Delay in Cabanatuan HUC plebiscite blamed on Nueva Ecija governor

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This refers to the news item “Polls for higher Cabanatuan City status postponed” (Inquirer, 11/29/12).

Indeed, through legal machinations, Nueva Ecija Gov. Aurelio Umali has succeeded in blocking, nay, delaying, the implementation of the measure that will convert Cabanatuan City into a highly urbanized city (HUC) and make it more progressive.

Cabanatuan is a 62-year-old component city of Nueva Ecija. With a total population of 259,267 in 2007 and an annual income of P734.73 million in 2010, the city is more than qualified to be an HUC. Governor Umali, however, strongly opposes the move to convert Cabanatuan into an HUC, saying that the city is not yet ready to stand on its own and that the city government still needs the support of the provincial government.

On July 4, 2012, President Aquino proclaimed Cabanatuan an HUC, stating that “it is the declared policy of the government to support local government’s initiative to attain their fullest development and make them effective partners in the attainment of national goals.” The proclamation, which shall take effect only upon its ratification in a plebiscite by qualified voters, was favorably endorsed by noted political figures like Vice President Jojo Binay, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Senators Chiz Escudero, Antonio Trillanes and Bong Revilla, Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, and former Sen. Nene Pimentel.

Pursuant to the proclamation, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) scheduled the required plebiscite on Dec. 1 this year. But due to, among other reasons, a temporary restraining order (TRO) issued by a regional trial court and a petition for “Certiorari and Prohibition” filed in the Supreme Court by HUC opposers led by Governor Umali, the plebiscite was postponed and reset to an unspecified date after next year’s May 13 elections. The postponement was promulgated on Nov. 27, or four days before the scheduled plebiscite.

The abrupt postponement of the Dec. 1, 2012, plebiscite by the Comelec was denounced and repudiated by a dismayed city official, saying that the city government had already prepared and spent for the political exercise. President Aquino, on his part, had declared Dec. 1, 2012, as a nonworking holiday for Cabanatuan City to allow its registered voters to actively participate in the plebiscite. The President had also deputized law enforcement agencies to ensure the peaceful and honest conduct of the referendum. In fine, the city’s and national government’s efforts and expenses in the preparation for and for the holding of the plebiscite went to waste.

The postponement was pure and simple a travesty of justice for Cabanatuan City and it drew the ire of its citizenry, Cabanatuan City Mayor Jay Vergara said. Vergara expressed hope that this would not happen to other qualified local government units similarly aspiring to become an HUC in order to be more progressive.

Let not the tyranny of power hold sway again.—GERTRUDEZ M. DULLE, former punong barangay, MS Garcia, Cabanatuan City

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