Voting begins in Puerto Princesa's recall polls
PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines – After days of political mudslinging and a tense atmosphere, voters of Palawan's capital city flocked to polling centers on Friday, May 8, to elect the new mayor of Puerto Princesa City.
The two main contenders are well known in the city's political scene: incumbent mayor Lucilo Bayron and his former ally Edward Hagedorn, who also served as former mayor of the city.
The recall elections is a tight race between the two candidates, prompting poll watchdogs to urge voters to guard their ballots and help ensure the safe and orderly conduct of the polls.
But the early hours of voting already revealed problems: many were unable to cast their ballots because they couldn't find their names on the voters' lists.
Several frustrated voters told Rappler that they couldn't find their names on the Commission on Elections (Comelec) list of registered voters, despite having voted in the same precinct in previous elections.
"Luto na ito," one man told Rappler. "Lima kami na boboto rito, pero nawawala mga pangalan namin." (The elections are rigged. Five of us were supposed to vote here, but our names are missing.)
Lawyer Takahiro Kenjie Amar of poll watchdog Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE) also confirmed that the same incidents were reported in the polling precinct of San Miguel Elementary School.
"We've noted so many voters that were disenfranchised. Despite having a voter's ID already, and despite the fact that they were able to vote in previous elections, they weren't able to see their names on the Posted Computerized Voters List (PCVL)," he said.
But he added that some were allowed to cast their ballots after their names were found on the Election Day Computerized Voters List (EDCVL), which Amar said was a more reliable record because it shows the voter's name, photo, and signature.
Those who couldn't find their names were directed to the local Comelec office in the city coliseum.
At around 8:30 am, the incumbent mayor arrived at the San Pedro Central School to cast his vote, an activity that he later described to reporters as a "nuisance" that had to be done.
"Nakakaistorbong eleksyon, pero kailangang harapin. Dapat nanunungkulan ako nang tuluy-tuloy, pero naistorbo (Distruptive elections, but we have to face it. I should be serving continuously, but it was been disrupted)," he said.
The 68-year-old mayor also downplayed his rival's accusations that he tried to buy votes, and that he paid off people to file their certificates of candidacy in a bid to derail Hagedorn's campaign.
"Alam ng mga kababayan dito kung sino ang may capacity na bumili ng boto. Hindi natin kayang gawin 'yan dahil wala tayong pambili (Our constituents know who has the capacity to buy votes. I'm incapable of doing it because I have no means to do it)," he said.
Bayron, a member of the opposition United Nationalist Alliance (UNA), also denied suggestions that his showdown with Hagedorn, a Liberal Party member, was a proxy war between the two political parties.
Bayron said UNA did not support him in the local polls.
"Sariling kayod ko lang ito. Kaya kung manalo ako dito, hindi ko masasabing dahil sa UNA (This is my own hard work. So if I win, I cannot credit this to UNA)," he said.
Bayron and Hagedorn are members of rival political parties, but were once close allies, and are even related by marriage – Bayron is the brother-in-law of Hagedorn's wife.
But the relationship between the two became strained when Bayron ran for city mayor in 2013, challenging Ma Elena Hagedorn.
The incumbent mayor's camp has also been vocal about criticizing the recall polls, which were triggered by a successful recall petition filed by supporters of Hagedorn in March 2014.
Since the campaign period for the recall polls began, Bayron and Hagedorn have been trading barbs, each accusing the other of using government money illegally and paying off voters to derail his rival's bid.
A total of 127,162 voters are expected to vote in Friday's polls. Voting in the city's 53 polling precincts will close at 3 pm. – Rappler.com