Puerto Princesa recall polls: Voters decide city's fate
PUERTO PRINCESA, Philippines – For the second time in the history of Puerto Princesa, voters are set to choose a new mayor through the recall elections, and their decision will spell the fate of Palawan's capital city.
The elections on Friday, May 8, will see a tight race between two former allies: incumbent Mayor Lucilo Bayron and former Puerto Princesa Mayor Edward Hagedorn.
For Hagedorn, his rival's win would be bad news for Puerto Princesa's famed environmental resources.
For Bayron, a Hagedorn victory would mean the city's return to the "old ways" of incurring debts and neglecting basic services.
The recall polls was the result of a successful petition initiated by Hagedorn's supporters, citing the alleged "loss of trust and confidence" in Bayron's leadership.
Some voters consider Friday's polls a tight race between the two seasoned politicians, who are relatives by marriage and were once close allies.
But if a survey commissioned by Bayron's camp is to be believed, the incumbent mayor is leading the race.
"Based on our most recent internal survey, it's 60-40 in favor of Bayron," said Bayron's press representative Rod Saucelo.
Asked if the mayor was confident of a win, Saucelo replied: "We're confident."
In an interview with Rappler, Hagedorn admitted he was not so sure about a victory, saying the propaganda against him could undermine his chances.
The former mayor faces a plunder complaint filed by Saucelo and two others. Meanwhile, Bayron has been accused by the Hagedorn camp of buying votes and attempting to disrupt the polls.
What's at stake
For Hagedorn, his political rival's continued rule in Puerto Princesa would endanger the city's famed environmental resources – the backbone of its tourism industry and a major income driver.
"There's a threat of illegal mining, logging…the environment is at stake," said the former mayor, who earned awards and recognition for his environmental advocacies.
He also said that he was forced to step in and file his candidacy for mayor to protect his name and reputation.
"I was getting ready to retire from politics," Hagedorn said. "But not long after Bayron became mayor, his government started accusing me of corruption during my term."
"I was surprised because Bayron was my vice mayor, and the projects of the city were approved by the council [presided by the vice mayor]," he added. "I don't back down when it's my name and reputation at stake."
But Saucelo warned that a Hagedorn victory would deprive Puerto Princesa residents of quality service that they should expect from the city government.
"In the last 20 years, what has Hagedorn got to show for it? Bayron inherited a P633 million debt from him, but we cut it down to around P400 million from July to December of 2013," Saucelo said.
As proof, he pointed to the 2014 Seal of Good Governance for Good Financial Housekeeping awarded by the interior department to the local government under Bayron's leadership.
"If Hagedorn wins, balik sa dati. He has nothing more to offer," Saucelo added.
On the streets of Puerto Princesa, the two candidates' posters and banners adorn the front gates of houses. Tricycles have color-coded flags – red for Hagedorn, yellow for Bayron. Supporters wear t-shirts with the candidates' names and slogans printed on them.
The atmosphere, according to poll monitoring group LENTE, has become "tense and confusing," a situation only worsened by the open accusations of vote buying and unethical election practices allegedly committed by the two rivals.
Saucelo claimed that the tricycle drivers were paid P500 to bear Hagedorn's colors. Meanwhile, Hagedorn's camp presented two witnesses to the vote buying scheme allegedly initiated by Bayron's group.
In an interview over radio DYEC, one of the women recounted how she and her neighbors had been directed to go to a particular house in their barangay around 10 pm on Tuesday, 3 days before the polls.
Inside, she and her neighbors were told to affix their thumb marks on the election day computerized voters' list (EDCVL).
They were then given P500 and assured of an extra P1,500 if they showed up again the next day to have their fingernails stained with indelible ink.
These allegations and reports have reached the local Commission on Elections (Comelec), but spokesperson Jomel Ordas said the commission would need a complainant to come forward with credible evidence.
He also gave assurances that the commission is taking the conduct of the elections seriously, with security measures already discussed with the police and the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
The recall elections will begin at 7 am in the city's 53 polling centers. Voting ends at 3 pm. – Rappler.com