Soldier injured in Sarangani explosions, mayoralty race dispute eyed as motive

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/6 June) – Tension heightened at the coastal municipality of Maasim in Sarangani province following the twin grenade explosion near the town’s police station Sunday night that injured a soldier, which investigators said could be caused by the heated mayoralty race.

Senior Supt. Florendo Quidilla, Sarangani provincial police director, said the two grenades exploded almost simultaneously around 8:50 p.m. at the vicinity of the Maasim police station, which is located within the municipal hall complex.

He said a member of the Army’s 73rd Infantry Battalion task group assigned to secure the municipal hall complex suffered minor shrapnel injuries due to the blast.

The police official said local investigators initially recovered two safety levers of fragmentation grenades near the scene of the explosions.

“Based on initial accounts from several witnesses, two persons onboard a motorcycle was seen roaming near the police station prior to the incident,” he said in a radio interview.

Quidilla said it initially appears that the Maasim police station was the main target of the attack but said they are also looking at several angles as possible motive.

“Our investigation is concentrated on (determining) whoever has the motive to do to this,” he said.

The police official said among the angles being eyed by investigators is the ongoing political crisis brought about by the dispute over the town’s mayoral seat.

The town’s vice mayor, Uttoh Salem Cutan, took over the mayor’s office last week following a decision by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) en banc to nullify the proclamation of Mayor Jose Zamorro due to errors in the results of the May 10, 2010 elections in the area.

The Comelec en banc ordered the reconvening of the Municipal Board of Canvassers (MBOC) to correct the previous errors in the canvassing of votes, which resulted to the erroneous proclamation of Zamorro.

The MBOC 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 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 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.

Based on the final, unofficial count of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting, Lawa won the mayoralty race with a total of 5,440 votes while Zamorro got 5,381 or a difference of 58 votes.

But Zamorro, who immediately appealed the Comelec en banc’s decision, refused to step down as Maasim mayor and questioned the legitimacy of Cutan’s takeover of the mayor’s office.

Zamorro declared that he will remain as mayor of Maasim unless he is ordered by the courts to vacate the post.

On the other hand, Cutan said he will continue to assume the duties of the mayor of Maasim until the Comelec and other concerned government agencies properly resolve Zamorro’s case.

“I’m appealing to our national officials to intervene and resolve this matter before our situation gets worse. This has affected the overall operations of Maasim since last year and we all want to finally move on from this,” he told reporters Monday.

Cutan, whose assumption as Maasim mayor was supported by Sarangani Gov. Miguel Rene Dominguez, reiterated that he will immediately vacate the mayor’s office as soon as the Comelec and other concerned agencies issue a final ruling on the matter.(Allen V. Estabillo / MindaNews)