By Vanessa L. Admeda, VERA Files
SURIGAO CITY –The election campaign kicked off Monday with the opposition rallying the support of two big local churches in the crusade for a clean and fraud-free automated election.
Former mayor Alfonso S. Casurra, who is one of three candidates for mayor, along with vice mayoral candidate Jose Expeditus Bayana and 10 candidates for the local council officially started the local campaign period with an early morning mass at the Virgen dela Paz Y Buen Viaje Parish, followed by meetings with Surigao Diocese Bishop Antonieto Cabajog and Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) Surigao diocese Bishop Rhee Timbang.
Casurra’s group calls itself the Koalisyon nan mga Oposisyon sa Surigao (Kosug or Strength) Coalition of the Opposition in Surigao and asked for the Churches’ help in ensuring that this year’s automated election will be clean and freed from fraud.
Casurra told the bishop about reports they have received of plans by certain sectors to rig election results by hacking the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines during the transmission of ballots for both local and national candidates.
The bishop was also told about allegations that one of the board of inspectors (BEI) in a barangay is related to an elected official.
Bishop Cabajog for his part expressed support to the group’s mission and suggested the revival of PEACE (People’s Alliance for Peaceful Election) Surigao that was active in the 2010 elections.
PEACE Surigao was an initiative of the local churches including the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) and the Surigao Muslim community that called for clean and honest elections during the May 2010 national polls.
Meantime, Timbang said the IFI church will be fielding volunteers in the upcoming elections and is presently organizing its youth group for that purpose.
“We have been doing this to watch and monitor the exercise and ensure that elections are conducted cleanly,” the prelate said.
At 1:30 in the afternoon, Casurra led Kosug’s proclamation rally of its city candidates at the Surigao City Auditorium.
Casura has criticized the present city administration for its ‘crisis of leadership’ and for creating an atmosphere of ‘martial law.’
He said political consultant Balgamelo “Baby” C. Ma has been meddling with the city affairs has gone as far as influencing and overturning decisions made by incumbent City Mayor Ernesto T. Matugas.
In earlier interviews Matugas has repeatedly denied the allegations saying critics are merely politicking. He also added if ever Ma issued decisions on his behalf, these were done with his blessings. He said he has issued a memorandum that every time he is out of the city, Ma is authorized to act on his behalf.
Ma has also denied allegations in past radio interviews.
The Surigao City government website has listed Ma as “executive assistant III “ and officer-in-charge of the Quick Action Response Team (QART).
His son Balgamelo Jr. is running for councilor in the May polls.
Casurra meanwhile pointed out the present administration is also haunted by criticisms of running the government as if on “martial law” powers referring to the alleged sacking of job order workers at the city hall who were ‘identified’ as “pro-Casurra”.
Of Surigao diocese’s almost half a million population, 77 percent are Catholics. The diocese covers the entire Surigao del Norte province.
(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”)