Comelec disqualifies Albay governor for violating spending ban

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 19 2022 05:43 PM | Updated as of Sep 20 2022 12:17 PM

Photo from Albay governor Noel Rosal's Facebook page
Photo from Albay governor Noel Rosal's Facebook page

MANILA (UPDATE) — The Commission on Elections disqualified Albay Governor Noel Rosal from the May 2022 polls for violating a provision of the Omnibus Election Code on the disbursement of public funds. 

Section 261 of the election code prohibits the release of public funds during the 45-day period before election day.

The ruling that disqualified Rosal stemmed from the "payout" of cash assistance by the local government to the tricycle drivers and senior citizens while he was then mayor of Legazpi, Albay.

In a resolution promulgated on Sept. 19, the Comelec First Division granted the petition of losing candidate for councilor Joseph San Juan Armogila to disqualify Rosal from the gubernatorial race that he had already won. 

“Undoubtedly, the pay-out of cash assistance to the tricycle drivers and senior citizens are social welfare and development activity that is covered by the prohibition,” the First Division’s resolution read.

It also rejected Rosal’s argument that the cash assistance is exempted from the prohibition since the activity is just a continuation of what has already been started since 2021. 

The division pointed out that the exemption from the prohibition applies only to ongoing public works that started before the campaign period or similar projects under foreign agreements.

“Nowhere in the law does it state that a continuing social welfare and development project is excluded from the prohibition nor exempted thereof. As expressly stated above, the exemption from the prohibition applies only to ongoing public works commenced before the campaign period or similar projects under foreign agreements,” the resolution said.

“All told, the conducted pay-out of cash assistance to the tricycle drivers and senior citizen within the forty-five (45) day ban is not an exempted activity and was not given an exemption by the Commission, hence, Respondent violated Section 261 (v) of the OEC,” it added.

The Resolution was signed by presiding commissioner Soccoro Inting, who issued a separate concurring opinion, and Commission Aimee Ferolino.

NOT YET FINAL AND EXECUTORY

Comelec spokesperson John Rex Laudiangco told reporters Rosal could still stay as governor until a final ruling of the poll body, as the First Division ruling "may be final but it has yet to attain status of being final and executory."

Laudiangco added that Rosal could file a motion for reconsideration with the Comelec en banc, "after which, the matter has the potential of being elevated to the Supreme Court."

"Until a certificate of finality is issued, together with the writ of execution and an an entry of judgement is made, the matter has yet to become final and executory," he said.

Rosal also said he would "continue to function as your governor" until the court orders him with finality to vacate his post. 

"Stay calm," he told constituents in a Facebook post. 

'WARNING TO EVERYONE'

In an ANC interview on Tuesday, Comelec chairman George Garcia warned candidates the poll body would take election offenses seriously.

"We do not want to say we are setting an example... but what we are saying is wala pong privileged individuals, walang individuals that we can't touch simply because they are so high, simply because they are so powerful," he told "Headstart".

Garcia said the country's laws should be made applicable to everyone and that personalities involved are "inconsequential".

"That's why this is a warning to everyone. This is what we have been consistently saying. This is what we’re trying to prove," he said.

"That in the final analysis the long arm of the law will catch on you, you'll either be disqualified or at the same time, you can be charged with an election offense punishable by 3 to 6 years imprisonment," he added.

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