MANILA, Philippines – A body of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) disqualified Albay Governor Noel Rosal from the 2022 provincial race he had already won for violating an election code provision on the public spending ban.
The Comelec’s 1st Division granted the petition of defeated Legazpi City council candidate Joseph Armogila, who asked for the disqualification of Rosal for approving, in his capacity as Legazpi City mayor, cash assistance for tricycle drivers and senior citizens in March and April.
In its ruling, the poll body said Rosal committed an election offense under Section 261 (v) of the Omnibus Election Code, when he disbursed public funds within 45 days before a regular election.
“Undoubtedly, the payout of cash assistance to the tricycle drivers and senior citizens [is a] social welfare and development activity that is covered by this prohibition,” states the ruling, signed by commissioners Socorro Inting and Aimee Ferolino, on Monday, September 19.
“The commission (1st Division) cannot assent to the respondent’s assertion that the cash assistance is exempted from the prohibition since the activity is just a continuation of what has already been started since 2021. Nowhere in the law does it state that the continuing social welfare and development project is excluded from the prohibition nor exempted thereof.”
Rosal urged his constituents to stay calm, saying he would continue in his post and file a motion for reconsideration. The governor said he has until September 24 to file his motion.
“I will continue to function as your governor until the court orders with finality…to vacate the position. Please, stay calm. Thank you all for your support,” Rosal said.
Comelec spokesman Rex Laudiangco earlier said, “Until a certificate of finality is issued, together with the writ of execution and an entry of judgment is made, the matter has yet to become final and executory.”
The Comelec agreed with Rosal that the violation is not considered vote-buying, which was alleged by the petitioner.
“The attached printed copy of the text messages sent to the recipients is purely invites to the tricycle drivers and schedule of the activity. The message of thanks for the support in the text message cannot be considered as to influence or induce the recipients to vote for respondent nor his wife,” the 1st Division said. Rosal’s wife Carmen Geraldine succeeded her husband as Legazpi City mayor.
Rosal unseated incumbent governor Al Francis Bichara in the 2022 elections, with a margin of over 200,000 votes. – with a report from Rhaydz Barcia/Rappler.com