Comelec declares failure of election in Maguindanao

The announcement was made by Comelec chair Benjamin Abalos in a press conference Wednesday afternoon in Manila. The two Comelec websites, however, do not contain a report on the announcement.

But the websites of GMA News TV and ABS-CBN reported that Abalos told a press conference that the Comelec en banc declared a failure of election in Maguindanao after the Special Board of Canvassers (SBC) which was convened to recanvass the Maguindanao votes terminated the proceedings for lack of supporting documents.

Maguindanao has 212,795 registered voters.

GMA News TV reported that the SBC issued the ruling “after the Comelec’s Records and Statistics Division issued a certification that no provincial statement of votes, municipal certificate of canvass and statement of votes, summary of votes, among other election documents, were transmitted to them.”

The date of the special election has yet to be set. The election period is supposed to end June 13.

Noon of  June 30 marks the end of the terms of office of incumbent officials and the start of the new set of officials.

Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, commissioner in charge of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao told MindaNews there would be a hearing on Monday in Manila to give the parties a chance to say their piece on the matter.

Maguindanao delivered a 12-0 sweep in favor of the administration’s Team Unity. Voter turnout, Bedol told MindaNews noon of May 16, was “no less than 90%.”

Abalos also said the Comelec summoned proclaimed winners in Maguindanao – from governor down to the councilors — to appear before the National Board of Canvassers in Pasay City at 10 a.m. Monday morning “to explain [their proclamation],” ABS-CBN News reported.

The provincial slate for governor, vice-governor and provincial board members is unopposed. The municipal slate for mayor, vice-mayor and municipal board members in 20 of 22 Maguindanao towns is also uncontested.

A total of 233 candidates had been proclaimed in Maguindanao – one congressman (Simeon Datumanong), one governor (Datu Andal Ampatuan), one vice governor (his son, Datu Sajid Islam Ampatuan), 10 provincial board members; 22 town mayors, 22 vice mayors and 176 councilors at eight councilors for each of 22 towns.

Only the posts in the towns of Talitay and Pagalungan are contested although ARMM Governor Zaldy Ampatuan told MindaNews on May 14 that both sides are still pro-Administration.

In many Maguindanao towns, “Thank you” streamers from the proclaimed candidates, including those in Pagalungan, are now being displayed in key areas.

In Pagalungan, the party of Vice Mayor Norodin Matalam, a candidate for mayor, is contesting the alleged illegal proclamation of Ohto Montawal and his father, incumbent mayor Macabangen Montawal, as mayor-elect and vice mayor-elect, respectively.

Pagalungan has 10,171 registered voters in 12 barangays but the Montawals were reportedly proclaimed May 16 even as the election returns turned over to the Provincial Board of Canvassers were only from the four barangays whose ballots were allegedly snatched early morning of May 14 and filled out in neighboring Montawal town (Pagagawan),  reelectionist councilor Rahma Matalam said. The four barangays account for some 2,800 registered voters. The election returns from the remaining eight barangays, constituting 38 ballot boxes and at least 5,000 votes, are still in the municipal legislative building, she said.

Mayor Montawal was not in the town hall when MindaNews visited Wednesday.

The Montawals, according to a photocopy of the “Certificate of Canvass of Votes and Proclamation of the Winning Candidates for Municipal Offices” were proclaimed May 16 by the municipal board of canvassers led by Elisa Gasmin with Ohto and his father earning the same number of votes: 2,769.

Abalos told the press conference in Manila that the Comelec will uphold the proclamation of  those who won in Maguindanao if the municipal board of canvassers produces the required election documents.

Failing to produce the documents, Comelec will void the proclamations and schedule the special elections.

GMA News TV quoted Abalos as saying that “as of today there is a failure of elections but it can be overturned upon presentation of documents. It is up for them to prove or disprove this (failure of elections). Sa ngayon kasi ang hawak naming record ay wala” (as of now, we have no records).

Bedol, whom MindaNews saw at the ground floor entrance of the Provincial Capitol building in Shariff Aguak town shortly before noon Wednesday, said he was not hiding as reported. “I am not hiding. Why should I? I’m a lawyer,” he said.

Bedol holds office at the ground floor of the Capitol. He said he moved to that office “matagal na” (a long time ago), way before the elections.

Bedol, concurrent election supervisor of Shariff Kabunsuan, the province carved out of Maguindanao, used to hold office in Cotabato City but that “satellite office,” according to Bedol, has been taken over by protesters from Barira in Shariff Kabunsuan.

In a press statement Wednesday, Senate minority leader Aquilino Q. Pimentel,
Jr., whose son Koko of the Genuine Opposition is on the 12th spot with a small margin over Team Unity’s Juan Miguel Zubiri,  urged the Comelec, acting as  national board of canvassers, to “void the election results in Maguindanao due to massive fraud and to proclaim the winners of the senatorial elections without the Maguindanao votes.”

“‘There is enough evidence to nullify the Maguindanao votes. Comelec should proclaim the winners of the senatorial race without the Maguindanao votes, otherwise, we encourage political warlords to defeat the will of law-abiding citizens,” he said.

Abalos had earlier ordered the creation of Task Force Maguindanao, precisely to investigate the allegations of fraud in Maguindanao. Before the Task Force could proceed to Maguindanao, Commissioner Sarmiento, supposedly the Task Force chair, resigned. On May 30, Comelec ordered a re-canvass, claiming it is “statistically improbable” to have 19 senatorial candidates get zero in the province.

Engr. Norie Unas, Maguindanao administrator and spokesperson of Governor Andal Ampatuan, told MindaNews Wednesday noon in Shariff Aguak that the creation of the Task Force, like the allegations of fraud, were just “hanggang television lang” (TV talk).

Unas said the Task Force has not officially sent notice to the local government.

He said the burden of proof that there was cheating in Maguindanao “lies with the challenger, with the accuser.” (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)