Balilihan Mayor Maria Puresa Veloso-Chatto secured temporary relief from the 19th Municipal Circuit Trial Court (MCTC) of Balilihan-Sikatuna-Corella after it decided that her domicile of choice or fixed permanent residence is Balilihan, Bohol.
Racing against time, Acting Presiding Judge, Joy Angelica P. Santos Doctor, in a 39-page decision promulgated on February 11, 2019, cautioned both parties that “this decision does not bar the filing of a similar petition in the future as it is not considered res judicata, a Latin term for “a matter (already) judged.”
In accordance with Republic Act 8189 known as the Voters Registration Act of 1996, a petition shall be heard and decided within ten days from the date of filing.
Petitioner Esteban Chatto immediately after the decision was read on Monday morning served notice that he is appealing the decision before the Regional Trial Court (RTC), Tagbilaran City.
DOMICILE OF CHOICE
The court explained the difference between domicile and residence as one, in the case of residence used to indicate a place of abode, permanent or temporary while domicile denotes a fixed permanent residence where when absent, has the intention of returning.
In the case of Mayor Chatto, the court ruled that she adopted Balilihan as her domicile of choice contrary to Punong Barangay Chatto’s claim that when she married his first-degree cousin, former Mayor, now Governor Edgar Chatto, they established their conjugal dwelling in Tagbilaran City after their wedding on June 22, 1991.
Chatto, speaking through her lawyer, Atty. Teodoro Lagang of Villas Lagang & Tumanda Law Offices convinced the court when she emphatically stated that she changed residence from Tagbilaran City to Balilihan when she got married acceding to her husband’s request to register as a voter in Balilihan.
INTENT TO RETURN
The court gave weight to the testimonies of two house helps, the nanny of the Chatto’s only daughter and a working student who affirmed that “the couple lived in Del Carmen Weste, Balilihan and transferred their residence in the ancestral house of the late Eladio and Victoria Chatto”, Governor Chatto’s parents.
Mayor Chatto further bolstered her position that her domicile is Balilihan with the fact that she and her husband have reserved cemetery plots at the Balilihan Catholic Cemetery where they wish to be buried when their time comes, according to the decision.
Based on the totality of evidence, according to the court, Punong Barangay Chatto was able to prove that Mayor Chatto’s domicile of origin was Tagbilaran City.
However, the petitioner and his witnesses failed to present convincing evidence that Mayor Chatto did not adopt Balilihan as her domicile even as they admitted the presence of the mayor during holidays and town activities showing that she intended to keep on returning to Balilihan.
The court concluded that according to the Supreme Court jurisprudence on inclusion/exclusion proceedings, the factual findings of the trial court is not final with respect to the Commission on Elections.
The trial court decision in an inclusion/exclusion proceeding “does not operate as a bar to any future action in any other election that a party may take concerning his right to be registered as a voter.”
The petition contesting the qualification of residency of Balilihan’s highest municipal official, Mayor Chatto was filed on January 31, 2019, by Esteban Chatto, Punong Barangay (village chief) of Barangay Del Carmen Weste, first-degree cousin of Governor Edgar Chatto, husband of Mayor Chatto. (Chito M. Visarra)