“We are terribly alarmed and saddened” ? Iligan diocese

Msgr. Jemar Vera Cruz, vicar general of the Catholic Diocese of Iligan City, expressed this frustration to news reporters here, over the discovery of tampering of ballot boxes while at the custody of provincial security personnel.

"Our election laws are violated; lists of voters were not released promptly; vote-buying and selling; there's seven-hour black-out in many towns of Lanao del Norte; there's massive cheating in interior towns," Cruz said, enumerating the cases of alleged tampering and other election irregularities in the city and in Lanao del Norte.

Cruz said that ballot boxes containing certificate of canvassing (COC) were "forcibly opened and tampered even at the custody of provincial security personnel" at the Lanao Norte's provincial capitol. He added that the transport of the ballot boxes from Iligan's city hall to Tubod municipality was "a scene of disorder, confusion and mauling".

Cruz  referred to the violent confrontation of policemen from Cagayan de Oro City and thousands of supporters of congressional candidate Vincente Varf Belmonte. Belmonte's supporters barricaded the city's legislative hall, from May 20 to May 22, to protest the transfer of said boxes and to safeguard the sanctity of their ballots.

Policemen broke through the barricade and mauled some barricaders although the latter also threw stones at policemen.  Eight civilians and six policemen were injured.

The police went to the legislative hall at the behest of the Commission on Elections (Comelec), which denied the petition of Belmonte's lawyers asking that canvassing of Iligan City's COCs be done at the city's legislative hall.

"Until today, winner for the first Congressional district is yet to be proclaimed due to unusual and suspicious delay in canvassing," said Cruz.

Cruz met with his priests, leaders of civil society groups, the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, National Citizens Movement for Free Elections, and the diocese's lawyer at the Bishop House to draft their position that "with these reprehensible acts that truly subvert the sovereign will of the people amid discouraging situation, we call on the cleansing of the Comelec and the automation of 2010 election".

"We strongly denounce the wanton use of goons, guns and gold by the candidates and their supporters to harrass voters and buy votes. We also condemn the blatant and shameful attempt to alter the result of the elections to favor particular candidates in the towns of Maigo, Bacolod and Kauswagan whose official result we already knew based on the official COC copy of the PPCRV," Cruz said.

Cruz urged the provincial board of canvasser to inhibit themselves from further canvassing the remaining COCs of the three municipalities.

"We call on people… those who gave up their freedom in exchange for measly sum to re-examine their conscience and seek their true role in nation-building. The voice that was bought, harrassed and subverted is not God's voice," he said.