Pro-China Philippine governor, Manuel Mamba, who opposes US drills, removed from office for illegal use of election funds

A provincial governor in the Philippines known for his pro-China views and opposition to cooperation with the US has been summarily tossed out of office, due to illegal use of funds during an election, just as joint military exercises involving Manila and Washington take place in his province.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) announced on Wednesday it had disqualified Manuel Mamba from serving his third term as governor of Cagayan province for illegally using public funds during the 2022 election period.

The same allegations had led Comelec’s Second Division to disqualify Mamba in December 2022. That decision was later overturned by a full meeting (en banc) of the commission due to technicalities related to the filing of the petition.

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However, on April 16, the Supreme Court ruled the petition was filed on time and directed Comelec to once again address the matter. Eight days later, the commission ruled he was disqualified, and declared his position vacant.

Mamba said his legal team would file an appeal with Comelec and urged the people of Cagayan “to be calm and composed” as he would continue to serve as governor until a final decision was reached.

Some critics have suggested that Mamba was disqualified for not supporting the orders of President Ferdinand Marcos Jnr’s administration, which has become increasingly confrontational towards China, while also strengthening the Philippines’ defensive alliance with the United States.
A Filipino soldier fires a Javelin anti-tank weapon system during a live exercise as part of the annual US-Philippines joint military exercises called “Balikatan” on April 13, 2023. Photo: Reuters
Malou Tiquia, a political analyst and supporter of former president Rodrigo Duterte, recently posted on Facebook a list of provinces and cities, including Cagayan, with a caption saying “these are the provinces where governors/mayors were suspended, national funding removed, or removed from office because they didn’t follow the order asked of them”.

Retired Supreme Court associate justice Antonio Carpio told This Week in Asia that Mamba’s dismissal was legally justified. “After the Supreme Court ruled that the petition [against Mamba] should be reinstated, the decision of Comelec came out as a matter of course. The decision of the Supreme Court was correct.”

A sitting member of the House of Representatives, who declined to be named, told This Week in Asia “there is nothing suspicious about it. The Supreme Court ruled that the petition to Comelec was filed on time.”

Aerial view of a naval base during a visit of US and Philippine military officials in the town of Santa Ana, Cagayan province, Philippines on September 13, 2023. Photo: EPA-EFE
Mamba’s province of Cagayan has been in the news this month over accusations it had been “infiltrated” by thousands of Chinese nationals enrolled in private universities. One congressman described it as a “creeping invasion”.

Last week, Mamba told a reporter on TV news show 24 ORAS, that only about 400 Chinese were enrolled in the province: “as far as I am concerned. I do not see any threat, but that is not for me to say because we have security agencies.”

Mamba, a member of a political dynasty that has dominated Cagayan for decades, openly supports China and opposes the construction of US military facilities under the Enhanced Defence Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in Cagayan.

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Located along the northern coast of the main island of Luzon, Cagayan is about 400km south of Taiwan. It contains two EDCA development sites, one at Camilo Osas naval base in the northernmost tip of the province, and the other at Lal-lo Airport.

This year’s edition of the Balikatan – joint Philippine-US military exercises that began Monday and continue until May 8 – will include a “counter landing drill” in northern Luzon.

Mamba has been vocal in his opposition to the presence of the US military in Cagayan. Last year, he told ABS-CBN News, “I personally oppose this (EDCA) and I disagree with it. For me, it is inimical to the interest of our provinces and the Cagayanons.”

There must be something in them [China] that we can copy and emulate

Manuel Mamba, Cagayan provincial governor

Earlier this month, he told SMNI News, “America has sold nothing to the world, not a thing because they are lazy”. He added, “the only thing they have sold is arms., that’s why they create wars. I don’t want Filipinos to die for America now, not now, not any more.”

By comparison, he has praised China. During an interview with the Manila Times last year, he said he was impressed with China’s accomplishments. “There must be something in them that we can copy and emulate.’

In February, he went to Fuzhou City in Fujian province, where he met with Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Nong Rong. According to China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mamba said he was “deeply impressed by President Xi Jinping’s ideas on national governance and China’s development achievements. He believes that the Philippines and China are eternal neighbours and must make bilateral relations a success.”

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