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No plebiscite in Cabanatuan on Jan. 4

By Mikhail Flores, VERA Files

Cabanatuan City would have to wait until after the May 13 elections to get residents to vote on a proposal to turn it from a component city of Nueva Ecija province into a highly urbanized city (HUC).

The Commission on Elections on Tuesday again denied the city’s motion for reconsideration to schedule the plebiscite on Jan. 4.

Earlier, it postponed the plebiscite in Cabanatuan City from Dec. 1 to a date after the May 2013 elections—as it did with all other scheduled plebiscites—to focus on the midterm elections.

Comelec Chairman Sixto Brilliantes Jr. also said the city’s second motion is a “prohibited pleading,” just like the first one it filed in late November.

The poll body’s order postponing the Dec. 1 plebiscite was an en banc decision that is not subject to a motion for reconsideration.

“You go up to the Supreme Court," said Brillantes.

In its en banc decision, contained in Resolution 9563  dated Nov. 27, the Comelec said it is “now in the thick of preparations” for the May 2013 elections.

The poll body also cited a petition filed by Nueva Ecija Gov. Aurelio Umali before the Supreme Court seeking to block the plebiscite.

Umali has said the entire province should participate in the plebiscite.  He also cited a temporary restraining order a Palayan regional trial court has issued on the holding of the plebiscite as well as the death of broadcast journalist Julius Caesar Cauzo among the reasons.

Cabanatuan first attempted to become an HUC in 1998 but failed to gather enough votes in a plebiscite.

Under the Local Government Code of 1991, an HUC must have a minimum population of 200,000 and an annual income of at least P50 million.

Registered voters of an HUC no longer elect officials of the provincial government, or the governor, vice governor and provincial board members.  The provincial government, in turn, has no administrative supervision over the city and its elected officials.

The Cabanatuan City government on Nov. 28 filed with the Comelec a motion for reconsideration, saying the Supreme Court has not acted on Umali’s petition and is now on judicial recess. It also said Cauzo’s death was an isolated incident.

The city government also argued that the Palayan court is “inferior” to the Comelec, , a constitutional body, in terms of jurisdiction.

In its second motion for reconsideration, city officials quoted Comelec Deputy Executive Director for Operations Bartolome Sinocruz as saying there was enough time to hold the plebiscite.

City Mayor Jay Vergara also led about 300 residents of Cabanatuan in a rally held in front of the Comelec Main Office to protest what they described as the poll body’s act of denying residents their right to suffrage.

The Cabanatuan City Council first passed a resolution in June 2011 requesting President Benigno Aquino III to declare the city’s conversion.  Aquino issued a proclamation more than a year later, which called for the conduct of a plebiscite.

Umali opposed the proposed conversion, declaring that the plebiscite should cover the whole of Nueva Ecija.

Comelec, however, ruled against Umali and decided that only registered voters of Cabanatuan are covered by the plebiscite.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")

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