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Comelec stands by decision to postpone Cabanatuan plebiscite


MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Tuesday stood by its decision to postpone the plebiscite for the ratification of Cabanatuan City’s conversion into a highly urbanized city (HUC) and re-set it to an unspecified date after the May 2013 polls.

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr told reporters that the poll body en banc had already ruled on the matter, and that motions for reconsideration (MRs) cannot reverse rulings made by the en banc. He said that groups opposing the postponement should take the issue to the Supreme Court (SC).

In its resolution 9563, the poll body explained that it had previously set the plebiscite on December 1, 2012, but it was postponed to an indefinite date after the May 2013 elections “in cognizance of the violence that ensued (during) the plebiscite period for the conversion of the City of Cabanatuan.”

Last Nov. 8, broadcaster Julius Caesar Cauzo of radio station dwJJ – owned by the family of Cabanatuan Mayor Julius Vergara – was gunned down by motorcycle-riding gunmen. Earlier reports had noted that Cauzo, along with Vergara, had been pushing for the city’s conversion and had engaged in a word war with his counterparts from a rival radio station over the issue. His killing remains unsolved.

Last July 4, President Benigno Aquino III already proclaimed an HUC status to Cabanatuan. It noted that the plebiscite should be held 120 days after the proclamation date.
Brillantes, in in the interview, reiterated that the poll body was postponing the plebiscite because they were giving priority to the preparations for next year’s polls.

On Tuesday morning, around 200 supporters for the HUC conversion trooped to the Comelec main office in Intramuros to protest the postponement of the plebiscite until after the elections.

Vergara and legal counsel and also United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) spokesperson JV Bautista also went to the Comelec session hall to ask for a hearing but the Comelec denied their request as they had not scheduled a date with the poll body’s Clerk of the Commission.

On Dec. 14, groups pushing for the HUC conversion, led by Bautista, filed a motion for reconsideration (MR) asking the Comelec to reconsider its decision, saying that the poll body was prepared for the plebiscite and that it had all the time to prepare for the mid-term elections. In their MR, Bautista also suggested that the plebiscite be set on Jan. 4, 2013.

Brillantes, however, maintained that the MR filed by Bautista was a “prohibited pleading” since Comelec procedure requires that the en banc resolution cannot be reversed by an MR.

Brillantes also noted that all plebiscites discussed by the poll body had been suspended and reset after next year’s elections.

Brillantes, when asked by reporters, also noted that he thought that politics was behind the Cabanatuan plebiscite.

“Siyempre may politics. Pwede ba namang plesbicite na nag-aaway ang mayor at governor walang politics? (Of course this involves politics. Would you allow a plebiscite when the mayor and the governor are fighting and say no politics?)” Brillantes said.

Cabanatuan City mayor Julius Vergara had been pushing for the HUC conversion while gubernatorial re-electionist Aurelio Umali was opposing the measure. Meanwhile, Bautista is running against Umali’s wife, Czarina, for a congressional seat in Nueva Ecija.

The poll body is tasked to handle the plebiscite to determine whether or not Cabanatuan residents approve of the HUC status.

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