Cebu Gov. Hilario Davide III belied reports that cash was distributed to barangay leaders allied with the Liberal Party (LP) in Cebu City and province during a party gathering last Friday.
The governor maintained the event was a gathering of supporters of LP standard-bearer Mar Roxas and his running mate Leni Robredo to find out how the administration candidates were faring among the Cebuano voters.
“It’s not true that there was a (cash) distribution,” he told Cebu Daily News in a phone interview yesterday.
Davide said the gathering held at White Gold House Restaurant along Gen. Maxilom Avenue in Cebu City was the second phase of a “vote share assessment,” which the LP first held in Cebu in February, or weeks before the start of the local campaign period last March 25.
Close to a thousand LP candidates and allies composed mostly of barangay leaders in Cebu City and province who attended the gathering were asked to sign a paper committing to the number of votes they could deliver for Roxas and Robredo.
The governor’s statement was contrary to the narration of an LP-allied source that before the gathering ended, the barangay captains were allegedly called to the restaurant’s second floor function rooms, asked how many votes they would commit to deliver for Roxas and Robredo, and were each given P5,000 in cash as “operational funds.”
Davide, LP chairman in Cebu, insisted there was no distribution of any kind of funds during the event.
“Why would we give out funds? The purpose of the event was to assess,” he said.
The event, dubbed as a “vote share assessment” seminar, was attended by party stalwarts that included Budget Secretary Florencio “Butch” Abad, the former LP president; Quezon City sixth district Rep. Jose Christopher “Kit” Belmonte Jr., a key campaigner for Roxas; Vice Gov. Agnes Magpale, who is seeking reelection in tandem with Davide; and some Provincial Board members that included Grecilda “Gigi” Sanchez-Zaballero, the LP candidate for the third district congressional seat, and Celestino “Tining” Martinez III, the president of the Association of Barangay Captains (ABC) in the province.
The barangay officials who attended the event were told to fill out a form, the size of a short bond paper, which asked about the number of registered voters in their respective villages and the number of votes that they would commit to deliver for Roxas and Robredo on May 9.
According to another CDN source, a female staffer of Abad allegedly told the barangay captains that they would later “collect” on the commitments to deliver a certain number of votes for Roxas and Robredo.
Abad, in a text message to CDN, said he was not aware of any cash distribution during the seminar.
“I was invited to speak about the achievements of this administration, why it’s important for them to be continued and why (former Interior) Secretary Roxas and (Camarines Norte Rep.) Robredo are the most trustworthy, competent and experienced candidates to continue Daang Matuwid,” he said.
Davide said that while local leaders committed the number of votes they would deliver for Roxas and Robredo, he would not make rash promises.
“I will not promise. I will only assure them that this is the estimated number of votes we can deliver, but there’s no guarantee. We cannot assure anything because there might be some who might not even vote on election day,” said Davide.
At the time being, however, the governor said he could not reveal yet the estimated number of Cebu votes they promised to deliver for their bets, as LP was still collating the data from last Friday’s event.
The Garcia-led One Cebu party earlier promised to deliver a one million-vote lead for Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte against his nearest rival in the coming polls.
One Cebu recently announced its support for Duterte following its break-up with the United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) and its standard-bearer, Vice President Jejomar Binay.
Latest popularity surveys showed that Roxas is currently in fourth place, trailing behind Mayor Duterte, Senator Grace Poe, and Vice President Binay.
But Davide said he was confident that Roxas would win. “We are upbeat that he will eventually emerge the winner,” he said, since party machinery and organization, which LP both have, are crucial in ensuring the victory for a candidate.
Based on the number of people who came to the event last Friday, Davide said “many are willing to help in the (LP) campaign” in Cebu.
Martinez also denied that cash were distributed to barangay captains. He said the villages in the province have “always sufficiently been taken care of in the form of programs and projects in the past.”
“The amount alleged is meager compared to what they have received in the form of assistance to their constituency. It is easy to accuse anyone of receiving any amount, and issues like this are very common during the election season,” he said in a text message.
Lawyer Eliseo Labaria, Cebu’s acting provincial election supervisor, said parties are allowed to distribute money to allies for as long as this is sourced from party funds.
“That is part of campaigning,” he said, although he did not comment on the allegations hurled at the LP.
What is not allowed, he emphasized, is vote-buying, which is considered an election offense punishable by one to six years imprisonment and perpetual disqualification from holding public office, among others.
One Cebu head and gubernatorial bet Winston Garcia said he saw no need for his party to organize a similar activity for Duterte.
“There’s no need because the people will vote for Duterte no matter what. Their P5,000 will not help. The barangay captains cannot convince the people because Mar is a hopeless case,” he told CDN in a separate interview.
Despite Roxas’s organization in the province, Garcia said the LP standard-bearer would “lose heavily against Digong who isn’t even spending a single penny.”
Cebu province is home to 2.7 million voters with the local LP claiming to be allied with majority of the incumbent mayors.