Albayanos cry foul over ruling on Rosals
By Manuel T. Ugalde
LEGAZPI CITY --- The Commission on Elections is under fire over its contrasting rulings that disqualified the couple – Gov. Noel Rosal and his wife Legazpi City Mayor Geraldine Rosal, involving the same case. The couple were charged for vote buying and disbursement of funds during the 45-day election ban before the May 9 election last year.
On May 4, the Comelec en banc issued its ruling unseating Mayor Rosal, and with her defeated rival Ako Bicol Party List Congressman Alfredo Garbin to be installed as mayor, contrary to an earlier ruling on November 25, 2022 that unseated Gov. Rosal, however, with the vice governor-elect installed as governor.
Disturbed by the latest development, followers of the Rosals lambasted the Comelec for its inconsistencies saying the disqualification issue against the couple should have been resolved before the election so that the public would be guided. They said the landslide wins given to the couple symbolized the hard-earned trust and confidence in them by the people.
Mayor Geraldine Rosal slammed the latest Comelec ruling, expressing her disbelief and disgust at how the rulings went against the voice of the people.
The troubles of the Rosal couple started when a vote buying issue at the height of the campaign period was filed on April 11, 2022 by tricycle driver Joseph San Juan Almogila, a candidate for the Legazpi City council.
Using the photos, videos and Facebook posts of personalities closely identified with the couple during the March 31 – April 1, 2022 two-day cash distribution for tricycle drivers and senior citizens, the Comelec 1st Division on September 11, 2022 unseated Gov. Noel Rosal from his post. On October 4, the Comelec 2nd Division issued its ruling unseating Mayor Geraldine Rosal.
The couple did not deny the cash distribution sourced from the release and disbursement for expenditures as payout for the tricycle drivers and senior citizens, justifying its necessity given the worsening economic conditions for affected sectors during the Covid-19 pandemic.
There was nothing to justify or prove about the stature of the complainant, said a political analyst, adding strong political figures were obviously behind complainant tricycle driver Joseph Almogila, after seeing the election crime committed was worth fighting for against the Rosal who sounded very much popular province-wide in a survey.
In a prayer rally held on May 8 with thousands of followers, Mayor Rosal expressed wonder at how the Comelec en banc differed in the version of the Comelec 2nd division probe that absolved her from the charges of vote buying as a civilian when said event took place.
In her post on her Facebook account, Rosal asked Legazpi citizens to calm down and join her and her husband’s fight. Connie (not her real name), a retired government worker and a Rosal follower said in response, “Yes, we choose the lesser evil in quest for the tried and tested public servants for Albay and Legazpi besieged by corrupt leaderships.” “If I knew Rosal would only be unseated with all these dirty developments misrepresented as law, I wouldn’t have gamble my vote and boycott would be my choice,” she added.
Gov. Rosal’s election into office was often described as historical for the gubernatorial race in Albay after he gained an astounding margin of 500,000 votes against his rival, who barely got half of his votes. His wife, Geraldine, won by a margin of 550 votes against rival Ako Bicol Party List congressman Alfredo Garbin.
Political observers also noted that the 2022 local election for governor and Legazpi City mayor as the most expensive in the history of Albay.
Following the November 25 controversial Comelec en banc ruling that finally unseated Gov. Rosal and had the vice governor as successor by operation of law, on December 7, Legazpi City vice mayor-elect Oscar Bobby Cristobal filed a petition for intervention, citing the Comelec ruling on Governor Rosal’s case. Cristobal petition pointed him as the elected vice mayor automatic to succeed as mayor, should Mayor Rosal also be unseated.
Cristobal filed his petition for intervention after defeated mayoral bet Ako Bicol congressman Alfredo Garbin filed earlier his own petition for intervention having obtained the second highest number of votes. The May 4 en banc ruling favored Garbin petition even as the Comelec 2nd division ruled out vote buying for Geraldine Rosal, being a civilian at the time the cash distribution for the tricycle drivers and senior citizens took place.
It was on September 11, last year when the Comelec 1st Division issued its ruling disqualifying Rosal as governor. On October 4, the Comelec 2nd Division issued a resolution also disqualifying Mayor Geraldine Rosal as mayor.
On November 25, the Comelec en banc finally unseated Rosal as governor. He was, however, succeeded by his vice governor-elect Grex Lagman on December 5, after Rosal failed to get a temporary restraining order from the Supreme Court.
The dispositive portion on Gov. Rosal ruling was that he was disqualified and barred from holding public office for the release and disbursement of funds as payout for the tricycle drivers and senior citizens, while Mrs. Rosal was disqualified as a candidate for mayor when as a civilian, she joined her husband in distributing the cash payout of P2000 for tricycle drivers and senior citizens, making her presence as principal by indispensable cooperation in the vote buying charge. Thus, she was disqualified as a candidate for mayor.
For his part, Garbin said the law has spoken saying absent a temporary restraining order, he will assume as Legazpi mayor.