“Thank you” streamers hang in Iligan for leading Congressional bet

The streamers have been strung to catch public attention and apparently intend to sway public support to the cause of first district congressional candidate Vicente Varf Belmonte, who led in the counting against two well-entrenched rivals.

The streamers show a tabulation of votes that point to Belmonte as having gotten the highest number of votes compared to rivals Nikki Badelles and Imelda Dimaporo, both from two known families of politicians.

Despite leading in the tally and with only three ballot boxes left, Belmonte has lamented why he is not yet proclaimed.

This is because the provincial Comelec has not yet made a resolution on what to do with the three ballot boxes that were forcibly opened on May 20 by unidentified suspects and while at the custody of the provincial security personnel.

Msgr. Jemar Vera Cruz, vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Iligan City, has urged the members of the provincial board of canvassers to inhibit themselves from further canvass the three remaining boxes from the towns of Maigo, Bacolod and Kauswagan.

The inhibition "calls for the institution of new provincial board of canvassers which will likely derail further the proclamation of Belmonte".

Civil society groups want to take what they described as a more practical route to resolve the controversy.

Dr. Melchie Ambalong, co-convenor of Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) and People Electoral Alliance for Credible Election (PEACE), proposed that "canvassing should proceed with the use of official copies of certificate of canvassed votes issued by the election officers to the Comelec, to the majority and minority
parties, to PPCRV and for the public precincts".

The sixth copy of election returns that were signed by the Board of Election Inspectors "shall be be used for verification on either truthfulness or falsity of the contents of COCs put inside these forcibly opened boxes", according to Ambalong.

She said, "this should be witnessed by the public".

Meanwhile, the diocese's lawyer, Leo Zaragosa, who also ran for a congressional seat but conceeded defeat, said "there is still a request to National Bureau of Investigation to examine the substance of COCS if these are tampered, replaced or not".

"NBI investigated only the forcibly opened boxes but have not examined the contents of these ballots if its replaced or not," he said. Zaragoza believes that the NBI will have its findings in time when the provincial board of canvassers will be reconstituted.