LOCAL RACES: Issues and dynamics in provinces, towns, and cities

Dec. 1 poll: Cabanatuan as HUC impacts on gov race

Reynaldo Santos Jr
Posted on 10/30/2012 4:17 PM  | Updated 03/26/2013 5:52 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Residents of Cabanatuan City in Nueva Ecija will go to the polls on December 1 to vote on the conversion of their locality from a component to a highly urbanized city, the second time such a plebiscite will be conducted since 14 years ago.

If the yes vote wins, the city's 216,480 voters won't be casting their votes anymore for candidates in provincial positions, as provided in the Local Government Code.

This will take a large chunk off the voters' population--about half of it--in the province's 3rd district, the power base of re-electionist Gov. Aurelio Umali, who has been opposing the conversion.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) has promulgated Resolution 9550, which sets the date and guidelines for the plebiscite.

Cabanatuan, the biggest city in Nueva Ecija in terms of population, has been a component city of the province since 1950. According to the Code, a city can be given an HUC status if it has a population of at least 200,000 as certified by the National Statistics Office, and an income of at least P50 million based on 1991 constant prices. The city council will then have to submit a request to the President to declare their city an HUC.

In 1998, President Fidel Ramos issued a proclamation to make Cabanatuan an HUC, but the voters rejected it. Under President Benigno Aquino III, the city under Mayor Julius Cesar Vergara favors the conversion of Cabanatuan into an HUC, but Governor Umali is opposing it, saying the voters of the entire province should be consulted on the matter, something that the Code doesn't require.

Aquino issued Presidential Proclamation 418 in July this year. City officials say that Cabanatuan City has a population of 259,267, based on the 2007 census, and has an annual regular income of P235 million at 1991 constant prices.

Vergara, who has been pushing his city's conversion, is a classmate and party mate of President Aquino. Umali, on the other hand, is a former Lakas regional leader who only recently joined the ruling Liberal Party.

Cabanatuan accounts for about half of the voters' population of the 3rd district, where Umali was congressman from 2001 to 2007, and where his wife Czarina Umali is the incumbent. If Cabanatuan voters won't participate in the gubernatorial election, it will take away a considerable portion of Governor Umali's base as he runs for re-election. He is being challenged by 1st district Rep Josie Manuel-Joson, who is said to be close to President Aquino, having been the latter's seat mate at the House of Representatives plenary hall.

Comelec stated in the resolution that an information campaign shall be conducted from November 10 to 29 to inform and educate the residents about the plebescite. If Cabanatuan is converted, it will be the 34th HUC in the Philippines. -