—  Additional policemen were sent to secure the safety of voters in Barangay Binwangan here where special elections for local positions are being held today.

Senior Superintendent Felix Caddali, provincial police director, said the additional police personnel, along with a 30-man Army contingent, were deployed amid threats of harassment of voters and poll personnel.

"We are not taking any chances. We have to send additional personnel," he said.

Police and military intelligence sources said armed men believed to be communist rebels and goons of political candidates have frequented Barangay Binwangan since the Commission on Elections (Comelec) declared a failure of elections on May 10 and scheduled special balloting there, originally last May 22.

Lawyer Abraham Asuncion, provincial election supervisor, said today’s special polls were prompted by a ballot box-snatching incident in the remote mountain village.

The ballot boxes were snatched by still unidentified men while they were being transported to the town proper for the municipal canvassing.

The ballot boxes contained the ballots of the more than 400 registered voters in the village, which is about a three-hour drive from the capital town of Bayombong.

The votes of Binwangan folk can still affect the mayoral fight between re-electionist Mayor Isaias Almuete and incumbent Vice Mayor Jesus Bareng as well as the race for the fifth and sixth slots in the southern district’s provincial board race.

Almuete (Lakas-CMD) is holding a precarious lead over Bareng (LDP-independent) with a measly 17 votes.

In the provincial board race, currently holding the fifth slot is incumbent board member Efren Quiben, who has a margin of 168 votes over incumbent Santa Fe Mayor Teodorico Padilla, who is in the sixth slot.

The province’s northern and southern districts are allotted five board members each. — Charlie Lagasca

Widow takes over the helm of Nueva Vizcaya The Philippine Star 05/29/2004

BAYOMBONG, Nueva Vizcaya — A housewife, whose mayor-husband was murdered at the height of the insurgency here, was proclaimed governor of this landlocked province of more than 300,000 people for the next three years.

Incumbent Vice Gov. Luisa Lloren-Cuaresma (LDP-independent) won over her two male rivals — incumbent board member Leonardo Perez Jr. (NPC-KNP) and human rights lawyer Ernesto Salunat (Lakas-CMD), making her the fourth woman to take over the Nueva Ecija governorship.

Cuaresma, also a former three-term mayor before becoming the vice governor in 1998, led her rivals with 56,008 votes against 53,227 and 32,062 of Perez and Salunat, respectively.

Perez is the son of former senator and former Commission on Elections chairman Leonardo Sr., while Salunat is a former governor of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Northern Luzon.

Cuaresma’s entry in local politics was triggered by the murder of her husband, Mayor Benjamin Cuaresma Jr. of Bambang town, by several armed men who claimed to be communist rebels in 1987.

The widow then ran for Bambang mayor and held the post for three consecutive terms. She ran for vice governor in 1998 and won over Perez Jr. and then incumbent vice governor Natalia Dumlao.

Cuaresma will be the fourth woman to become Nueva Vizcaya governor. The three others are Corazon Espino, Natalia Dumlao and Ruth Padilla, a partymate of Cuaresma for this province’s lone congressional district seat.

Padilla, wife of outgoing Nueva Vizcaya Rep. Carlos Padilla, lost the congressional race, to outgoing Gov. Rodolfo Agbayani (KNP). The other losing candidate was former police general Thompson Lantion (Lakas-CMD).

Cuaresma’s running mate, senior board member Jose Gambito, won the vice gubernatorial race, trouncing former three-term board member Merianthe Zuraek.

Cuaresma and Gambito’s proclamation, however, was the subject of a protest filed by Salunat with the Commission on Elections.

Salunat petitioned the poll body to nullify the proclamation of Cuaresma and Gambito pending the resolution of his complaint of alleged massive election fraud.

Perez Jr. filed a separate petition, also seeking the nullification of Cuaresma and Gambito’s proclamation.— Charlie Lagasca

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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