Puerto Princesa recall polls: Voters split on Bayron vs Hagedorn

Katerina Francisco

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Puerto Princesa recall polls: Voters split on Bayron vs Hagedorn
A day before the polls, Puerto Princesa residents say there's no leading contender for Friday's recall elections in the capital city of Palawan

PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines – It’s going to be a hotly contested race on Friday, May 8, with two former political allies – related by marriage – set to go head to head in an election that would determine both the fate of Palawan’s capital city and the political futures of the main contenders.

The city of Puerto Princesa is currently decked out in two colors: red and yellow, the colors of former city Mayor Edward Hagedorn and his rival, incumbent Puerto Princesa Mayor Lucilo Bayron.

The two seasoned politicians, both 68 years old, are fighting to win over voters in the city’s recall elections on Friday.

Both are already well known in the city. Hagedorn was Puerto Princesa mayor from 1992 to 2001, and from 2002 to 2013. Bayron was his second-in-command for 10 years, from 2003 to 2013.

The two share more than a political connection; they also have personal ties. Bayron is the brother-in-law of Hagedorn’s wife, Ma. Elena.

But the relationship between the former mayor and his former vice mayor became strained in 2013, when Bayron ran for the city’s top post against his own sister-in-law.

Friday’s elections would only add to the already sour relationship between the two former close allies. The recall polls is a result of the successful petition initiated by Hagedorn’s supporters in March 2014, citing the citizens’ “loss of trust and confidence” in Bayron’s leadership.

Bayron tried – but failed – to stop the petition. And with the polls just a day away, the two politicians are fighting hard to get voters on their side.

In the final days of the campaign, both camps slung accusations at each other: Bayron’s supporters earlier filed a plunder complaint against Hagedorn when the Commission on Election suddenly set a date for the recall poll – a possibility that almost became remote after the old national leadership of the poll body delayed processing the petition. Hagedorn’s camp countered with allegations of vote buying initiated by Bayron’s group.

Political futures

A win for Bayron in the recall polls would mean he gets to sit out his first 3-year term as mayor. For Hagedorn, this could be the second time that he takes office through the recall polls – he replaced then-Mayor Victorino Dennis Socrates in 2002 through recall elections.

A Hagedorn win would also cement the family name in the city’s political scene.

Hagedorn’s brother, Douglas, currently sits as representative of Palawan’s new congressional district. Douglas’ sons, Patrick Alex and Mark David, have also served in the Puerto Princesa city council.

Voters’ sentiments

The politically-charged atmosphere in Puerto Princesa is a concern for poll monitoring group LENTE, which earlier urged voters to cast and protect their ballots, adding that the “tense and confusing atmosphere” should be a “catalyst for people to exercise their right to vote.”

Hagedorn has been posting on Facebook photos and supporters’ accounts that Bayron’s camp is allegedly bussing in flying voters from Puerto Princesa’s neighboring towns.

But tricycle driver Rolando won’t be casting his vote, saying that the quality of life didn’t change under either Hagedorn’s or Bayron’s leadership.

Puli-pulitika lang ‘yan,” he said.Niloloko lang nila mga tao eh, sila-sila rin lang nakikinabang.” (It’s just politics. They’re fooling the people with all of this, and they are the ones who benefit.O

Nakakatulong ba ‘yan sa kabuhayan ko? Hindi naman,” he added. (Does that help me improve my standard of living? It doesn’t.)

In the 2013 elections, Maria, a resident of Barangay Bancao-Bancao, cast her ballot in favor of Bayron. Tomorrow, she’s switching that vote to Hagedorn.

In 2003, Maria’s son was hospitalized. Her family was surprised when Hagedorn gave them money to pay the hospital bills, even though they did not ask for help from the city government.

“I was touched, because we weren’t even Hagedorn supporters,” she said.

But it wasn’t only that gesture that prompted her to switch allegiance. Bayron was effective as Hagedorn’s vice mayor, she said, but not so much as the city’s top leader.

Noong vice mayor si Bayron, ang dami niyang nagagawa na nakikita talaga ng mga tao. Pagpapatayo ng mga streetlights, pagpapaayos ng mga kalsada, iba-ibang proyekto,” Maria said. (When Bayron was vice mayor, he accomplished a lot of projects that residents can clearly see, like putting up streetlights and repairing roads.)

Pero ngayon, parang wala na.” (But now, it seems like he’s not done much.)

In the recall petition filed by Goh, it cited poor governance, rising crime, and the slowdown of tourism as reasons why the people “lost their trust and confidence” in Bayron’s leadership.

Tourism is an important issue for Puerto Princesa’s 225,000 residents, who depend on it as the main lifeblood of economic activity. 

The city’s most famous natural attraction, the Puerto Princesa Underground River, saw a boom in visitors after it was recognized as one of the new 7 wonders of the world in 2012.

In 2012, the influx of foreign and domestic visitors translated to P4.72 billion added to the city’s economy. 

Maria claimed that tourism suffered a slowdown in Puerto Princesa since Bayron took over as mayor, but she did not offer any evidence to back up her statement.

Jojo Cruz, a van driver for a hotel’s tourist shuttle service, disputed Maria’s claim. He said the hotels in the city were already fully booked with guests staying for the peak summer season.

If others perceive that tourism isn’t thriving as much in Puerto Princesa, Cruz said that it was not solely the local government’s fault.

“Some tourists just prefer other areas,” he said. “Palawan has Coron and El Nido. These places also have a lot to offer.”

Meanwhile, the city tourism office said that contrary to reports, more than 740,000 tourists arrived in Puerto Princesa in 2014, higher than the 692,000 tourists recorded in 2013. 

PRO-BAYRON. Supporters of the incumbent mayor raise signs outside the city coliseum. Photo by Katerina Francisco/Rappler

Who will win?

A day before the polls, the campaign noise has stopped, and the tense waiting game has begun.

Jojo is confident that Bayron will win. He thinks the city’s voters will be smart enough not to re-elect Hagedorn, adding that the former mayor has ruled the city long enough.

“Sa tingin ko hindi na magpapaloko ang mga tao dito sa Puerto,” Jojo said. “Matalino na sila, hindi na sila maaapektuhan sa mga sabi-sabi.”

(I think Puerto Princesa residents won’t allow themselves to be fooled anymore. They’re smarter now, they won’t be affected by rumors.)

Although Maria has thrown her full support behind Hagedorn, and has even been campaigning in her pro-Bayron barangay for him, she conceded, “Sa totoo lang, baka tagilid.” (Honestly, there’s a slim chance of a win.)

Kung patas ang labanan, kung walang pandaraya…baka manalo pa,” she said. (If the fight is fair, if there’s no cheating, there’s a possibility [Hagedorn will win].)

But she quickly added, “Kaso may mga k’wento na ng vote buying sa kabilang kampo. Hindi na patas ang laban.” (But there’s been reports of vote buying initiated by the other camp. So the fight is no longer even.) – Rappler.com

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