It was 8 pm of December 13, 2008 when we were summoned to come to Lucena asap. We were in Calauag attending to the tabulation of the plebiscite results from all over the town’s vastness. Results came trickling in one after another owing to the simple yes and no asked from the voters. Thanks however to the cellphone, our watchers texted in the precincts results. In Calauag, it was yes by a close shave of 75 votes. By all indications, the mayoralty race in Calauag has just begun. The groups of the sitting Mayor and that of the Vice Mayor have made an early slug-out courtesy of the plebiscite. DS has made it known that he has the support of Calauag’s incumbent while RPN counts on Oki-oki Doc. But we leave these preliminaries at some future feature. In the island town of Quezon, the YES clobbered the NO by 300 votes. Lopez town buried the NO in an avalanche of 4000 more YES votes. This was not surprising because practically all local officials of Lopez conspired to carry the affirmative votes. His Excellency Bishop Emilio Marquez made his personal appeal to his kababayan. Gumaca did not shock us either because the bigger part of the Tanada political machine breathed down the neck of the entire local leadership. Kahiyaan, ika. Months before the plebiscite, Gumaca was festooned with giant billboards announcing that it shall be the “future capital town of Quezon del Sur”. No doubt the PR blitz revved up by the DS and Tanada organizations boosted the morale of the townspeople to backstop the law creating the new province and authored by its favourite son. Bobby Tanada made a last ditch appearance in the entire 4th district and earnestly advocated the division. In one symposium cum debate, we sat side by side in Lopez PUP stadium along the historic Gregorio Yumul Street (where the house of General Gaudencio Vera stands in one corner), together with the legendary Joel Arago, 3-term mayor of the town. The gentle persuasion of these grizzled politicians still never failed.
We left Calauag at past eight in the evening and arrived at the Capital City by 9:45pm.
It looked like some glitches appeared on the radar of the SQPM. Some 16 ballot boxes were left inside the classrooms in Zaballero Elementary School by the principal, while the results of the tabulations done by the Board of Inspectors were already submitted to the City Comelec. What should have been done was for the teachers to bring the ballot boxes to the City Treasurer for safekeeping. In other words, the ballot boxes were exposed to tampering in the event the plebiscite results proved neck and neck. Or, by the magic of dagdag/bawas the kilometric lead of the NO votes can be mitigated. Then the sitting City Mayor escapes from suspicious eyes of his benefactor from Unisan. Or, what appears to be the beginning of the end of the reigning family in Lucena. The patriarch has lost his touch among his flock.
Immediately we proceeded to the site and found our watchers all agitated due to the presence of city cops apparently under the instructions of the City Mayor, a known sympathizer of DS and the YES block. The former governor was there together with the PENRO and the general counsel of the Governor, Tony Collado. Tony is a huge and imposing man. But he is soft spoken and unassuming, a rarity among lawyers. That evening, his statements however sounded like a legal brief enough to melt the spine of the recalcitrant City Mayor’s hold outs. Once we’re settled, we advised the protagonists to list down the names of the teachers and the principal together with the policemen who were there and we will straighten out the matter in the morning before the Comelec. When the policemen heard that we were collecting their names, they relented and left in a huff. Not too soon, in came a cop in black all too eager to please his patron. Still the instructions from above were to keep the ballot boxes inside the principal’s office until further advisement. We proceeded to the Comelec and brought with us a field officer with specific instructions from the election registrar to retrieve the boxes without much delay. When we returned again to the site, the cop in black was still adamant not to let go the boxes. He said he was sent there precisely to secure the election documents. Of course the lawyers had their shares of bluff and huff. We don’t know if we convinced Hizzoner’s sentinel. Again we reiterated our request to get the names of the obstructionists with the earnest intention of commencing criminal prosecutions for infidelity of election documents. Sensing the urgency in our voices, the cop in black made a turn around and with the usual consultations with his patron, released the 16 boxes to the Comelec custody. We had a feeling that the cop at one time or another availed himself of our legal services pro bono in the past.
We clocked the release at 1am of December 14. The NO watchers finally heaved a sigh of relief. They were in the premises since 6 am of December 13.
