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DILG reinstates Austria, Esquivel steps down

JAEN, Nueva Ecija – The political tug-of-war between two opposing mayors here ended Monday night after court-installed mayor Antonio Prospero Esquivel stepped down from office to give way to Mayor Sylvia C. Austria, who was reinstated to her previous post by virtue of a status quo ante order issued by the Commission on Elections’ (Comelec) Second Division on January 12, 2021.

This developed as the Second Division also on Monday granted Austria’s petition for the issuance of a writ of preliminary injunction ordering Regional Trial Court Judge Angelo C. Perez, of Branch 87, Gapan City to cease and desist from implementing the Notice and Certificate of Finality, Order and Writ of execution, all dated December 16, 2020, relative to Esquivel’s election protest case against her as well as performing other related acts pertaining to the foregoing case until further orders from the Commission.

Esquivel left the town hall at 6:33 p.m. after being informed that Austria had already been served copies of a certificate issued by the Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG) recognizing her as the town mayor in accordance with the poll body’s SQAO.

Austria received the certificate of recognition from representatives of the DILG regional and provincial offices at the local police station after she was escorted by Col. Jaime O. Santos, provincial police director.

Austria’s reinstatement on Monday ended 55 days of intense political posturings that was marked by two improvised explosive device IED) blasts, a grenade-throwing incident at the gates of her house and a near-violent clash at the town hall when her camp tried to serve to Esquivel copies of a town council resolution, recognizing her as the legitimate mayor.

In her speech, Austria said the truth finally prevailed and she was thankful to the DILG, the Comelec, the police and her supporters who stood by her side during the ordeal. She also gave special thanks to her late husband-former mayor Santy Austria, whom she believes had been guiding her through these trying times.

Santos described the political transition as peaceful and smooth with both Esquivel and Austria coming to terms with what was earlier agreed upon during the negotiations.

Santos noted that Police Regional Office 3 director Brig. Gen. Valeriano T. De Leon was also instrumental in the smooth turnover of power at the town hall.

De Leon talked to Esquivel by phone and convinced him to peacefully step down.

During Tuesday morning’s event here, Santos also accompanied Mayor Austria when the latter came to the town hall here for the first time — exactly 77 days after she peacefully stepped down from her post on Dec. 21 to give way to Esquivel, who was declared winner by the Gapan City regional trial court in his 2019 election protest case over Austria.

To ensure peace and security in the town, Santos said he already directed town police head Major Baltazar Corpuz to conduct round-the-clock intensified checkpoint and Oplan Sita operations. He also ordered the deployment of additional troops as part of the police’s prophylactic moves to assist in the prevention and control of crimes.