DILG removes Maasim mayor

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/12 March) – The Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) removed from office on Monday the sitting mayor of Maasim town in Sarangani province as it implemented a Supreme Court ruling nullifying the latter’s proclamation due to the erroneous canvassing of votes in the area in the May 2010 elections.

Acting on a directive issued by DILG Secretary Jesse Robredo, DILG-Sarangani director Flor Limpin Jr. ordered Maasim Mayor Jose Zamorro to immediately vacate his post as well as “cease and desist”
from performing his duties and functions as mayor.

Limpin, who was accompanied by provincial Commission on Elections (Comelec) and police officials, handed over the DILG Secretary’s directive to Zamorro following the municipal government’s regular
flag-raising ceremony at around 8:30 am.

He immediately installed Maasim Vice Mayor Uttoh Salem Cutan as the town’s acting mayor and Councilor Romeo Villacura as acting vice mayor based on the “rules on succession” as provided for under Republic Act 7160 or the Local Government Code of 1991.

“Effective today, Cutan is (officially) the acting mayor of Maasim,” he told reporters after Cutan’s installation.

Limpin said his office will issue another order recognizing the signatures of Cutan in connection with various transactions involving the Office of the Mayor of Maasim.

The implementation of the DILG directive came amid protests at the municipal government grounds staged by around 300 supporters of Zamorro, who refused to heed his removal from office claiming his camp has not yet received the official copy of such document.

Zamorro told reporters that he will continue with his duties as Maasim mayor until the Comelec reconvenes the municipal board of canvassers, corrects the canvassing errors and proclaim the winning mayor.

“I’m willing to vacate the office of the mayor but it should be done in the right and lawful manner,” he said.

In a resolution issued on October 4 last year, the Supreme Court en banc “denied with finality” Zamorro’s appeal over a ruling issued in May by the Comelec en banc, which nullified his proclamation as Maasim mayor due to acknowledged errors in the results of the May 10, 2010 elections in the area.

The court issued another resolution on November 15, 2011 ruling to “note without action” the strong opposition filed by the Zamorro camp to the October decision.

The Maasim municipal board of canvassers (MBOC) proclaimed Zamorro, who was an independent candidate, as the winning mayor of Maasim after receiving 5,321 votes, edging his closest rival, then outgoing provincial board member Arturo Lawa, who got 5,306 votes.

But Comelec records showed that the MBOC failed to properly count the votes cast in clustered precinct number 21 of Barangay Kablakan in Maasim after the assigned precinct count optical scan or PCOS machine in the area transmitted the wrong results to the election server.

Local coordinators of automation firm Smartmatic-TIM, which was contracted by the Comelec to assist in the conduct of the computerized elections, noted that the MBOC erroneously canvassed the nine votes cast during the mock elections or the testing and sealing of the deployed PCOS machine and not the actual votes cast during the May 10 automated elections.

In the certified election returns from the precinct, Lawa received 136 votes while Zamorro only had 62 votes.

Jose Alvin Quinanola, acting Sarangani election supervisor, told reporters that they have already submitted a memorandum to the Comelec central office recommending approval for the immediate convening of a special MBOC that would handle the re-canvassing of votes and the proclamation of Lawa as Maasim’s winning mayor.

“We’re still waiting for the response from the Comelec en banc on the matter,” he said.

But the official advised Zamorro to comply with the DILG ruling, which he described as “final and executory.”

Meantime, acting Mayor Cutan said he will immediately call for separate meetings with the municipal government’s department heads to “set the town’s affairs in order.”

“I’m also calling on Mr. Zamorro to respect the law and allow our municipality to move on from this,” he said.

Cutan said they “will allow for now” the protests staged by Zamorro’s supporters but he vowed to implement the “full force of the law” should they resort to actions that would hamper the local government’s operations.

Limpin said it is now up to Cutan to decide on appropriate actions regarding the protests and Zamorro’s refusal to vacate the mayor’s office.

“He has the power and authority to decide and act on these matters based on his duties as acting mayor that includes the maintenance of peace and order here,” he said.

Maasim is known for its world-class scuba diving spot, a site near the proposed $450 million coal fired power plant project of the Alcantara group.

Before he ran in the mayoralty race, Lawa had voiced support to the construction of the coal power plant, noting that it will help boost the competitiveness of the Maasim, Kiamba, Maitum – Industrial Triangle (Makima IT).

With a power plant in place, other industries are expected to come in that would generate employment to the local people, he said then.

Last November, Tomas I. Alcantara, chairman and president of Alsons Consolidated Resources (ACR), led the groundbreaking rites for the coal plant project in Barangay Kamanga.

Sarangani Energy Corp., an Alcantara subsidiary, is pursuing the coal plant project, which was already given an environmental compliance certificate by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

The project, which the proponent said would ensure stable power supply in Region 12, is being strongly opposed by the local Catholic Church and other groups on concerns over the environment and human health. (Allen V. Estabillo with reports from Bong Sarmiento/MindaNews)