Maasim mayoralty winner to Comelec: nullify erroneous proclamation

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / May 21) – An administration mayoralty aspirant in Maasim town in Sarangani province has asked the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to immediately nullify the earlier proclamation of his rival due to alleged erroneous transmission of election returns from one of the polling precincts.

Defeated Maasim mayoralty candidate Arturo Lawa said on Friday that he filed a petition before the Comelec en banc in Manila to rectify alleged errors in the town’s voting results after the Municipal Board of Canvassers (MBOC) also allegedly failed to properly count the votes cast from clustered precinct number 21 of Barangay Kablakan in Maasim.

He claimed the MBOC “erroneously counted the votes cast during the mock elections,” or during the testing and sealing of the precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machine in the polling precinct “and not the actual votes cast during the May 10 automated elections”.

Based on the MBOC’s official count, Lawa, who ran under administration coalition Sarangani Reconciliation and Reformation Organization-Lakas-Kampi-CMD (Sarro-Lakas), trailed proclaimed mayor Jose Zamorro by only 15 votes.

Zamorro ran as an independent and received 5,321 votes while Lawa only got 5,306 votes.

Lawa, an outgoing provincial board member, said “it turned out that the MBOC only counted the nine votes cast during the mock polls at precinct number 21 as shown in the statement of votes that it earlier released”.

He said the questioned clustered precinct, which covered four established precincts in Barangay Kablakan, had 800 registered voters, of which 616 actually voted in the May 10 elections based on the copies of election returns printed from the PCOS machine.

In the certified election returns from the precinct, Lawa received 136 votes while Zamorro had 62 votes.

Lawyer Chalmer Gevieso, regional coordinator of election automation firm Smartmatic-TIM, said “it appeared that the concerned Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) erroneously transmitted the voting results from the mock elections and not during the actual voting last May 10”.

He said the nine valid ballots counted from the precinct were among the 10 ballots that sampled the PCOS machines before the elections.

“They may have made a transmission during the sealing and testing, which should not have been done by the BEIs as stated in in their general instructions manual provided by the Comelec,” he said.

Fr. Floro Litigio, municipal chair of election watchdog Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), also confirmed the discrepancy saying that Lawa was “indeed the winning candidate based on the copies of election returns” that were transmitted to them.

He said their final, unofficial count showed Lawa winning the mayoralty race with a total of 5,440 votes while Zamorro got 5,381 or a difference of 58 votes in the former’s favor.

“We got this (result) after completing the canvassing of all copies of election returns that we received from the precinct level,” the priest said.

During the canvassing, Lawa said their camp immediately contested the discrepancy but they were told by members of the MBOC and Comelec officials to file a manifestation that they would submit a petition contesting the canvassing results.

He said the MBOC later proclaimed Zamorro as the winning mayor after completing the municipal canvassing.

“I’m really disheartened with this matter because we already saw the problem earlier and manifested this to the MBOC and the Comelec but they did not act on it,” Lawa said.

Zamorro, in an interview over a local television station, refused to acknowledge the supposed discrepancy saying he will leave the matter to his lawyers.

“I’m the proclaimed mayor of Maasim and I have the necessary documents to prove that,” he said.

But Lawyer Jose Villanueva, city election officer here and concurrent Comelec Region 12 assistant regional director, acknowledged in a radio interview that the MBOC and election officials in Maasim may have erred when they failed to act on the discrepancy raised by the Lawa camp much earlier.

He said the glaring discrepancy between the total vote count transmitted from the precinct and the number of valid ballots counted by the PCOS machines should have been a basis for an immediate manual recount at the precinct level.

“They should have made a recount right at the precinct level and then subject the immediate transmission of the correct results,” he said.

But since Zamorro was already proclaimed as the elected mayor by the MBOC, he will still assume the post by July 1 and will remain until the Comelec later decides on Lawa’s petition.

“Unfortunately, this will be a long process. The Comelec en banc will have to order the reconvening of the MBOC or assign a special body to open the ballots and then make a recount,” he added. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)