Canvassing in Shariff Kabunsuan: “fair, calm, orderly”

“The process is transparent, fair, and the rule of law prevails here,” said Fr. David Procalla, OMI, who heads the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV)-Archdiocese of Cotabato.  Procalla had been monitoring the canvassing which started Wednesday at the heavily-guarded temporary office of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan Session Hall at the Mindanao State University compound here.

Adjourning shortly after 4 pm today, the board ruled for the inclusion of the municipal certificates of canvass from Upi, Datu Blah Sinsuat and Sultan Mastura which had been objected to by lawyers from rival camps on allegations of “tampering, erroneous and containing discrepancies.”

The board rejected the petitions for exclusion of these towns citing Supreme Court cases that uphold the admission of COCs as prima facie regular and authentic in the absence of “patent errors appearing on the face of the document”.

“(These) should be approached with extreme caution and convincing proof,” declared Josslyn de Mesa, the Manila-based chair of the Provincial Board of Canvassers.

De Mesa, earlier described in news reports as a “lady with guts” for having accepted the appointment after two others before her refused, is assisted by lawyers Gregorio Lardizabal and Juliet Villar.

The board deferred for Friday its ruling on the petition for exclusion of the vote-rich towns of Datu Odin Sinsuat, which has 39,700 registered voters and Sultan Kudarat, which has 39,326. Both are bailiwicks of gubernatorial candidates OIC Shariff Kabunsuan governor Bimbo Sinsuat and Sultan Kudarat mayor Tocao Mastura, respectively.

COCs from the towns of Buldon, Kabuntalan, Matanog, Parang and parts of North Kabuntalan had earlier been canvassed.

The PBC convened at 9 a.m. Wednesday, 16 days after polls were conducted on May 14. COMELEC had earlier placed the province under its control and had declared a failure of election for Barira town due to a stand-off between armed supporters of mayoralty candidates incumbent Mayor Alex Tomawis and vice mayor Jun Macarimbang who ran against Tomawis.

No date was announced as to when the special elections in Barira which has 11,919 registered voters will be held.

“The (PBC members) are very mature, very professional,” observed one of the lawyers, a view commonly shared by many who witnessed the canvassing. “Despite the tension, they handled the parties well,  more satisfactorily than expected.”  

Passions usually run high during canvassing, he said, as parties argue to exclude COCs and it affects people. “But the board of canvassers excellently won the crowd.”

Procalla also said that unlike in other polling and canvassing centers which barred PPCRV’s entry, the canvassing board had itself taken steps to involve them in the planning and discussions. “Finally, PPCRV is no longer a watchdog but a partner,” he said.

Lawyer Rodolfo Chang, coordinator of the Legal Network  for Truthful Elections (LENTE) in Cotabato City, also said that this is the most “smooth canvassing” they encountered.

The newly-created province, which was carved out of Maguindanao, has a total of 198,278 registered voters. It is the country’s 80th province and the sixth in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. (Charina Sanz Zarate/MindaNews)