"It's the Commission on Elections En Banc that will decide whether I should inhibit or not."
Bacolod City Acting Election Officer Ma. Fatima Aspan said this yesterday, September 19, in reaction to the letter sent to her by Bacolod Mayor Evelio Leonardia which she received on Saturday, September 18, asking her to inhibit herself from continuing to function as the acting election officer of the city.
Leonardia, in his letter to Aspan, stressed that her inhibition will ensure the integrity of the ongoing voter registration process.
Apparently irked by the letter, Aspan told SunStar Bacolod that there is no need for the letter as she will only stay as Comelec-Bacolod officer until September 27, 2021.
Comelec-Bacolod Officer Kathrina Trinio-Caña will resume office work after her 14-day isolation.
Aspan stressed that Leonardia should also furnished the Comelec En Banc a copy of the letter asking for her inhibition so the body could decide on it.
As of September 19, Leonardia’s letter was already sent to Comelec - Western Visayas.
Aspan said she is puzzled why she is being asked to inhibit.
Leonardia said that a spike in coronavirus disease (Covid-19) cases has been noted, especially that the Delta variant is affecting Bacolodnons.
With this development, the mayor said, Comelec should have, through Aspan’s initiative, ordered the temporary stoppage of voters’ registration or, at the very least, controlled the number of registrants daily.
He also lamented that Aspan did not bother to consult the Bacolod Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) and Emergency Operations Center Task Force about this ordinary course of action for the safety of the general public.
He expressed alarm over the sudden and extremely unusual influx of transferee-registrants from out-of-town areas at the Bacolod office of the Comelec early this week.
Aspan was designated as acting Bacolod election officer on September 14 by Comelec Regional Director Wilfredo Jay Balisado after Trinio-Caña and all her personnel underwent swab test when one of its staff tested positive for Covid-19.
The mayor, however, said Trinio-Caña was already tested negative for the virus on September 15, but Aspan continued to supervise the affairs of Comelec Bacolod, including the ongoing voter registration despite Caña’s negative test.
"While I personally commiserate with the situation, at the outset and with all due respect, I have strong reservations on this move. I, therefore, oppose your assumption as acting election officer for Bacolod City," Leonardia, himself a lawyer, said.
The mayor further said that it is a well-known fact that Aspan has served as election officer of Victorias City, which belongs to the Third District of the Province of Negros Occidental.
"Without necessarily casting aspersions, there are strong doubts, however, on her impartiality considering that his opponent, who had already declared to run as Bacolod City mayor in the upcoming national and local elections, is none other than Mr. Alfredo Benitez," he said.
Benitez served as a three-term congressman in the Third District.
The mayor noted that during the exclusion hearing over the issue of the residency of Benitez on July 19, 2021 at the Comelec-Bacolod, Aspan surprisingly appeared at the said office just about the same time when Benitez also arrived for his hearing.
He claimed that she stayed inside the office while the hearing was ongoing and then left as soon as the hearing was over.
Leonardia stressed that Aspan exercised a very confusing policy, which miserably affected crowd management and wrought havoc upon social distancing protocols against Covid-19.
He said the standing policy for crowd control is for Comelec-Bacolod to limit the daily capacity for registrant-transferees to only 300 persons and 50 for online.
But last September 16, Aspan insisted to also entertain the 200 online applicants despite the massive crowding, Leonardia added.
He said several suppose out-of-town applicants have been at the public plaza and near the vicinity of Comelec-Bacolod Office since Tuesday with many of them bringing rice cookers, mats, mattresses, rice, canned goods and cans of biscuits, tagging along with them even children, who are mostly minors.
Police Station 1 personnel, in a statement released by the city government yesterday, September 19 said the long line snaked from Comelec-Bacolod area down to SM City at the Reclamation Area as early as 4 a.m.
On Thursday, September 16, a long line, also past the 300-meter mark and was seen from Comelec office all the way past the plaza band stand up to Gatuslao Street near Jollibee, the statement said.
A deaf-mute man from Bago City who is applying for registration in Bacolod City fainted due to heat.
He later told the Disaster Risk Reduction Management Office (DRRMO) personnel that he had not taken his breakfast, it said.
He told the police that he was offered to transfer his voters registration in Bacolod in exchange for P1,000, it said, adding that other voter-transferees allegedly came all the way from Isabela town and rural barangays in Talisay and Silay Cities. (With reports from Adrian P. Nemes III)