Tension rises as Puerto mayor alleges fraud
PUERTO PRINCESA CITY—Tension continues to rise in the city as the camp of former Mayor Edward Hagedorn and his erstwhile ally, incumbent Mayor Lucilo Bayron, clash over a recall petition believed initiated by Hagedorn over alleged mismanagement of the city by Bayron.
Bayron, in a statement, said up to 14,000 signatures in the recall petition had been falsified and 7,000 were multiple entries that included names of dead people.
The mayor made the claim after the local Commission on Elections (Comelec) ended the verification process for the recall petition that led to Bayron and his supporters storming the venue of the recall move.
“That fabricated recall petition boggles the mind because it could well be an obituary or a registry of dead people, or of people who purportedly signed the petition without their knowledge much more their consent,” said Bayron in his statement.
Sufficiency not clear
Orlando Ba-alan, city election officer, declared as valid most of the signatures. The six-page resolution he issued, however, fell short of declaring whether the number of signatures was sufficient to hold recall elections against Bayron.
Winston Gonzales, lead counsel of Mayor Bayron in the recall petition, said the number of signatures was short by 2,000 to push the recall initiative.
“We received the resolution under protest but the number would show that they (petitioners) fell short of the 15 percent requirement,” Gonzales told the Inquirer.
Gonzales had defended Bayron’s tearing of a piece of paper when the mayor and his supporters went to the verification venue.
“That protest move by the mayor should be taken in the context that action speaks louder than words,” said Gonzales in the statement.
He said the recall move is “seen as a barefaced attempt at power grab” by the Hagedorn camp.
A number of concerned citizens, he said, had expressed shock at seeing their names in the petition.
Joey Mirasol, one of the key petitioners, claimed the Comelec ruling upheld 24,413 signatures as valid “as it represents way over the required 15 percent of the city’s voting population.”
Mirasol accused Bayron’s camp of “deliberately confusing the issue.”
A pro-Bayron crowd heckled Comelec officials, forcing Ba-alan and his staff to leave the coliseum where the verification process was held.
Before leaving, however, Ba-alan announced that up to 3,000 signatures that have not been verified would no longer be considered, prompting more protests from Bayron.
Comelec officials were not available to clarify the result of the verification process but sources said they would endorse the matter to the Comelec en banc after a nine-day period for both camps to file their motions.
The Hagedorn camp accused Bayron of mismanaging the city, but the mayor said contrary to the accusations against him, he had initiated reforms since 2013 that put the city coffers in order and allowed the city to pay its debts.
Bayron said he had also taken concrete steps to address poverty and helped poor students through scholarship programs and other forms of assistance.
In 2013 alone, Bayron said 694,000 tourists visited the city under his administration. With a report from Redempto Anda, Inquirer Southern Luzon
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