Comelec moves to settle Sarangani town electoral dispute

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/7 June) – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) in Region 12 or Southwestern Mindanao has recommended the convening of a special Municipal Board of Canvassers (MBOC) in the coastal municipality of Maasim in Sarangani province in a bid to resolve an ongoing dispute over the town’s mayoral post.

Lawyer Michael Abas, Comelec Region 12 director, said they recently submitted such recommendation to the Comelec en banc, which nullified last month the proclamation of incumbent Maasim Mayor Jose Zamorro due to acknowledged errors in the results of the May 10, 2010 elections in the area.

The Comelec en banc, in a decision received by the Comelec regional office last May 16, ordered the immediate reconvening of the Maasim MBOC to correct the errors in its previous canvassing and proclaim the rightful winner in the town’s mayoral race.

Abas said the Comelec en banc’s decision was immediately transmitted to the Sarangani and Maasim election offices but both failed to immediately reconvene the MBOC due to problems with its membership.

He said Maasim election officer Teresita Lucero, who chairs the MBOC, already filed for retirement from government service effective last May 31 while its previous vice chairperson, Maasim municipal treasurer Moises Magallona Jr., was no longer eligible to assume the MBOC post due to changes with his employment status.

“The situation of the MBOC is quite peculiar so we requested the Comelec en banc to allow us to convene a special MBOC to resolve the situation,” Abas said.

The regional election official said they have also requested the Comelec central office to extend Lucero’s retirement date to allow the latter to assume her duties as MBOC chair.

As of Tuesday morning, the Comelec regional office has yet to receive a response from the Comelec en banc regarding the matter.

Its recommendation on the extension of Lucero’s retirement date also remained pending so far, said a Comelec Region 12 employee who asked not to be named.

The Maasim MBOC earlier proclaimed Zamorro, who was an independent candidate, as the winning mayor of Maasim after receiving 5,321 votes, edging his closest rival, then outgoing provincial board member Arturo Lawa, who got 5,306 votes.

But Comelec records showed that the MBOC failed to properly count the votes cast in clustered precinct number 21 of Barangay Kablakan in Maasim after the assigned precinct count optical scan or PCOS machine in the area transmitted the wrong results to the election server.

Local coordinators of automation firm Smartmatic-TIM, which was contracted by the Comelec to assist in the conduct of the computerized elections, noted that the MBOC erroneously canvassed the nine votes cast during the mock elections or the testing and sealing of the deployed PCOS machine and not the actual votes cast during the May 10 automated elections.

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

Citing Zamorro’s incapacity to remain as Maasim mayor as a result of the Comelec’s decision, Vice Mayor Uttoh Salem Cutan immediately took over last week as acting mayor.

But Zamorro, who has appealed the Comelec en banc’s decision, refused to step down from his post and questioned the legitimacy of Cutan’s assumption as mayor.

Zamorro has remained holed up at the mayor’s office and declared that he will remain as Maasim mayor until he is ordered to step down by the courts.

On Sunday night, the municipal government complex of Maasim was rocked by two grenade explosions, which police investigators initially believed were linked to the ongoing political crisis in the area.

Sarangani Gov. Miguel Rene Dominguez said they received reports that the explosions were the handiwork of a local lawless group that was reportedly out to muddle the already tense situation in the area. (Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)