MANILA, Philippines – Nueva Ecija Governor Aurelio “Oyie” Umali said on Thursday, March 17, that the envelopes of P500 bills given to rally attendees on Tuesday, March 15, were “ayuda” or financial aid that has long been scheduled and cannot be canceled just because presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos was visiting.
“Alangan namang sabihan ko mga tao, you were selected na pero dahil may parating na presidentiable, ay stop po kayo, di kayo priority?” said Umali in a press conference he streamed live on Facebook on Thursday.
(You cannot expect me to tell people, you were selected but because a presidentiable is coming, let’s stop and you’re no longer priority.)
News cameras caught the distribution of envelopes inside Umali’s residential compound, after candidates both of Uniteam and the local slate have left the area. Rappler tried to seek Umali’s side through his provincial administrator on Tuesday, but on Thursday, the governor said he did not want to answer media because he would just be given ten seconds of airtime.
“This is my way of explaining to people, what is there to explain? Dito sa Nueva Ecija tuloy tuloy ang pagbibigay ng tulong (here in Nueva Ecija, our assistance continues) because they deserved to be helped,” said Umali.
The election code prohibits the giving, offering, or even promising money or anything of value “to induce anyone or the public in general to vote for or against any candidate,” or vote-buying for short.
Umali said they could not go house to house to give the financial assistance “kasi magkakagulo (it will be chaotic)” and that the choice of an open area like his compound was to follow open-air protocols in the pandemic.
Umali confirmed he has a pending petition before the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to be given an exemption so he can continue this project even as he campaigns for reelection in Nueva Ecija. Local campaign period starts March 25. National campaign period began February 8.
A December 2021 Comelec resolution on the use of public funds compels government offices that run social welfare projects to request from the Comelec a certificate of exception for the continued operations of these initiatives.
Uniteam was aware of cash distribution
Umali said Marcos and team were informed that a distribution was going to be made that day. Marcos acknowledged this in his speech.
“We did not receive a formal letter from their camp but they asked if they could visit my house and have lunch, and if they can possibly talk to mayors. So we sent an invitation to mayors to ask who can meet Marcos and Mayor Inday Sara and have lunch here,” said Umali in a mix of English and Filipino.
Umali added: “Sinabi ko pasensya na kayo hindi ko ma cancel ito. In fairness kawawa naman ang mga ito, yung mga tao, nagpunta hindi dahil sa kanila, nagpunta ang mga tao rito dahil ito ay regular program namin,” referring to Uniteam.
(I told them I’m sorry I cannot cancel. In fairness, I feel bad for them, because people went here not because of them but because we had a regular program.)
Here are some photos I took before Marcos arrived pic.twitter.com/BALqx9YMfm— Lian Buan (@lianbuan) March 17, 2022
The people, some ferried in by several buses, were wearing Marcos-Duterte t-shirts.
“Kasi nga po yung mga bisita namin presidentiable pupuntang rally, may dalang tshirt binigay sa tao. Pipigilan ko ba?” said Umali.
(Our visitor, the presidentiable, was going to a rally, they had t-shirts to give to people. Should I have stopped them?)
The local candidates campaigned first on stage, followed by Uniteam senatorial candidates. Umali appeared onstage later on to welcome Marcos and Duterte. He disappeared from the rally site even before Marcos finished his speech. Umali said it was because he had to entertain a lot of guests.
“Ako nga po ‘yung may-ari, hindi nga po ako nakapagsalita, ang dami pa namang tao sa barangay, ang importante po ay nabigay sa tao ang due to them. Hindi po namin ‘yun tinatago,” said Umali.
(I own the property, but I did not even get to speak before that large crowd from the barangays. But what’s important to me is we gave the people what is due to them. We’re not hiding that.)
After that, Uniteam proceeded to Cabanatuan City to motorcade to Talavera, where they held their main rally at around 4pm.
Umali took issue with Rappler’s story pointing out that it was Marcos’ second visit to Nueva Ecija, at both times he met the governor, but still did not get an endorsement. “Saan nanggaling? (where did that come from?),” the governor said.
Yet he did not say what was erroneous with that detail, and still did not endorse during his Thursday press conference, saying he’s conducting consultations and every presidential candidates are welcome to visit.
“Lahat po ng presidentiable ay tutulungan namin (we will help all presidentiables),” said Umali.
In criticizing Rappler’s reporting, Umali said: “Eh yung iba ngang kasamahan nyo nauna pang kumain, tinanong pa nga ko, nilapitan ako eto ang mga sasagutan (Some of your companions even ate ahead of me, and asked me, went to me and said this is what you should answer).” Earlier, Umali alluded to these supposed media members wearing red who allegedly went inside his home without permission, and ate.
Rappler’s team of three, including this reporter, went nowhere near the governor’s home, much less ate. None were wearing red, either. – Rappler.com