BAYBAY CITY, Philippines – At least 500 supporters of a losing mayoral bet in Baybay City, Leyte, were detained after police violenty dispersed their rally on Sunday, June 30.
Supporters of businesswoman Marilou "Malot" Veloso Galenzoga of the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) gathered in front of city hall for what they said was a "peaceful" thanksgiving rally, weeks after their candidate lost a hotly contested race to re-electionist Mayor Carmen Loreto Cari.
According to citizens' reports, the Baybay City police dispersed the rallyists, provoking them to turn violent as well and throw rocks at city hall. The police then used water cannons to control the protesters.
According to one of the rally organizers, Galenzoga's supporters tried to return home after the rally, but the roads to the different barangays were blocked by the military. The rallyists came from 92 barangays.
The supporters stayed at Galenzoga's headquarters in Poblacion Zone 23 to pass the night.
At around 10 pm, on Sunday, June 30, police and military forces raided Galenzoga's headquarters and tried to arrest the candidate. When the forces failed to show a warrant of arrest, Galenzoga escaped from her house undetected. Authorities, however, picked up her supporters.
The supporters were asked to board military trucks and were brought to different detention centers. Reports said that men and women were separated.
Some of her known supporters were also picked up from their homes hours after the rally. Some supporters said they were battered badly, while others said that they were forcibly taken regardless of gender and basic human rights.
The women were later surrendered to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) office of Baybay. The men, on the other hand, have not been released as of posting time.
Galenzoga's whereabouts have not yet been determined but sources from her camp said she is most likely to resurface within the week once her security is no longer at risk.
Heated mayoral race
Local sources said the dispersal and arrest of rallyists clearly had the imprimatur of Mayor Cari.
During the campaign, Galenzoga, 38, survived an assassination attempt. Two men tried to kill her while she was monitoring the final testing and sealing of the precinct count optical scan machines.
A day after, Mayor Cari, 83, of the Liberal Party denied the allegations that her family was involved in the failed assassination attempt. She said, however, that she would only consider killing a rival if the rival was "winnable." (Read: 'We may kill her if she were winnable')
For several years, Mayor Cari's two sons and her siblings and other close relatives have been swapping positions both at the provincial and city levels. Their clout has spread to other municipalities of Leyte.
Failure of elections?
In a press conference held at Galenzoga’s residence on June 1, the challenger’s camp presented several pieces of evidence that the Caris engaged in massive vote-buying, connivance with some election officers for cheating, harassment of the local media, and other poll-related violations. They said these were enough bases to declare a failure of election in Baybay City.
Three days after the elections, Galenzoga’s legal counsel lodged a formal complaint with the central office of the Commission on Elections (Comelec). It's still being reviewed by the poll body.
Among the biggest offense that they attribute to Cari is the unlikely composition of the city board of canvassers (CBOC), alleged to be self-serving for the current administration.
According to COMELEC Resolution 9648, the CBOC shall be composed of the city election officer or a lawyer of the Commission as chairman, the city prosecutor as vice chairman, and the schools division superintendent as member.
However, Susan Collamar, who was appointed as chairman of the CBOC, was not a lawyer as required by law.
Also, the vice chairman, Noel Managbanag, was not a city prosecutor but a local civil registrar. Loreta Malabanan, who served as CBOC member, was not a division superintendent but a social welfare officer.
In an interview with Cebu Freeman published on June 26, Baybay Comelec chairman Susan Collamar denied the allegations of fraud and cheating.
She insisted that the conduct of elections was generally peaceful because no untoward incident was recorded in the local police station and that the 109 precincts functioned very well.
Rappler's calls to the Baybay City police and DSWD division went unanswered. In both offices, a recorded phone response said, "The number you dialed declined to take your call." Rappler reached Mayor Cari through her assistant, and was told to wait for a return call. They have not called as of posting time. – With reports from Rissa Oballo/ Rappler.com