"The poll body can still take advantage of whatever time is left."
Will the Commission on Elections end up deciding the outcome of Dapitan City’s mayoralty contest “by omission”?
This appears to be the current speculation among the historic city’s political observers as the electoral body is perceived to be dragging its feet on a crucial petition filed by one of the aspirants for the hotly-contested seat.
We had previously shared with our readers an ongoing guessing game among political pundits as to how the Comelec will resolve the petition of former Dipolog City Mayor Evelyn Uy. In that petition, Uy—who has mounted a serious challenge against incumbent Dapitan City Mayor Nene Jalosjos-Johnson—asked the Comelec to uphold the decision of the Regional Trial Court which ruled that she meets residency requirements to be a registered voter of Dapitan City and can therefore pursue her bid.
Uy brought the matter up to the court following a move by the Dapitan City Election Registration Board (ERB) to declare her ineligible for inclusion in the list of voters. The board said Uy did not have the necessary proof that she intends to reside in Dapitan City since she had no property nor business registered in her name in that place.
The court overturned the ERB resolution and even called attention to what the court felt was “political harassment” against Uy. The court also noted that the board appeared to have “gone out of its way” to look for anything it can use to prove that Uy had failed to meet the residency requirements. The court also reminded the board that owning a property is not a requirement to establish residency in a locality where one intends to be registered as a voter.
We echoed the views that the Comelec may end up giving the powerful Jalosjos political clan a major threat to its tenuous hold on what many say is its last political stronghold. This would happen if the Comelec finally rules that Uy has met the questioned residency requirements.
On the other hand, the Comelec may also end up deciding for itself who the mayor of Dapitan City will be—by turning its back on the Regional Trial Court ruling and disqualifying Uy from the race. That would mean a walk in the park for Jalosjos-Johnson. Sans a serious rival, it would be like Comelec serving the Dapitan City Hall on a silver platter to the powerful clan, observers say.
Now, it looks like the Comelec may have found a way out of this dilemma.
Talk is rife that the Comelec may opt to just “shelve” the issue, make it languish in some department within the Comelec, or have it “studied thoroughly” by a legal staff—until after the May 13 polls.
It may even rule that Uy is qualified to run after all—except that by the time a ruling of that sort comes out, “tapos na ang boksing,” as the saying goes.
This may be the safest option for the Comelec at this point. It cannot be faulted for “taking the necessary steps” as it reviews the petition of Uy. It can always argue that the process takes time and unfortunately there was not enough time to rule on it before election day.
This perception among Dapitan City voters and observers cannot be helped. The May 13 polls is just a few days away. Without the Comelec’s decision on Uy’s petition, the challenger is unable to campaign and the incumbent is able to go around telling everyone that it is all over but the shouting.
This has been the worry among observers: that the Comelec may end up being perceived as having deprived the voters of Dapitan City a chance to exercise their power of choice. This is unfair, not just to Uy but to the Jalosjoses themselves. True, most politicians might prefer to run unopposed. However, the absence of a serious opponent may also deprive them of the chance to test the confidence of their constituents in their leadership.
That is what elections are all about—getting a mandate from the governed.
Without an opponent, the mandate would not be clear. This is why some candidates at the local level who are running unopposed are still moving heaven and earth to get voters to go out and cast their votes for them come election day. They want that clear mandate from those they will lead for the next three years.
Our view is that the public must not be too hasty in judging the Comelec.
The body must be given the benefit of the doubt. We must presume that the Comelec has the best interest of the voters in mind.
Perhaps, the Comelec en banc should take a look at the Uy petition. The en banc may not be aware that some subalterns, for whatever reason, may be taking their sweet time. The apparent foot-dragging just might bring about the consequence political observers have feared all along—that the Comelec may be suspected of having given the mayoralty seat back to the incumbent without the benefit of a well-fought election and simply by “failing” to act on the Uy petition.
This will be tragic for Dapitan City. It will also be unfortunate on the part of the Comelec. This could be an instance where a failure to act with dispatch on an important matter may have far-reaching effects on the political landscape of that historic city and on the lives of its residents.
Still, the public must be fair to the Comelec. Even if time is short, there is still time. The Comelec can still take advantage of whatever time is left.