COMMENT: Don’t Evade the Issue

More than denying the motion to set aside the Maguindanao votes and putting a cloud over the investigation, the order evaded the issue: Was there election in Maguindanao? The "no-election" presumption underlay "the motion to set aside" and "the investigation".  On the resolution of the issue rests the necessity of holding a special election.

In ordering the re-canvass, the Comelec maintains the position that there was nothing wrong serious enough to taint the integrity of the election and the only issue to be resolved to satisfy the Opposition and critics is: Was the canvassing of the votes correct?

Opposition lawyers Leila Delima and Sixto Briliantes challenged the order: What are they going to canvass?  They claimed that the Opposition did not receive copies of the municipal COCs (certificates of canvass), SOVs (statements of votes) and ERs (election returns). TEAM Unity lawyer Romulo Macalintal also said that they, too, did not receive their copies.

Both the question and the revelations are vital.  In the canvassing, the COCs are tallied.  Any COC may be questioned by any candidate or party by comparing the COC with the ERs and SOV.  In the re-canvass, how can either the GO or the TU challenge any COC when they have no copies of the three vital documents? Any such documents given now would be of suspicious authenticity. Will they be there just to witness the re-canvass and to confirm the correctness of the original canvass?

The question is of no significance to TU.  As reported, "Lawyer Romulo Macalintal welcomed the decision of the Comelec, adding that there were no anomalies committed in the province." On what basis can Macalintal vouch for the cleanness of the election of Maguindanao when, by his own admission, they have not received copies of the COCs, SOVs, and ERs? His statement betrays the truth of the alleged fixing of the Maguindanao votes at the behest of Malacañang.

This fact could not just be overlooked:  During the canvassing at Sharif Aguak — the capital of Maguindanao — Media, Namfrel and the other watchdogs accredited by the Comelec were not allowed to watch the proceedings. There were no representatives and lawyers of the candidates from either TU or GO present. Do the Comelec, TU and Malacañang not see that this alone has seriously put the conduct of the Maguindanao election in question?

The bases for impeaching the conduct of the election in Maguindanao should not be dismissed as "tsismis" or rumors.  The forced filling up of ballot on the eve of the election – a common knowledge in Maguindanao – as told by a school teacher to lawyers of Legal Network for Truthful Elections was corroborated by a similar incident as accounted in an affidavit by a man — a 51-year old member of the Board of Election Inspectors – in Sharif Aguak or Ampatuan.

The most telling evidence is the affidavit of BEI poll clerk Faisal Kalantungan from Pagalungan attesting that, as of the time she executed the affidavit on May 24, she had stayed at the town's session hall for ten days guarding the 38 ballot boxes and 190 election returns.  Yet at that time, the provincial canvass had been finished and the COC, SOV and ERs already sent to Manila. The Pagalungan COC used in the provincial canvass must have been fabricated. Was that true of the other COCs? The clandestine canvassing was, by itself, a fertile ground for suspicion.

Evidently, the question bedeviling the Maguindanao election is not, "Was the canvassing of votes correct?" but "Was there an election as the basis of the canvassing?" The "devil" can be exorcised not by a re-canvass but by getting deep into the heart of the real question.

The task force headed by a Comelec commissioner – not a new special board of canvassers – is the key to the unraveling of the question. With the participation of Namfrel and the other accredited watchdogs, Media, and the lawyers and representatives of the candidates, the task force should go straight to the primary source of the truth – the ballot boxes. Examining the boxes will reveal whether voting took place and how it was done.  This will validate or invalidate the COCs, SOVs, and ERs.

The imperative: Don't evade the issue. From what the ballot boxes will reveal, the Comelec can anchor its decision: Uphold the May 14 election; set aside the Maguindanao votes if these would not affect the final ranking of the 12 winning senatorial candidates; or, if they will, hold a special election.

("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a "Lifetime Achievement Award" from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public  information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to [email protected])

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