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Plebiscite snag for Cabanatuan

CABANATUAN CITY, Nueva Ecija—The Commission on Election (Comelec) said a plebiscite on upgrading Cabanatuan City into a highly-urbanized city will be held on January 25, putting into motion a process that has been a source of bitter conflict among powerful political groups.

But the Supreme Court, acting on a petition by Nueve Ecija Gov. Aurelio Umali, issued a restraining order on Tuesday directing the Comelec to stop the plebiscite “until further orders from this court.”

Umali has been opposing the conversion of Cabanatuan into a highly urbanized city because it would take away from the province a large portion of the population of the third district, which is part of his political stronghold.

Cabanatuan City Mayor Julius Cesar Vergara said the date of the plebiscite was approved by the Comelec in a resolution forwarded to Comelec’s regional, provincial and city officers.

“Only registered voters of the city will be allowed to participate in the exercise,” Vergara said, quoting the Comelec resolution.

The plebiscite was postponed twice in the past because of restraining order from a local court and was overtaken by national and local elections last year. Umali’s opposition has resulted into a bitter feud with Vergara.

The conversion of Cabanatuan as a highly urbanized city was provided by a presidential proclamation issued by President Aquino in 2012. It means Cabanatuan will no longer be under the supervision of the province, more income for the city and it will have its own congressional district.

Poll officials said the Comelec turned down a petition by Umali to allow voters in the whole province to vote in the plebiscite. With Rey Requejo

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