Electoral watchdogs say no municipal canvassing yet in 13 Lanao towns

Medina said that as of Monday noon, only five towns had finished counting the votes,  five towns had not started at all, and counting was still ongoing in three towns.

Medina said the towns of  Kapai, Lumbayanague, Sultan Dumalondong, Kapatagan and Madalum  were done with the counting of votes based on reports from lawyers they fielded to monitor four tabulation centers here.

But even as counting had been finished in these towns, municipal canvassing is yet to begin due to requests for a “change of venue to a safer place,” according to a special action officer assigned to Lumbayanague where election returns had been brought to the Marawi Resort Hotel at about noon.

“We are concerned that the counting of votes is slow and there are delays in the filling up of election returns,” Medina said in today’s press conference also at the Marawi Resort Hotel, organized by Lente, Namfrel and the Citizen’s Coalition on ARMM Electoral Reform (C-CARE).

An hour and a half earlier, Medina was able to get the sixth copy of 31 election returns from Lumbayanague when his team trailed a convoy of vehicles including a truckload of soldiers from the Amai Pakpak Elementary School in downtown Marawi all the way to the hotel inside the Mindanao State University campus.

“The period between the time counting is finished to the time ERs are given is a cause of concern,” Medina said.

Under Sections 210 and 211 of the Omnibus Election Code, the aggregate sum of votes should be recorded by the BEIs both on the tally sheets and on the election returns which should be prepared simultaneously with the counting of the votes in the polling place.

So far, the National Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) and Lente were able to secure the sixth copy of only 77 out of 494 election returns expected from 13 towns. That represents only 38% of the ERs.

Namfrel is in possession of only 39.9% of the ERs — 1,042 ERs of the May 14 polls from 16 towns and Marawi City. They are expecting a total of 2,609 election returns from the province’s 39 towns and Marawi City.

Lanao del Sur, including Marawi City, has 396,913 registered voters, up by at least 100,000 from the 2004 national elections.

NAMFREL provincial chair Hajji Abdullah Dalidig said they have not received some of the ERs due to refusal by the board of election inspectors (BEIs) to give them a copy despite two orders from Comelec Commisioner Rene Sarmiento on May 19 and May 23 directed to election officers.  

“Commissioner Sarmiento issued these directives but they are never followed,” Dalidig said. “But by hook or by crook, we are going to get all of them.”

Dalidig also said that they discovered “so many discrepancies” on ERs, citing for instance that the number of actual votes cast exceeded the number of registered voters.

“The election officers ay nag-dagdag boto, di nila alam may nagbabantay,” (added votes. They did not know there were people watching). said Dalidig. The discrepancies were so high that “our computer rejected the  tabulation because there are precincts with more votes than voters,” he said.

Delays in the counting of votes in Marogong, Pualas, Butig and Lumbatan – were due to a number of reasons from the absence of the election officer in the case of Marogong and a disqualification case filed against a candidate in the case of Lumbatan to questions on venue where the counting will be held.

Ballots from Butig and Pualas were supposed to be counted inside the Lanao del Sur Provincial Capitol Gym but counting was reportedly deferred due to rising concerns on health and sanitation.

In a visit inside the gym Sunday night, a team of Lente lawyers and reporters saw piles of styrofoam boxes and plastic bottles scattered everywhere in the jampacked gym with the air filled with the stench of urine.

In response to a reporter’s questions on whether Lente can facilitate the filing of complaints against erring election officials, Medina said his group will decide on what to do but urged Comelec to conduct an investigation.

“The Commission on Elections, being the most powerful body right now, must use its constitutional powers and do what is necessary to preserve the integrity of the electoral process,” he added.

About 13 Lente lawyers and five law students have been assigned to three other tabulation centers: Amai Pakpak Central Elementary School, Marawi City National
High School and Lanao People’s Park. Lente is closely working with Namfrel and C-CARE. (Charina Sanz Zarate/MindaNews)