Cagayan governor DQ’d over election spending
TUGUEGARAO CITY—The second division of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has disqualified incumbent Cagayan Gov. Manuel Mamba from the May 9 gubernatorial race for reportedly violating the election spending ban.
Mamba, who is appealing the poll body’s decision, became the second sitting governor to be slapped with a disqualification order after Noel Rosal of Albay province.
The decision stemmed from the disqualification case filed by defeated Cagayan gubernatorial candidate Zarah Rose Lara on June 24. Lara is the wife of Cagayan Rep. Joseph Lara, a known political rival of Mamba.
Zarah Rose Lara accused Mamba of engaging in massive vote-buying activities from March 30 to May 5, or during the campaign period.
Lara claimed that the distribution was in the guise of cash aid using the funds of the provincial government under the “No Town Left Behind (NTLB)” and “Oplan Tulong sa Barangay” programs.
On April 29, a regional trial court issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) to stop the payout under these programs, but it was ignored by Mamba, Lara said in her petition.
Mamba had also allegedly disbursed P550 million to villagers and distributed the amount to all registered voters under the separate program “Krusada Kontra Korapsyon (KKK)” during the campaign period.
Lara said each registered voter was given P1,000 and that Mamba allegedly presented it “to be an economic stimulus and at the same time as cash assistance.”
Under Section 261 of the Omnibus Election Code and Section 2 of Comelec Resolution No. 10747, spending public funds without Comelec authority during the 45 days before the elections is considered an election offense.
In a unanimous decision dated Dec. 14 and released on Thursday, the Comelec Second Division upheld as “substantial” evidence the screenshots of news clips and photos from the Cagayan provincial information office’s Facebook page that Lara presented in her petition to disqualify Mamba as candidate.
“[Mamba] did not deny that there were disbursements of funds for the said projects of the provincial government of Cagayan, as published by the Cagayan public information office,” it added.
The poll body’s second division said the evidence presented by Lara failed to prove that Mamba committed vote-buying under the Omnibus Election Code.
But it said Mamba, who is serving his third and last term, breached the 45-day ban on spending public funds within the campaign period when he continued to carry out the “Oplan Tulong sa Barangay” and KKK programs since the Comelec only granted an exemption to the NTLB.
According to the Comelec ruling, Mamba’s disbursement of public funds during the campaign period raised questions since there was “no obvious or reasonable urgency and dire necessity to give payouts and spend for patrol cars, transport vehicles, freezers and vehicles.”
“To our mind, a reasonable and prudent public official in this situation would not risk releasing monies from the coffers of the government without the authority of the Comelec, considering the clear prohibition under the law … ,” part of the ruling read.
The Inquirer tried reaching Mamba for comments on Thursday but he did not return calls or respond to text messages.
But in his block-time radio program, the governor described Lara’s petition as “without basis” as he dismissed the allegations of vote-buying.
He said Lara was merely “sour graping,” adding that Comelec gave an exemption to the distribution of the barangay assistance.
“Even if they detain me, I am willing to be imprisoned if only to help people … I was prepared for this [disqualification case], and our lawyers will handle this matter,” Mamba said, adding that he had yet to receive a copy of the Comelec’s resolution.
Mamba garnered 302,025 votes, while Lara, his lone rival, got 278,562 votes during the May 9 gubernatorial race.
The disqualification order against Mamba came more than two weeks after the Comelec upheld its first division’s resolution that also disqualified Rosal from running as Albay governor.
Rosal’s case stemmed from a petition filed in April by defeated Legazpi City council candidate Joseph Armogila, who sought his disqualification for reportedly approving, in his capacity as then mayor of Legazpi City, cash assistance for tricycle drivers and seniors.
The Comelec granted Armogila’s petition after finding that the distribution of the payout happened during the 45-day campaign spending ban between March and April.Rosal tried but failed to obtain a TRO from the Supreme Court that could have prevented him from being replaced by Albay Vice Gov. Edcel “Grex” Lagman, who took his oath of office on Dec. 1.