Facing the hilltop municipal hall here, makeshift tents had been put up by residents, mostly supporters of the supposed winner according to the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) count.
When MindaNews visited late Sunday afternoon, the residents said they had kept vigil since the explosions Wednesday night, taking over practically the entire municipal hall, with makeshift placards announcing “boto ko, ipaglaban ko” (my vote, I will fight for) or “boto ko, huwag ilayo” (my vote, don’t move), the latter in response to reports the canvassing of votes would be done in Isulan, the capital town of Sultan Kudarat, 80 kilometers downhill.
On Saturday morning, those who staged their version of People Power at the town hall, warned they would have themselves chained to the ballot boxes if Comelec transferred the canvassing to Isulan.
According to Namfrel’s final, unofficial count, reelectionist mayor Rafael Flauta, Jr., lost to Dante Manganaan, a former policeman turned businessman, by 604 votes, Flauta getting 5,286 against Manganaan’s 5,890.
In the 2004 elections, Manganaan told MindaNews late Sunday afternoon, he lost to Flauta by 86 votes.
Flauta acknowledges that it was the announcement of the Namfre count that triggered tension in the town. He told MindaNews also late Sunday afternoon that the Namfrel count is not official and that just before Wednesday’s explosions, he was leading by 225 votes. He also presented a Lumad churchworker, Julito Dalembong, who said the Namfrel copy was “not a clear copy.”
Flauta said he didn’t know who the armed men were.
He also denied he wants the canvassing done in Isulan. He said he hoped Comelec would send its people here immediately. Manganaan said the same but made a special request for Comelec to do the canvassing only during daytime.
Fr. Raffy Tianero, who is in charge of the Indigenous Peoples ministry of the Oblates of the Mary Immaculate (OMI) and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) here told MindaNews that they were in the Sangguniang Bayan session hall to the right of the town hall when the guns were fired.
He said there was no problem encountered since canvassing started at 11 p.m. Monday, May 14 and ended at 3 a.m. the next day. There was no problem also on May 15.
The Namfrel tally based on the sixth copy of the election returns from the town’s 116 precincts was available by May 15.
On May 16, Fr. Tianero said, there was a noticeable delay in the canvassing and they had just finished 80 ERs when they heard the first explosion, allegedly from an M-79, at a little past 7 p.m.
The entry in the police blotter that evening of May 16 said that at around 7:15 p.m., “two big explosions were heard at the back portion of SNA Learning Center building located at the back of the SB Session Hall this municipality where canvassing of votes were held followed by gunfiring. Investigation conducted disclosed that the canvassing of votes by the Board of Canvassers was ongoing when the explosions took place. Investigation further disclosed that while the gunfiring was going on, Mr. Melecano Bernan, election officer of this municipality and Atty. Herculano Taglaogin ran outside of the canvassing area and rode on their service vehicle with their police escort, certain P01 Deocampo and P01 Bernan sped off heading towards Isulan, SK, allegedly bringing with them certificates of canvass. Recovered from the place where the Comelec vehicles were parked just at the back of the Session Hall were statement of votes believed to be parts of the stolen documents. Also recovered thereat were several empty shell of M16 rifle. No person was injured in the incident.”
Fr. Tianero said they were surprised Bernan fled with the documents and later made it appear he was under threat when the gunfire was reportedly coming from their police escorts. Bernan could not be reached for comment.
lauta and a Lumad leader with him, Rey Daquias, accused the priests of being partisans for Manganaan. Fr. Tianero said guarding the vote is part of the mandate of the PPCRV.
Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo, in whose archdiocese this town belongs, on Sunday also appealed “strongly and urgently” to the Comelec in Manila to “count the votes in Kulaman, Kalamansig and Lebak,” for the “safety of our people guarding the ballots, for the integrity of elections.”
The three towns have a total of 75,573 registered voters. Kulaman has 20,122; Kalamansig has 20,703 and Lebak has 34,648. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)