We were talking of about 5000 votes open to possible manipulation had we not promptly intervened. There were three other areas where there was unjustified detention of the ballot boxes. By simple calculations and aware that the results had reached a point of permanence, we relented and gave instructions to act the following morning. As we reserved this again in some future article, the road to election automation is indeed excruciatingly painful. When do we ever sleep tightly after an election?
By 2:15 am of December 14, fireworks graced the dark skies of Quezon Capitol indicative of the triumph of the people of the province expressing their message in rejecting its division.
After the dust settled, “No” got 202,930 votes while the “Yes,” a total of 155,389.
That historic vote elevated the people of Quezon in parallel notch with those other very few local government units with discerning minds, surprisingly Quezon City as one, named after MLQ as well, which strongly rejected the independence of Novaliches under the putative tutelage of Dante Liban. Liban never recovered from his successive set backs politically. We heeded the hoarse exhortations of Johnny Mercado and Manolo Quezon. We should leave our local government units alone never to tinker with their structures for the time being. Let us focus our attention to giving the young graduates opportunities in the here and now, not the election losers and their ilks by handing them on a silver platter a new capitol for their dominion and of course the governorship of Quezon del Sur, complete with a P568M IRA annually at their disposal. As they say in San Andres, napurnada gid!
This brief and polarizing political exercise awakened a long slumbering giant. For the long time that we combed the entire length of the province we knew deep in our heart of hearts that the silent majority was ready to deliver its well-thought of decision. The rejection mania came from all over. The exchange of divergent opinions raged and at one point surprisingly furious. Boy Sumilang’s email streamed with incredible multilogues of views from here and abroad. We received an insightful estimation, among other views, of the political exercise from our kababayan Roming Gumban who’s based in New York:
From Roming Gumban, NY
— On Tue, 12/16/08, Enelyn Gumban <email@example.com> wrote:
From: Enelyn Gumban <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Quezon Division
To: “jose seguerra” <email@example.com>
Date: Tuesday, December 16, 2008, 10:00 AM
Please extend our congratulations to Atty. Sonny Pulgar, Saludo kami sa kanya.
Nakatitiyak kami rito na hindi lulusot ang Yes vote sa plebiscite. Halos lahat ng Maubaning kababayan ni misis dito ay kontra sa Yes. Halos lahat din ng barkada ko ritong taga Tiaong at Dolores ay ganoon din. Pinakiusapan ko sila tawagan ang mga kaanak sa Pinas para kontrahin ang paghahati ng Quezon dahil kalokohan lamang iyan ng mga pulitikong taga- 3rd at 4th district.
Pasalamat silang mga taga-Yes vote, mababa ang turn-out ng botante. One third lang ang bumoto. Kung kumpleto iyon, lalo silang tatambakan. Tinabas na noon ang Quezon, ngayon naman ay gusto namang hatiin ang natira. Ano na ba ito?
We are all from one Quezon. We are proud to ba called Quezonians, We don’t want to lose that identity. If our province was split, how will they call a guy from the north? From the south?
Regards to all.
Joe Seguerra posted in his much-visited website, calauag.com, the developments on the plebiscite. The response from all over, the Americas, Middle East, and Asia, was simply unbelievable. Our cumprovincianos never lost touch with the burning issues of their beloved province. This means they always care no matter where they are. The erstwhile passive youth have gone out and participated in the debate and discussion. Voters’ turnout exceeded our expectations. For sure, the internet has helped in the dissemination of arguments for Quezon’s division or the lack of it. We are indeed a part of the new information-technology-seeped global order.
Incidentally, the Office of the Governor of Quezon has been filled up already in 2007 yet. Quezon del Norte was never in the equation. By renaming Quezon to Quezon del Norte, the bill sponsor antagonized the 1st and the 2nd districts. They should have left Quezon alone. Bong Maliwanag, the good mayor of Candelaria, need no longer worry of changing his address he’d known since birth.
Quezon del Sur? It’s a fictional place very much in the league like Godric’s Hollow, Little Hangleton, Little Whinging, and of course Azkaban, from the fertile imagination of JK Rowling of Harry Potter’s fame.