WITH the canvassing of senatorial votes scheduled in Maguindanao today, poll watchdogs are set to file administrative and criminal charges against election supervisor Lintang Bedol, who is at the center of the controversial 12-0 win of administration candidates in the province.
Bedol, who figured in the “Hello, Garci” scandal in the 2004 elections, had repeatedly defied the summons of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to appear before the poll body and explain why the municipal certificates of canvass (CoCs) were all of a sudden missing. Bedol appeared only once during the national canvassing, but failed to explain the reason behind the incident; he earlier said they were stolen. The original set of CoCs may show the truth behind the “statistically improbable” results in the provincial CoC.
With Bedol again missing, poll watchdog Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente) over the weekend decided to file charges against the Maguindanao election official, and possibly, seek his disbarment and dismissal from the Comelec. The charges will be based on Section II, Chapter V of the Revised Penal Code regarding “infidelity in the custody of document.”
Under the law, any public officer guilty of removing, destroying, or concealing documents officially entrusted to him shall suffer imprisonment, which could reach up to 12 years.
Text messages were circulating over the weekend, saying that Bedol, in panic, had burned all copies of the provincial CoC. In an Inquirer report, Bedol allegedly burned the copies so that there would be no evidence against the 12-0 win of the TU candidates. Bedol, a source alleged, changed the figures of the provincial CoC.
The Comelec’s citizens’ arm, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), meanwhile, will recommend to the Comelec that administrative and criminal charges be filed against Bedol. The case will be based on Bedol’s pronouncement that citizens below 18 years old are allowed to vote and on negligence, which could lead to the charge of infidelity. If Comelec fails to file the appropriate charges, PPCRV National legal counsel Howard Calleja said they will file the case themselves.
Over the weekend, Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos Sr. said they gave Bedol a three-day extension period to make an appearance or face infidelity charges. Task Force Maguindanao, a body tasked to investigate the alleged poll irregularities, will reportedly issue a show-cause order today. Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer, head of the task force, said charges will be filed if Bedol fails to respond.
Bedol went missing for the second time since the May 14 elections. He last appeared before the Comelec early this month. Bedol earlier sought permission from Ferrer to return to Shariff Aguak and retrieve the election documents; Bedol has yet to report his findings.
The results in Maguindanao will determine the 12th winner in the senatorial race. The latest tally shows Genuine Opposition bet Aquilino Pimentel III leading by more than 110,000 votes over Team Unity candidate Juan Miguel Zubiri.
The 12th winner
In a report, Zubiri claimed that if the Maguindanao results were tallied, he would have a win by 25,000. But Opposition lawyer Leila de Lima said that according to a highly reliable source, the votes in the “real” MCoCs show that Zubiri would not have enough votes to dislodge Pimentel.
De Lima said that the figures in the copies of MCoCs shown to TF Maguindanao during its visit to General Santos City “were revolting.” In an interview, De Lima said that a quick scan of the 21 MCoCs, which are actually second and fourth copies posted on precinct walls, showed that the figures tend to support the 12-0 sweep by TU candidates.
Nineteen senatorial candidates, including extremely popular ones like Allan Peter Cayetano, Panfilo Lacson, Benigno Aquino III, and Antonio Trillanes IV received zero votes in all 22 municipalities in Maguindanao.
A special board of canvassers is set to canvass the 21 MCoCs today. This was after Ferrer declared that the MCoCs appeared authentic. Ferrer told reporters last Thursday that “there is no basis for the claim that (MCoCs) were manufactured. They were carefully stocked and padlocked.”
But according to De Lima, Comelec’s claim is immaterial: “The documents may be authentic but the entries are not.” De Lima also said that the names of the members of the Provincial Board of Canvassers in the MCoCs were written by one and the same handwriting, and the watchers had no signatures and thumb marks.
“The more important question is where did they come from? All of a sudden they’re there. All the (original) copies are missing,” she added. “The copies from General Santos City we believe were newly manufactured CoCs. “
Poll fraud witnesses
Medina of Lente also questioned Comelec’s claim, saying that Lente has spoken with members of the Board of Election Inspectors in Maguindanao who claimed that they filled out ballots in favor of TU candidates. According to Medina, the teachers would like to testify but they would like to remain anonymous for now for fear of their safety and that of their families’.
Calleja said that PPCRV has also spoken to four election officers who are willing to testify on the poll irregularities in Maguindanao. But Calleja said that before these witnesses can come forward, the Comelec should guarantee their safety.
Just this month, Maguindanao schools district supervisor Musa Dimasidsing was shot dead outside an Islamic school. Dimasidsing was one of those who blew the whistle on the election irregularities in Pagulangan. A few days after, two public school teachers on their way to Manila to testify on the alleged vote rigging in Maguindanao were abducted in Cebu by unidentified armed men.
“The real evidence could be inside the ballot boxes. If the ballot is tainted, then all the documents are tainted. It won’t reflect the true win of the people,” Medina said.
It is for this same reason that Pimentel is seeking the Supreme Court to exclude the vote tallies from Maguindanao and to proclaim him as the winner in the senatorial race. He said the 12-0 result was statistically improbable.
In his 44-page petition, Pimentel said Comelec acted in grave abuse of discretion and in lack or excess of jurisdiction when it sent a team to Maguindanao to retrieve the MCoCs.
Comelec earlier considered declaring a failure of elections in Maguindanao, but in a complete turnaround decided to create a team that would determine the “fitness for inclusion of canvass” of the MCoCs.
“Never before…has the Comelec, in relation to a senatorial canvass, gone to the provinces in order to collect documents and decide which among those collected are to be included in the canvas,” the petition stated.
“Comelec must be immediately restrained and stopped from pursuing its wayward ways…proceedings designed to generate or salvage vote figures for senators in Maguindanao at this very late stage should be annulled,” it added.
The High Court is expected to issue a decision on Pimentel’s petition any time this week.