Surigao opposition party hits campaign trail

SURIGAO CITY (MindaNews/2 April)—Candidates of local opposition party Koalisyon nan mga Oposisyon sa Surigao (Kosug) hit the campaign trail Monday with a proclamation rally attended by an estimated 4,000 supporters.

Former city mayor Alfonso Casurra kicked off the proclamation rally with a march that passed through the city’s famous seaside Boulevard, seen joined by vendors, urban poor settlers, fishermen, farmers, traders, youth and several members of the Muslim community.

Casurra is vying for the mayoral post against incumbent Mayor Ernesto Matugas, stalwart of the local administration party Padajon Surigao.

Matugas’ party was scheduled to start their proclamation rally at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Kosug’s five-hour proclamation rally, which started at 1:30 pm. Monday at the dilapidated gymnasium here, had a festive mood—with supporters dancing and chanting—that also saw opposition bets taking snide remarks at their rivals.

The opposition party bets particularly called for clean and honest elections, citing the alleged cheating in the May 2010 elections that failed to bring back the brothers Robert Ace and Robert Lyndon Barbers, both former governors of the province, into power.

“We cannot allow this to happen again so we urge you to help us in ensuring that somebody out there (at polling precincts) can monitor everything that is happening on the ground,” said Casurra.

The Barbers camp had filed a petition at the Commission on Election (Comelec) on the alleged rigging by the Matugases of the 2010 election results.

The Comelec ruled on the petition last year in favor of the Matugases, but Ace had claimed that “it was not a clear victory.”

Casurra said the Barbers family did not pursue the case owing to the expensive cost of opening all the ballot boxes, which was estimated to cost P25,000 per box.

Earlier on Monday, Casurra and his party mates met with the leaders of the Roman Catholic and the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI) churches to rally support for a clean and fraud-free automated election in the area.

The opposition bets also attended mass at the Vigen de Buen e Viaje parish in Bilang-Bilang at 5:30 a.m. Monday in this city, known as “The City of Island Adventures.”

IFI Bishop Rhee Timbang backed the calls of the opposition party for clean and honest elections.

He said the IFI church has long been working to ensure a more credible election, adding they have youth volunteers who will be trained and taught about the election and how to watch the ballots.

Timbang also agreed to a proposal raised by Surigao Bishop Antonieto Cabajog to revive PEACE Surigao or the People’s Alliance for Peaceful Election Surigao, an initiative of the local churches that include the United Church of Christ of the Philippines as well as the Surigao Muslim community.

Kosug’s proclamation rally was highlighted by criticisms against Matugas’ trusted political ally Balgamelo Ma Jr., whom the group accused as the one running the local government.

Ma, according to the Surigao City government website, is the head of the Quick Action Response Team and Executive Assistant III. He has been a constant subject of criticisms for his alleged meddling of government affairs.

Councilor Jose Expeditus Bayana, Kosug’s vice mayoralty bet, warned supporters that voting for Matugas “is equivalent to voting for Ma as the chief executive officer.”

Matugas has been accused as an “absentee mayor” who allegedly reports once or twice during workweeks, as he was purportedly often in Manila.

Both Matugas and Ma have denied the allegations as “simply politicking by their detractors.” (Vanessa Almeda/MindaNews)