COMELEC holds Palawan Plebiscite 2021 virtual information campaign on Monday, March 8.

Even if the preventive suspension of controversial Department of Education (DepEd) top official Natividad Bayubay is lifted before the March 13 plebiscite, she will no longer be considered as part of the Palawan plebiscite of Board of Canvassers (BOC), the poll body reiterated on Monday (March 8).

Lawyer Gloria Ramos-Petallo, regional election director of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC), in a live press briefing, insisted that Bayubay was not the sitting schools division superintendent when the Provincial Plebiscite Board of Canvassers (PPBOC) of Palawan was being drafted.

“Hindi siya ‘yong sitting na schools division superintendent at the time na na-i-compose ‘yong provincial plebiscite board of canvassers. Hindi na mapapalitan ‘yong ating composition ng provincial plebiscite board of canvassers,” Petallo said.

This came in light after the COMELEC confirmed its decision in a letter reply to the One Palawan campaign group that had earlier petitioned the DepEd to inhibit Bayubay from the coming polls, citing her alleged bias.

Petallo added that Atty. Maricar Misa-Tan was the chosen member-secretary at the time of the composition of PPBOC, alongside Provincial prosecutor Atty. Alen Ross Rodriguez as vice chairperson, 3rd District Representative Gil Acosta, Jr. and Board Member Leoncio Ola as proponents for the “Yes” vote, and Roger Garinga of the Save Palawan Movement (SPM) and Rev. Fr. Reynante Aguanta of the Apostolic Vicariate of Taytay (AVT) as proponents for the “No” vote.

Low voter turnout and vote-buying

The plebiscite result will still be valid despite an anticipated low turnout, Petallo said, citinga  record that the highest voter turnout for plebiscite was only at 47 percent.

“Historically, ang ating voter turnout ay hindi ganoon kataas. Our record show that 47% ang highest number na bumoto during the plebiscite. Kung sakali na mababa ang turnout, valid pa din ang plebisito as long as may boboto,” Petallo explained.

Meanwhile, lawyer Christian Jay V. Cojamco, legal department head of Partidong Pagbabago ng Palawan (PPP), dismissed claims of the oppositions alleging prolific vote-buying from the side of the proponents.

Cojamco dared Cynthia Sumagaysay-Del Rosario, lead campaigner for One Palawan, to show evidence instead of mere claims of vote buying.

“I’ve been in every single meeting ng Partido, and not a single time napag-usapan ‘yong vote buying. We are ready kung gusto ni Cynthia na mag-present ng evidence, not just mere statements or mere claims,” Cojamco said.

Debate continues

Del Rosario maintained that dividing Palawan into three provinces only opens positions for politicians, pointing out that it is “not an effective formula for growth” as the proponents’ objective was “obvious” to only create positions for themselves.

“Ang linaw-linaw na halos lahat ng nangangampanya ay pulitiko. Ang sumusulong ng One Palawan puro grassroots, mamayang simbahan, at non-government organizations (NGO). Ang linaw-linaw na very obvious ang objective na magparami ng posisyon para sa pulitiko. Hindi formula ang pagpaparami ng pulitiko sa kaunlaran,” Del Rosario said.

Reacting to the previous statement made by Department of Finance (DOF) Undersecretary Gil Beltran that Palawan division entails more expenses, Cojamco said they were not aware of the “parameters” used by the finance undersecretary to support his claim.

Cojamco claimed that their “own study” showed growth among divided Palawan provinces which may yield a return of investment in about two to three years.

We are not aware of the parameters they used to say that the growth of new provinces is not assured. PPP conducted studies and one of the advantages is that there will be an increase in businesses, maraming ma-oopen na hotels, resorts, malls, even airports. Itong overhead expense madali nating mababawi ito, perhaps one to two years mababawi na natin ang ginastos. Assured na magfo-flourish ang probinsiya ng Palawan ‘pag nahati,” Cojamco added.

The Palawan plebiscite, ratifying Republic Act 11259 dividing Palawan intro provinces namely Palawan Del Norte, Palawan Del Sur, and Palawan Oriental, is set on Saturday, March 13.

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is a desk editor and senior reporter of Palawan News. He covers politics, environment, tourism, justice, and sports. In his free time, he enjoys long walks with his dog, Bayani.