MANILA, Philippines – The San Mateo Regional Trial Court dismissed an election protest filed by Cecilio Hernandez, former mayor of Rodriguez, Rizal, against pastor-turned-politician Anecito Lirazan.
Presiding Judge Josephine Fernandez, in a decision penned on Tuesday, December 10, said the poll protest was junked for "lack of merit."
A copy of the decision was shared in a Facebook post on Wednesday, December 11, by election lawyer Emilio Marañon III, who represented Lirazan.
Lirazan won the Rodriguez vice mayoral race by some 8,400 votes against Hernandez. The latter then filed an election protest alleging "massive fraud" in the May 2019 elections.
Lirazan earlier denied the allegation, saying it was impossible for him to commit election fraud as he was cash-strapped and had to take a loan of some P60,000 to finance his campaign, which mostly involved house-to-house and community visits. Aside from working as a pastor, Lirazan was also an egg vendor.
The court affirmed this, saying that the recount of votes showed "no solid evidence" of election fraud.
In particular, the court said there were 64 rejected ballots which were not inside their respective boxes, but that even if these were credited to Hernandez, they would not be enough to surpass Lirazan's votes.
"It is a conceded fact that the protestee (Lirazan) is a neophyte in politics. He has not previously run and won for public office. And, last election, he ran against a political colossus in the person of longtime mayor [Hernandez].... However, this country is no stranger to David-and-Goliath tales in election," said the court.
"Had there been serious anomalies and irregularity during the last elections, this court would have acted differently. Unfortunately, the claims of massive fraud...remained to be allegations."
Despite the victory, Lirazan continues to face challenges. He is going against political opponents who, Marañon said, have deprived the vice mayor of an office, staffing, and other privileges he is entitled to under the law.
Lirazan was initially a candidate of the ruling PDP-Laban, but became an independent bet by election day. Hernandez ran under the banner of the Nationalist People's Coalition. – Rappler.com