MANILA, Philippines – Two months since tragedy struck Cagayan de Oro City, some residents continue to demand that Mayor Vicente Emano be held “responsible for the death and destruction” caused by the storm “Sendong,” which killed more than 1,000 people.
Save CDO Now Movement, a multi-sectoral group which is behind the campaign to have Emano ousted from office, said it has collected enough signatures to be submitted to the Commission on Elections (Comelec), as part of the requirements for a recall petition.
The group plans to file the petition by February 22, with March 2 as the latest date, just before Comelec imposes a one-year ban against recalling elected local officials prior to the 2013 polls.
“This recall initiative was borne out of the belief that our present mayor (Emano) is responsible for the death and destruction brought by Sendong, through his acts of commission and omission, for his acts and inaction during and after the storm,” Tito Mora, chairman of the Save CDO Now Movement, told Rappler.
Even before the recall petition could reach Comelec, Malacañang has ordered Emano to answer an administrative complaint lodged against him for his alleged negligence during the onslaught of Tropical Storm Sendong.
Save CDO Now filed complaints for gross negligence and dereliction of duty against Emano for his allegedly poor handling of the deadly disaster and its aftermath. The group is blaming the mayor for the high number of fatalities due to his supposed failure to act on warnings against building houses along the Cagayan de Oro River.
The local chief executive was also heavily criticized for allegedly failing to convene the Local Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (LDRRMC) at the height of the disaster. Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr, who issued the Notice to Explain on the first week of February, gave Emano 15 days to answer the complaints.
Early this week, Emano submitted a 32-page reply to Malacañang lambasting the complainants and largely blamed partisan politics as behind the allegations against him.
The mayor’s lawyer Francis Ku said complainants – Pastor Raul Ramon Roa, Celestino Ocio III, Teodulfo Lao and Enrico Salcedo – are all politicians who lost in past local elections, according to a report of the local online paper The Mindanao Goldstar Daily.
“Partisan politics refers to a reluctance to admit correctness against a government official in almost any situation for the purpose of advancing a person’s own or a patron’s political ambitions,” according to a portion of Emano’s answer. “This case is an example of a partisan political activity which quality totally emasculates the credibility of the complainants to hold respondent to account.”
But Mora insisted that while they may have supporters who have links with local politicians, the group’s move to recall Emano “goes beyond removing a man from the position” and should be viewed as “one way of putting back the power” into the electorate’s hands.
“We have been labeled as shadowy, belonging to the elite and one-sided political losers.”
“That sovereign power resides in us, the people and those we elected are responsible to all of us, whether or not we voted them to office,” Mora said. “That elected officials will always conduct themselves worthy of the people’s trust at all times.”
Rappler tried to interview Emano but he was not available for comment.
As mandated by Comelec, the petitioners have to gather the signatures of “at least 10% of the total number of registered voters of the last elections” to support their petition. Based on government statistics, Cagayan de Oro had 225,188 registered voters during the 2010 polls.
“Once the signatures are verified, which is expected to last for a month, the petition with the ground of loss of confidence, will be submitted to the Commission En Banc for disposition,” according to Rey Sumalipao, Comelec regional director for Northern Mindanao.
Save CDO Now said they are aiming to collect 100,000 signatures “to play safe,” though presently, they have at least 30,000 that need to be verified.
“We are anticipating invalid signatures,” Mora said, claiming that “suspicious groups” have deliberately attached multiple signatures of the same people and spoiled sheets “to sabotage the campaign.”
Mora also lamented that despite campaigning for their cause and the significance of having an elected official removed from office, “people are afraid.” He cited the following as possible reasons: 1) fear of reprisal and harassment from Emano’s supporters; 2) fear borne out of lack of knowledge of the process and 3) the fear of change that could lead to apathy.
According to Sumalipao, once the Comelec en banc find the petition sufficient in form and substance, and assuming there’s a budget for it, a new election could be held to elect a new mayor. Emano may still run as a candidate since the recall process could likewise be seen as a confidence vote.
Mora downplayed any plans for his group to field candidates in the event a recall election is held. “This is a private citizen intiative,” he said. “We do not have a candidate in mind nor are pushing for anyone’s candidacy.”
With more than a year and 2 months before the May 13, 2013 national and local synchronized elections, Mora said their movement remains optimistic on their recall bid versus Emano, especially with “Sendong” being perceived as a barometer on the kind of leadership the mayor has shown.
“Natural calamities happen. But our laws mandate our officials to be able to take measures to prevent and/or minimize the risks. Whatever type of leadership style you adopt, the bottom line is to never put the people in harm’s way nor the dead in a dumpsite,” Mora said. – Rappler.com