Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Comelec sets January 25 plebiscite on Cabanatuan’s conversion into HUC

CABANATUAN CITY – The Commission on Elections has set for January 25  the holding of a plebiscite on the conversion of this city from a component city into a Highly Urbanized City.

          In Resolution 1353, the Comelec, sitting En Banc, approved the date of the plebiscite with only registered voters of the city allowed to participate in the exercise.

          The six-page resolution was signed by Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. and Commissioners Lucenito Tagle, Elias Yusoph, Maria Gracia Cielo Padaca, Christian Robert Lim, Al Parreno and Luie Tito Guia.

          In a memorandum, Comelec deputy executive director for operations Bartolome Sinocruz Jr. forwarded copies of the resolution to Comelec regional director for Central Luzon Rafael Olano, Nueva Ecija provincial election supervisor Panfilo Doctor Jr. and Cabanatuan city election officer Arsenio Reyes.

          The setting of the plebiscite came on the heels of a November 29 letter  from Cabanatuan Mayor Julius Cesar Vergara requesting the Comelec to proceed with the said plebiscite for HUC conversion now that the May 13 national and local elections as well as the October 28 polls were over.

          President Aquino issued on July 4,2012 Presidential
Proclamation 418 converting this city into a HUC. The proclamation will have to be ratified in a plebiscite at a date to be fixed by the Comelec.

The conversion is being opposed by Nueva Ecija Gov. Aurelio Umali whose stand resulted in a bitter feud with Vergara, his erstwhile political ally.

          The poll body originally set the date of the plebiscite on December 1, 2012 but this was postponed by the issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order by the Palayan City Regional Trial Court. Subsequently, the Comelec issued a resolution postponing the plebiscite because of its proximity to the national and local elections.

          On June 28, shortly after Vergara got reelected, he wrote the Comelec asking it to revisit the conduct of the plebiscite but the poll body said it was forced to defer all actions until after the barangay polls. 

          In his November 29 letter, Vergara said there is no more legal impediment as the TRO issued by the Palayan RTC has already lapsed and the Supreme Court has not issued a TRO on the same.   

          Earlier, the poll body denied the petition of Umali  to allow all qualified voters in the whole province to take part in  a plebiscite that will ratify the proclamation of this city into a HUC.

In his petition,  Umali  said Novo Ecijanos will be affected once Cabanatuan becomes HUC and thus, it is imperative for them to participate in a plebiscite that would ratify Presidential Proclamation 418. He filed a verified motion for reconsideration which was also denied by the poll body.

The poll body has directed the use of previously printed official ballots, election returns, statement of votes and other election forms for the aborted December 1,2012 plebiscite.

In pressing for Novo Ecijano voters to be allowed to cast their vote in the plebiscite, Umali, a lawyer, said there is already  existing jurisprudence, foremost of which is a July 11,1986 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Tan vs Comelec regarding the creation of a new province of Negros del Norte wherein 2,768.4 square kilometers from the land area of the parent province were to be removed to create a new province whose boundaries would be substantially altered.

          He mentioned the separate concurring opinion of Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee stating that to limit the plebiscite to only the areas to be partitioned and seceded from the province is “as absurd and illogical as allowing only the secessionists to vote for the secession that they demanded against the wishes of the majority” and to nullify the majority rule principle.

          Another case in point, he said, was the October 19,1992 ruling in Padilla Jr. vs Comelec which stated that when the law states that the plebiscite shall be conducted in the political units directly affected, it means that residents of the political entity who would be economically dislocated by the separation of a portion thereof have a right to vote in the said plebiscite.

          “Evidently, what is contemplated by the phrase “political units directly affected,” is the plurality of political units which would participate in the plebiscite,” he stressed, quoting from the ruling.

          Umali said this is not the first time the issue of who should vote in the plebiscite is raised before the Comelec, citing the first case was Antipolo City’s own HUC bid wherein Rizal Gov. Casimiro Ynares III raised the same arguments.

          The Law Department of the Comelec, Umali recalled, found basis in the contention of Ynares and officially opined that the conduct of the plebiscite must include the qualified voters of Rizal.

It is the second attempt to convert the city into HUC.  In 1995, Vergara’s predecessor, then-mayor Manolette Liwag pushed for HUC conversion which was subsequently proclaimed by then-President Fidel Ramos.

          However, the move lost badly during the plebiscite, largely due to the opposition made by the camp of the Josons who were unseated by Umali a decade later, ending their half-century reign at the Capitol. – Manny Galvez  


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