By HERBIE GOMEZ
Editor in chief
and JIGGER JERUSALEM
TWO leaders of a group that was behind a failed 2012 attempt to oust the then mayor Vicente Emano via recall election said they do not see how a similar signature campaign can be used as a legal tool to remove Councilor Zaldy Ocon at this time.
For former Save CDO Now chairman Tito Mora and lawyer James Judith, said they do not see any legal value in the ongoing signature campaign against Ocon at this time.
It was Mora and Judith’s group that initiated a signature campaign aimed at convincing the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to agree on holding a recall election in the city because of a public outrage resulting from the December 2011 typhoon “Sendong” devastation in the city. The group failed to gather enough signatures required for a recall election.
For the two, the ongoing signature campaign against Ocon would only be a show of force but the signatures and the petition have no legal value at all at this time.
“He (Ocon) cannot be removed from office. Only by recall which is premature as of this time,” opined Mora.
But he said a petition signed by thousands of Cagayanons may be attached to a complaint against Ocon.
“Not as evidence but as a support to the complaint,” Mora said.
Judith, for his part, ruled out the possibility of a recall election this year even if the group “Remove Ocon Movement” gathers enough signatures.
The lawyer said there is a rule that an elected official cannot be subjected to a recall election less than a year after he has assumed office. Ocon won a fresh mandate in the May elections; he will serve his next office term next month.
“Because of this rule, they can keep their petition and submit it to the Comelec next year,” Judith said.
He said those seeking the ouster of Ocon might as well focus on an administrative complaint for misconduct against the councilor which the lawyer thinks is the best option.
Late last week, Judith said provisions in Republic Act 5185, albeit “untested,” can do Ocon in. He said that law provides that the President may remove an elected local official from office for misconduct.
Judith said, “If the administrative case fails, then they can go to Plan B” which is a petition for recall election next year.
Ocon came under fire after a video recording of him berating an aging former mayor Reuben Canoy at the lobby of VIP Hotel went viral on social media. The councilor cussed before leaving the 90-year-old Canoy who was in a wheelchair.
City elections officer Ramil Acol said his office is prepared to handle the process if the Comelec would be convinced of a recall election petition.
Petitioners will need at least 10 percent or 33,538 of the total voting population of Cagayan de Oro’s 345,358 registered voters, based on the Comelec data from the May 13 midterm elections, before the Commission could declare a recall election.
RA 9244 states that the recall can be initiated once a written petition for recall duly signed by the representatives of the petitioners before the election registrar is submitted with the Comelec.
The petition must contain the names, addresses of the petitioners written in legible form and their signatures, the name of the official sought to be recalled, and a brief narration of the reasons and justifications for such move.
If the petition is found to be sufficient in form, the Comelec would then issue a certification.
After the issuance of a certification, the Comelec would proceed with the verification and authentication of the signatures of the petitioners contained in the petition forms.
Acol said it appears to him that the Remove Ocon Movement is aiming for the conduct of a recall election.
“It’s a long process,” Acol said, referring to the petition and eventually, if the Comelec approves it, the conduct of the recall election.
But, he said, Ocon can still avail of legal remedies.
Mayor Oscar Moreno said he finds no problem with the signature campaign against Ocon.
“We are a democracy, and everyone is free to express his or her views, and I do not question that,” Moreno told reporters. “That’s the prerogative of the people, we respect that. But there’s a process for that, and ako lang is, of course, nakasabot ako nga emotions are still high with what happened.”
Moreno added: “Let’s just hope that cooler heads will prevail, and they will be reconciled. After all, the Canoy-Ocon combination should not be broken.”
He said he has opted to remain neutral. “I listened to both versions. Si Rhona (Canoy’s daughter) was in my office and I talked to her. I gave her my position that I’m not taking sides, and I hope that emotions will die down and good relations will be restored as soon as possible.”