieved by (his) malicious misrepresentation. I also feel infuriated by his lack of respect to our highest Tribunal and his apparent presumption that he could continue to deceive the people,” Martinez said.

But Salimbangon, in an interview, said his hold on the title is legitimate because, notwithstanding his own moves to secure a reversal of the SC order unseating him, Martinez has not yet taken his oath at the House of Representatives.

“According to congress, according to the house speaker, I am still the congressman of the district. I am the one that is recognized because he did not take his oath of office,” Salimbangon said.

He urged Martinez to focus on getting elected, or re-elected depending on which side one sees the conflict from.

“Let us just campaign. Don’t waste your energy dreaming,” he said.

“Let him remove his private army and let’s have a peaceful and orderly election so, whoever is elected, he has the respect of the people,” he said.