MANILA, Philippines – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will start preparing for the conduct of recall elections in Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, as it affirmed the validity of 22,326 signatures in the petition to recall Mayor Lucilo Bayron.
"Substantively, the recall election is a go. There are just some steps to follow before it could proceed," said Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez in a phone interview on Tuesday, March 31.
In a decision promulgated on Monday, the Comelec en banc dismissed an appeal filed by Mayor Bayron, who assailed the verification of the recall petition against him.
The poll body also directed the election officer (EO) of Puerto Princesa City to issue, within 24 hours from receipt of the decision, a certification that the 22,326 signatures and thumbmarks found valid by the en banc satisfies the required minimum number of petitioners for purposes of conducting recall elections.
It then ordered its deputy executive director for operations to prepare the calendar of activities for the recall elections.
The Comelec en banc ruled that the verification proceedings conducted by the Comelec office in Puerto Princesa City complied with Comelec Resolution 7505, which sets the rules and regulations for the recall of local elective officials.
The poll body said that the verification of signatures and thumbmarks was completed within the 9-day period provided in the said resolution, contrary to Bayron's claim.
It stressed that the grounds invoked by the mayor are, at the most, "mere procedural irregularities that do not constitute grounds for the dismissal of the recall petition."
In addition, the Comelec said that Bayron cannot raise new matters on appeal.
Results of the verification of Comelec-Puerto Princesa showed that out of the 32,418 signatures in the petition, a total of 10,092 were invalidated. Among them, 6,679 signatures were of non-registered voters, while 3,203 were multiple entries.
But Bayron claimed that there were 7,011 signatories who are not registered voters, while 7,280 appeared more than once in the petition.
The Comelec concluded that Bayron "was not really assailing the correctness of the [Puerto Princesa EO's] findings, but rather alleging new objections, which have not been duly raised during the verification proceedings, inasmuch as the total number of objected signatures will increase."
It also said that Bayron failed to prove that the Comelec-Puerto Princesa election officer erred in finding that 12,322 signatures were not forged or falsified, that 277 thumbmarks identified as blurred or smudged were valid, and that the signatures of deactivated voters were valid.
With Bayron providing "convoluted evidence," the Comelec said that it "cannot properly rule on the newly-raised objections, as respondent-appellant failed to properly present his case."
Comelec to probe invalid signatures
Meanwhile, the Comelec expressed concern about the substantial number of invalidated signatures, saying that it is "disturbing and worrisome" that these have been presented to support the recall petition.
"The organizers of the recall initiative are expected to be well aware of the requirements on who should sign the recall petition and are therefore, likewise, expected to ensure that only said signatures must be included in the petition," the en banc said.
The poll body added that it will look into the matter to find out if there is a "deliberate attempt to present invalid signatures in support of the petition."
The recall petition was initiated by former city information officer Al Roben Goh in March 2014, due to loss of trust and confidence in Mayor Bayron. – Rappler.com