The crucial factor in Governor Cua’s reelection
posted 2-Jun-2019  ·  
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Last week, the victory of suspended Governor Joseph Cua came despite a frenetic, last-minute effort from his opponent warning the public that Cua would only assume office by May 2020 upon the expiration of his one-year suspension.

     It may be recalled that last April 24, 2019, a special panel of investigators found Cua guilty of gross neglect of duty for allowing a contractor to use part of an idle lot owned by the provincial government without authority.     

     The Tribune story on the issue emphasized that the governor’s suspension would end on June 30, 2019 upon the expiration of his current term, pursuant to Section 66(b) of the Local Government Code of 1991m as held by his campaign’s legal team.

     Sec. 66(b) of the LGC states that “the penalty of suspension shall not exceed the unexpired term of the respondent or a period of six (6) months for every administrative offense, nor shall said penalty be a bar to the candidacy of the respondent so suspended as long as he meets the qualifications required for the office.”

     The Ombudsman order itself clarifies that in the event that the penalty of suspension can no longer be enforced due to separation from the service “such as but not limited to retirement, resignation, or expiration of the term of office,” it shall be converted into a fine in the amount equivalent to the respondent’s salary for the remaining period of suspension.

     As expected, the governor’s suspension became an election issue, with the Sarmiento camp deploying campaign vehicles and personnel to publicly announce that even if he wins, Cua would remain suspended and could possibly be removed from office due to the other cases filed against him.

     Unfortunately for the congressman, the move backfired, with the issue galvanizing Cua supporters and convincing fence-sitters to switch to his side.

     The numbers from May 13, 2019 tells the real story: Cua garnering 85,559 votes against Sarmiento’s 60,132 votes, for a winning margin of 25,427. The graduating solon only won in San Miguel town and lost even in his vaunted bailiwicks of Virac, Bato and Baras.

     To highlight this feat, the incumbent governor got roughly the same number of votes that Sarmiento received in the 2016 congressional race when he got 86,857 votes in beating now congressman-elect Hector Sanchez, who had 37,799 then.

     How and why Cua’s stunning victory last week occurred cannot be explained by his generosity and political acumen alone or his opponent’s perceived inability to assist the needy.

     According to campaign insiders, Sarmiento had indeed crept into a statistical tie with Cua in voter preference by early February, but this changed when the Ombudsman preventively suspended the governor for six months.

     Instead of eroding support for Cua, the suspension caught the sympathy of the public, much more when the Ombudsman specifically created a special panel of investigators that meted the one-year suspension last April 30, 2019. The unusually speedy resolution of the graft case, compared to complaints involving graver offenses that have languished in the Ombudsman for years, fed the public belief that all of it was orchestrated by his political opponents.

     Indeed, it is true that the Supreme Court has junked the so-called Aguinaldo condonation doctrine that once held that a local official’s administrative liability for a misconduct committed during a prior term can be wiped off by his election to a second term of office. The Cua case, however, is still on appeal.

    What is remarkable in the gubernatorial race is that, despite efforts by Cong. Sarmiento to convince the public that it was useless to reelect a suspended governor who could be removed from office at any time, the electorate still chose Cua to be their chief executive. They preferred to wait until their suspended governor comes back after a year, rather than choosing one who was available.

     Why they did so would probably roll around Sarmiento’s mind long after June 30, 2019, when he temporarily slips back into private life after nine years in the limelight. His suspended rival, proclaimed but possibly unable to take office unless the Court of Appeals junks the Ombudsman decision, contents himself with the supreme satisfaction of being the people’s choice.

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