Puerto Princesa's choices: A mayor accused of graft or a vice mayor once jailed for drugs

PALAWAN, Philippines – Puerto Princesa City residents will determine Monday, May 13, the fate of former allies but now stiff rivals, incumbent Mayor Lucilo Bayron and Vice Mayor Luis Marcaida III, who are both gunning for the city's top post.

Both candidates were embroiled in controversies in the last 3 years, with Bayron accused of graft, and Marcaida jailed for alleged possession of illegal drugs.

Commission on Elections data shows 153,871 city residents have registered for the May 2019 midterm elections in Puerto Princesa.

After he survived a failed recall election in 2015 from former mayor Edward Hagedorn, Bayron again finds himself another formidable foe in Marcaida.

Erstwhile friends Bayron and Marcaida ran in the same local ticket, Kuridas Team, and respectively won as city mayor and vice mayor in the 2013 and 2016 elections. The duo had amicably reigned over the highly urbanized city with a population of over 255,000 and a thriving economy largely dependent on tourism and agriculture. 

Graft charge

Their rivalry, however, started in February 2017 when the Ombudsman initially dismissed the mayor from service for “serious dishonesty and grave misconduct.”

In what was considered a nepotism case, Bayron hired his son, Karl, as his security personnel head during his first term in 2013. He did not disclose their filial relationship in the contract.

Following the Local Government Code, Marcaida took oath as the new chief executive on February 21, 2017. This did not sit well with Bayron’s supporters who considered Marcaida's assumption as a betrayal.

Marcaida has further earned the ire of Bayron’s camp when he was rumored to have allied with Hagedorn. This was reinforced when Hagedorn endorsed Marcaida’s mayoralty bid.  

Meanwhile, Marcaida served as city mayor until the Ombudsman revised its earlier decision on the Bayron father-and-son case. The charge was downgraded to “simple dishonesty” with a corresponding penalty of  3 months suspension. 

After serving the suspension, Bayron returned as city mayor on June 22, 2017.

Marcaida though refused to follow the order directing him to step down, and instead questioned its validity. 

After a tension-filled confrontation with the authorities, Marcaida yielded the post, but did not return to his job as vice mayor. He filed a cased with the Court of Appeals (CA), contesting the Ombudsman ruling.

A month after Bayron’s return at City Hall, the anti-graft body issued a ruling on July 6, 2017, stating that the suspension penalty only applied to Karl, and that it had “lost jurisdiction over the case” as he had already withdrawn his appeal and had also sought relief from the CA. 

This meant yet another termination for Bayron by virtue of the restored dismissal order issued again by the Ombudsman. 

'Twist of fate'

But there's more. Marcaida's house was raided by police authorities on September 4, 2017. Police said they found during the raid 30 sachets of shabu, and illegal firearms and explosives. Marcaida claimed these were planted pieces of evidence instigated by his political opponent, Bayron. 

Marcaida's name was included in the infamous narcolist issued in October 2016.

While Marcaida was detained at the City Jail for illegal drugs charges, the appellate court decided on August 8, 2017, to overturn the Ombudsman’s decision and ruled in favor of Bayron. The decision allowed Bayron to continue his second term.

Marcaida has elevated the CA decision to the Supreme Court.

After a year in jail, Marcaida's petition for bail was granted by the regional trial court. Marcaida's posting a P1.2-million bail on October 4, 2018, gave him the chance to file his candidacy for city mayor.

The two camps have since traded accusations online and on air.

Meanwhile, also joining the Puerto Princesa mayoralty race are also are 4 low-key challengers – Jimmy Cañete, Edmundo Katon, Antonio Arosio, and Elly Oloroso, all running independently. 

Bayron’s daughter, Raine, also filed her candidacy. But later withdrew when the 72-year-old Bayron patriarch got a medical clearance to run for mayor. – Rappler.com