COMMENT: At the Price of Conscience

Before the canvass, Vicente “Varf” Belmonte (GO) was leading Imelda Quibranza-Dimaporo (Lakas-CMD) by 17,000 votes; after, Dimaporo led Belmonte by 7,000 votes. In Iligan City, by the Namfrel Count, Belmonte won against Dimaporo by a margin of 22,938 votes. The election was a three-cornered fight among Belmonte, Dimaporo and Nikki Badelles (TU).

Despite the vehement objections of the lawyers of Genuine Opposition, the Commission on Elections – disregarding the evidence of forcible opening of the boxes containing the CoCs — ordered the canvass of the questioned CoCs but not to declare a winner, obviously until the National Bureau of Investigation has ascertained if the CoCs had been tampered.

The three boxes were forcibly opened last May 19 inside the legislative building in Tubod, the capital of Lanao del Norte, wrote MindaNews (May 21) citing a report of Iligan Movement for True Democracy which the NBI later confirmed. Tubod is under the full control of the men of Dimaporo, the outgoing governor.

The order to canvass had neither logic nor sense. Why canvass but not proclaim? The GO lawyers argued that the tampered votes gained legitimacy when canvassed and could be a valid ground for the winner to petition for proclamation. The restraint will be “until ordered by the Commission” – an order fraught with all possibilities.

Puzzling

The Commission ordered the provincial board of canvassers to submit the COCs from the tampered ballot boxes — if found with discrepancies – “to the NBI for technical investigation if alterations were found”. This is puzzling, unnecessary and arbitrary.

The case of the tampered ballot boxes is, by inference, covered by Sections 235 and 236 of the Omnibus Election Code. Nowhere is there a reference to the NBI. They prescribe solutions to be done by the board of canvassers. Only when none of these is possible, will the board of canvassers bring the matter to the Commission for final resolution.

In the case of the forcible opening of the ballot boxes from Bacolod, Maigo and Kauswagan, these had been brought to the attention of the Commission, hence its memorandum to the Provincial Board of Canvassers. And, what were found inside the ballot boxes?

Quoting the GO lead lawyer, MindaNews (June 2) reported: “The original figures of the COC were ‘snowpeaked’ (erased and changed), numbers of votes were altered, signatures and ink used which appeared in CoCs were different compared to other authentic CoCs held by Namfrel (National Movement for Free Elections), majority and minority parties.”

The tampering of the CoCs in the ballot boxes was evident. With reference to Sections 235 and 236, the CoCs with Namfrel and the two parties, all authentic copies of the tampered CoCs, should have been used for the canvassing.

More Evidence

The most compelling evidence of tampering is the difference between the figures in CoCs from the forcibly opened ballot boxes and the authentic copies in the hands of Namfrel and the two political parties. No NBI findings can reverse the logical and inevitable conclusion.

Figures in the authentic copies with Namfrel and the two parties show the following: Badelles had 7,285 votes in the three municipalities; Belmonte, 7,149; and Dimaporo, 7,851. The total valid votes cast (TVVC) for the three, 22,285.

In the CoCs inside the forcibly opened boxes: Badelles, 985 votes; Belmonte, 819; Dimaporo, 26,213; TVVC, 28,017.

Badelles lost 6,300 votes; Belmonte lost 6,330; Dimaporo gained, 18,362; and, TVVC, increased by 5,732. This increase could have been taken from the votes of the two other candidates who, by Namfrel Count, got insignificant votes in the whole district – Leo Zaragosa, 5,715 and Jojo Borja, 274 or a total of 5,989 votes.

Dimaporo’s 18,362-increase is the total of the votes that Badelles and Belmonte lost plus the increase in TVVC. (6,300 + 6330 + 5,732 = 18,362)

Before the canvass, the authentic copies with Namfrel and the two parties showed Belmonte leading Dimaporo – in round figures – by 17,000 votes; after the canvass, Dimaporo led by 7,000 (INQUIRER.net, June 3). According to Namfrel Count, Belmonte had a landslide in Iligan City – 35,381 against Badelles’ 21,886 and Dimaporo’s 12,843.

The TVVC had to be increased and padded on Dimaporo’s votes to give her an impressive margin of 7,000 plus. The votes shaved from Badelles and Belmonte would have given Dimaporo only 1,000 plus winning margin.

In Conscience

Belmonte has a strong case but he could lose the election and his clear mandate. The forcibly opened boxes and the evidently tampered CoCs, following strictly the Omnibus Election Code, should have been sealed and set aside. However, the Commission ordered the canvassing of the CoCs paving the way for a possible proclamation of Dimaporo.

In conscience, how can the commissioners be arbitrary? They know that the integrity of the CoCs can be determined, as a last recourse, by the ERs; and, that of the ERs, by the ballots with the Commission having the last option. Why let the NBI determine the integrity of the CoCs when the board of canvassers should do this — and the Commission, if necessary?

Dimaporo may take advantage of the arbitrariness of the Commission and her nearness to Malacañang, and petition the Commission to proclaim her the winner. Let no one be surprised if the petition will be granted even before the NBI could submit its findings.

Should this happen, can Imelda Quibranza-Dimaporo – reared as a Christian but now a devout Muslim – raise her head high to exult in a false mandate bought at the price of her false Christian-Muslim conscience?

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