Puerto Princesa mayoral bets down to 22

Katerina Francisco

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Puerto Princesa mayoral bets down to 22
The unusual number of people who filed candidacies has pushed Hagedorn's name down the candidates' list. Some of them have since withdrawn from the race.

PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines – From 45 candidates, only 22 are now left vying for the position of Puerto Princesa City mayor.

As of Wednesday, May 6, half of the people who filed their candidacies had backed out from the recall elections set for Friday, May 8, according to local Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesperson Jomel Ordas.

The recall elections will see incumbent Puerto Princesa Mayor Lucilo Bayron going against his former political ally, Edward Hagedorn, whose supporters initiated the recall petition, citing the alleged “loss of trust and confidence” in Bayron.

In the days leading up to the recall elections, the two sides have traded accusations: Bayron’s allies have filed a complaint against Hagedorn, accusing the former mayor of plundering P65 million from the city treasury.

For their part, the Hagedorn camp alleged that Bayron’s group engaged in buying votes and encouraged people to file their certificate of candidacy (COC), resulting in the “unusually high” number of candidates for the polls.

Records from the city Comelec showed that 10 of those who withdrew had surnames starting with C, D, and F – effectively pushing Hagedorn’s name down the list of candidates, at number 16. Bayron’s name is number 1.

Without the 10 candidates who withdrew, Hagedorn’s name moves up to number 6 on the list.

Some Puerto Princesa residents told Rappler that several of those who backed out of the polls had been given money in exchange for filing their candidacies.

A report from The Manila Times also quoted Mary Grace Fontanilla, spokesperson for 13 of the candidates who backed out, saying that the group did not know they were running for mayor.

She added that they had been duped into signing forms and filing papers at the election office, supposedly for a pro-poor organization that would provide them with benefits. In return, they each received P500.

‘Nuisance’ candidates may face fines

But the 23 people who withdrew their candidacies will still have obligations to fulfill with the Comelec.

A day after the polls, all candidates are required to submit a Statement of Contributions and Expenditures (SOCE). Those who fail to do so may face a fine of P20,000, according to local election officer Ching Reynoso.

Pleading ignorance of the law does not absolve the 23 people of their obligations to file the SOCE, Reynoso added.

Preparations are in full swing for Friday’s recall elections, with election supplies and polling precincts readied for the voting.

Poll monitoring group LENTE earlier urged voters to show up at the city’s 53 polling centers to cast and protect their ballots despite the tense, politically-charged atmosphere in Puerto Princesa.

Meanwhile, Comelec officials gave assurances that they are coordinating with law enforcement officers to ensure the safe and peaceful conduct of the elections.

A total of 126,162 registered voters are set to cast their ballots.

Malacañang earlier declared May 8 as a special non-working holiday to allow voters to participate in the elections. – Rappler.com

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