Vote-buying? Reelectionist mayor gives couples P1k each at Agusan Sur mass wedding
ROSARIO, Agusan del Sur — The wealthy mayor seeking reelection here caused a stir when he shelled out a total of P221,000 from his own pocket to give away P1,000 “cash gifts” to each of the 221 newly wed couples during a mass wedding at the town gym over the weekend.
Mayor Jose Cuyos, who officiated the mass wedding, all the newbie town council bets, his wife Juvy who is running for vice mayor, shook hands with the couples as Cuyos personally handed out the “cash gifts” placed inside small red envelopes.
“There’s nothing wrong about it because I have been doing this every year since I became mayor,” Cuyos said, when pressed if what he was doing was an indirect way of vote buying. “Whether it’s election fever or not, I always give away gifts to poor couples.”
But Vice Mayor Julie “Onyot” Chua, an erstwhile ally now in the opposing political camp, lambasted the distribution of “cash gifts,” and called it vote buying. The vice mayor said it would be up for the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to act on this.
Chua said if the mayor had clear intentions in staging the event, he should have invited other local officials and make them sit at the presidential table. “This is clear show of politicking even as the campaign period for local election has not even started,” Chua said.
The scene at the mass wedding, the biggest since Cuyos assumed office, signaled the start of the political animosities between rival camps in this gold-rich town where the poverty incidence has remained at a high 73 percent. The information on poverty came from the Municipal Planning and Development Office.
Cuyos, who is running under the National Unity Party, broke ties with the rest of the incumbent local officials after he fielded his own wife Juvy to be his running mate and presented a whole new line up of eight candidates to the municipal council.
Chua, who is running for his last term, is now in tandem with Coldo Ocite, brother of Vicente Ocite, another wealthy miner of this town.
Cuyos first ran into controversy by winning a bitterly fought election in 2010 marred by reports of massive vote buying.
“I personally handpicked my wife to be my vice mayor because if the people help us win, surely there would no longer be anomalies (in the local government),” Cuyos said in the vernacular.
He claimed the vice mayor and the members of the town council got involved in graft by demanding kickbacks from contractors before they passed resolutions to pave the way for the bidding of multimillion-peso infrastructure projects.
According to Cuyos, he and his wife will not be tempted to commit corruption because he is wealthy enough not to steal money from government. He claimed that in some instances, they shelled out millions of pesos from their own pockets just to finish some problematic projects.
He was referring to the P47-million water system project funded by World Bank. Cuyos claimed that he personally extended P2.5 million to replace substandard pipelines connecting households of the town center, which had caused much delay to the completion of the project.
Chua denied Cuyos’ allegations against him and other local officials, saying all documents pertaining to municipal projects passed through the mayor’s office. Chua added Cuyos’ recent actions were all motivated by his desire to perpetuate his family in power.
Cuyos was once a driver of the “habal-habal,” a single passenger motorcycle, traveling the perilous roads towards the mountainous gold-rush areas of the town. He became a billionaire after a tunnel he operated struck large deposits of high grade gold. SFM
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