Comelec eyes options to fund Puerto Princesa recall

MANILA, Philippines – A month after it announced it didn't have funds to process a petition to recall the mayor of Puerto Princesa City in Palawan, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) said it is considering two options to fund the initiative this year.

If Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr would have his way, however, he would prefer to attend to the petition and set an election in 2015 instead.

A recall petition against first-time Mayor Lucilo Bayron was filed in March, citing "loss of trust and confidence" after a series of alleged deterioration in the peace and order situation of the city, its tourism performance, among other governance issues.

The petition was initiated by Al Roben Goh, the city information officer of former Mayor Edward Hagedorn. As of March 24, according to a memorandum by the Comelec Office of the Deputy Executive Director (ODEDO), the petition had gathered 35,000 signatures, or 28% of the registered voters.

The minimum required in a recall petition is 15% of the registered voters. In the case of Puerto Princesa, it would be equivalent to 19,000. As of posting, 40,400 signatures have been gathered, representing double the minimum required.

The ODEDO, in its memorandum to the Comelec en banc on March 24, certified the sufficiency of the recall petition. 

The en banc issued Resolution No. 9864 on April 1 "to affirm the recommendation of the ODEDO as to the sufficiency of the recall petition."

However, in the same resolution, it also cited the lack of funds for the process, and suspended "any proceeding in furtherance thereof, including the verification process" until the funding issue is resolved.

This means they cannot proceed with the next steps, which is the verification of the signatures and the holding of the recall election.

DBM, Congress can step in

Section 75 of the Local Government Code states that all expenses incidental to recall elections shall be shouldered by Comelec.

In a phone interview with Rappler, Brillantes said the poll body has savings, but these have been obligated for other purposes.

He said the poll body could either ask the Department of Budget of Management (DBM) for clearance to realign their savings or request for a supplemental budget from Congress for the recall election.

Comelec's finance services department reported to the Comelec en banc that for fiscal years 2013 and 2014, "there is no provision made by the DBM for any expenses for recall elections."

It also said that for fiscal year 2014, only regular expenses like employees' salaries and operational expenses were provided in Comelec's budget.

Brillantes said that Comelec is thinking of postponing to 2015 all recall elections, not just Puerto Princesa's. They would like to take note of the expenses for these first, so they could include it in their 2015 budget proposal, he said.

'Petitions might proliferate'

In addition, the chairman said that Comelec has a lot of things on its hands now.

"Besides preparations for the 2016 elections, we have the Bangsamoro plebiscite and the resumption of Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) polls, which were postponed last year. The recall election is disrupting our preparations," Brillantes said.

"I'm also worried that recall petitions might proliferate," Brillantes told Rappler.

 At least one other recall petition has made headlines – the one against the governor of Bulacan province. 

The mayoralty contest in Puerto Princesa City in May 2013 was between Bayron, the long time vice mayor to Hagedorn, and Hagedorn's wife Ma. Elena. (Bayron is married to Elena's sister.)

Bayron, a fraternity brother of Vice President Jejomar Binay, ran under the United Nationalist Alliance, and got 44,045 votes. Elena Hagedorn, who ran under the Nationalist People's Coalition, got 35,160 votes. 

If the petition succeeds, this will be the second recall election against a mayor in Puerto Princesa's history. – Rappler.com

Michael Bueza

Michael is a data curator under Rappler's Tech Team. He works on data about elections, governance, and the budget. He also follows the Philippine pro wrestling scene and the WWE. Michael is also part of the Laffler Talk podcast trio.

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