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Cabanatuan HUC issue politicized poll chief Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr.

. hit both parties involved in the conversion of Cabanatuan City to a highly urbanized city (HUC) for allegedly politicizing the supposedly non-partisan issue. In an interview with reporters on Tuesday, Brillantes said there is obvious politics surrounding the plebiscite, which has become a virtual contest between Cabanatuan City mayor Julius Vergara and gubernatorial re-electionist Aurelio Umali. Vergara has been pushing for the HUC conversion while Umali has been opposing it. Vergara's legal counsel, United Nationalist Alliance spokesperson JV Bautista, is running against Umalis wife, Czarina, for a congressional seat in Nueva Ecija. Siyempre may politics. Pwede ba namang plesbicite na nag-aaway ang mayor at governor walang politics? Brillantes said. If Cabanatuan is elevated into an HUC meaning it will be a politically and economically independent entity within the province the city would not be able to vote for provincial positions, as stated in the Local Government Code. This means Umali would lose substantial number of votes from Cabanatuan, which is part of the third district and has long been a bailiwick of the Umalis. Umali had served as third district representative from 2001 to 2007, while his wife Czarina is the incumbent. The Comelec is tasked to handle the plebiscite to determine whether or not Cabanatuan residents approve of the HUC status. Brillantes said that the poll body has upheld its earlier decision setting the plebiscite sometime after the May 2013 elections. But in their motion for reconsideration, Bautista suggested a plebiscite date on Jan. 4, 2013. Brillantes said the motion for reconsideration filed by Bautista is a prohibited pleadings since Comelec procedure requires that the en banc resolution cannot be reversed by an MR. Brillantes suggested they instead go to the Supreme Court. Personal interests Umalis legal counsel, George Garcia, said removing Cabanatuan as an Umali stronghold would increase Bautistas chance of winning against Czarina Umali.

But Garcia a personal friend of Bautista said thats just how politics work in the country. Kung sa palagay niya (Bautista) na mataas tsansa na manalo pag hindi kasama ang Cabanatuan, Im not taking it against him. Kung pamumulitika lang talaga on the part of him, eh ganun na talaga, Garcia told GMA News Online in a phone interview. Garcia noted that the only issue in the HUC conversion is personal interests. Para sa 'kin yung naglalabanan dyan hindi yung isyu kung dapat ba i-cover ng HUC ang Cabanatuan o hindi. Ito ay labanan ng mga personal interests nila, he said. Reached for a comment, Bautista said he is not using the HUC status of Cabanatuan as a demolition job against the Umalis. If it were a demolition job, then dapat walang basis. Kasi yung demolition job, usually puro kasinungalingan. But this is a legitimate case. Sagutin na lang nila, he said. Vergara, for his part, said the conversion is a non-partisan issue. Kung ano man ang pulitika, hindi dapat iisipin ang pulitika dito eh It is for the good of the city. At hindi dapat tinitingnan yung mukha. Kung ang iba iniisip yung susunod na eleksyon, wala po akong magagawa dun, he said. Supporters march to Comelec Early morning on Tuesday, around 200 supporters of the HUC status trooped to the Comelec to protest the postponement of the plebiscite until after the elections. Bautista and Vergara went to the Comelec hoping for a hearing but the Comelec denied their request as they had not scheduled a date with the poll bodys Clerk of the Commission. Cabanatuan is the largest city in Nueva Ecija with a total population of 259,267 in 2007 and an annual income of P734.73 million in 2010. According to the Section 452 of the Local Government Code, a city can be given an HUC status if it has a minimum population of 200,000 inhabitants, as certified by the National Statistics Office, and with the latest annual income of at least P50 million based on 1991 constant prices. President Benigno Aquino III already proclaimed an HUC status to Cabanatuan last July 4. According to the proclamation, the plebiscite should be held 120 days after the proclamation date.

Violence The Comelec previously set the plebiscite on December 1, 2012, but it was postponed to an indefinite date after the May 2013 elections in cognizance of the violence that ensued *during+ the plebiscite period for the conversion of the City of Cabanatuan.

Last Nov. 8, broadcaster Julius Caesar Cauzo of radio station dwJJ owned by Vergara's family was gunned down by motorcycle-riding gunmen. The Comelec in the resolution added that they reset the plebiscite date until after next years elections since the Commission is now in the thick of preparations for the May 13, 2013 elections. In an MR to the Comelec on Dec. 14, Bautistas camp claimed Comelec have all the time to prepare for the midterm elections. Bautista also claimed that Comelec is already prepared for the plebiscite. Brillantes has denied this, saying that they are too busy with election preparations since November. If converted, Cabanatuan would be the third in Central Luzon to have an HUC status after Angeles in Pampanga and Olongapo in Zambales. KBK, GMA News