No winner yet in Lanao Norte congressional race

Lawyers for the Genuine Opposition cited as proof election returns coming from Maigo town which they claimed were tampered.

"The original figures of the COC (certificates of canvass) were ‘snowpeaked’ (erased and changed), numbers of votes were altered, signatures and ink used which appeared in the COC were different compared to other authentic COCs held by Namfrel (National Movement for Free Elections), majority and minority parties," lawyer Arthur Abudiente, lead counsel of the opposition, told the provincial Commission on Elections.

The opposition lawyers also claimed that the votes for Nikki Badelles (Team Unity) and Varf Belmonte (GO) were reduced while those of Gov. Imelda Dimaporo were padded citing the COCs from Maigo, Bacolod and Kauswagan towns.

The examined COCs were taken from the controversial three ballot boxes from the same towns that were "forcibly opened" last May 19 inside the provincial legislative building based on the reports of Alex Cabornay, regional director of the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) in Region X.

In comparison, the COCs held by Namfrel, PPRCV, majority and minority parties showed that in Bacolod Badelles got 1,676 votes, Belmonte 2,790 and Dimaporo 3,976.

In Maigo, COCs held by the same groups showed that Badelles got 2,956 votes, Belmonte 1,791 and Dimaporo 1,550.

In Kauswagan, Badelles got 2,653 votes, Belmonte 2,568 and Dimaporo 2,725.

But the "tampered COCs" said that in Bacolod Badelles got 239 votes, Belmonte 223 and Dimaporo 8,605. In Maigo, it was 458 votes for Badelles, 268 for Belmonte, and 7,383 for Dimaporo. In Kauswagan, the three candidates got 288, 328 and 10,225 votes, respectively.

No alterations were cited for the votes of Leo Zaragoza and Uriel Borja, both of whom have conceded defeat.

The Comelec en banc has directed the PBOC "to retrieve and open the envelop containing the COCs from the tampered ballot boxes to check if there are discrepancies" and submit these to the NBI for technical investigation if alterations were found.

The memorandum also directed the provincial Comelec "to canvass the admitted tampered ballot boxes…but must refrain from declaring any candidate until ordered by the Commission."

The newly reconstituted PBOC led by lawyer Lordino Salvana, convened Friday at the legislative hall after a group of Maranaos who barricaded in front of the building voluntarily dispersed around 10 a.m. Sources said that two prominent politicians in the province told the barricaders to leave.

The barricade prevented the PBOC from entering the building the past two days.

Abudiente expressed objection to the Comelec order. He said the allegedly tampered COCs should not be canvassed as these would be their evidence in legal actions they might take.

Lawyer Rogelio Bagabuyo, counsel for GO senatorial candidate Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, wanted the canvassing of votes for senatorial candidates to be prioritized. He said problems relating to local candidates were not [his] concern.

Two radio stations here aired live coverage of the canvassing of votes as soon as the PBOC convened.

Zaragoza, speaking through the radio stations, asked all his supporters "to go out and protect your votes by joining a vigil at the provincial capitol."

As of this writing, a number of people have already gathered in front of St. Michael Church.