In Polomolok, discrepancies between labeled and actual weight of ballots may delay polls

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews/11 May) —  The elections in two clustered polling precincts in Polomolok town in South Cotabato could face delays or might not push through at all on Monday due to protests from local political camps regarding the discrepancies earlier found regarding the weight of the boxes that contained their official ballots.

Anwar Paidumama, Pomolok election officer, said on Saturday that three of the four mayoralty candidates in the area have filed separate petitions questioning the differences between the actual and labeled weights of the assigned official ballots for precincts 93 and 94 of Barangay Sumbakil.

He said the discrepancies were established during a public weighing last Thursday of the sealed ballots conducted at the Polomolok gymnasium.

The box containing the ballots for precinct 93 was labeled as weighing around 12 kilos but only had an actual weight of around seven kilos while precinct 94’s ballots weighed at over 12 kilos but was only marked 9.10 kilos, he said.

Paidumama said the labels were made by the packaging and shipping section of Noah’s Paper Mills Inc., which was contracted by the Commission on Elections to print the official ballots.

“It appears that the some ballots for precinct 93 were lacking and precinct 94 has excess ballots. But these boxes were sealed until now and none of them had signs of any possible tampering so I think this problem did not happen on our end,” he told MindaNews.

Although not required based on standard election procedure, the official said they decided to conduct the weighing of the official ballots to be transparent with their handling following complaints that the camp of outgoing Mayor Isidro Lumayag had allegedly accessed some official ballots intended for Monday’s polls.

The weighing was conducted after they transferred the ballots from the treasurer’s office to the gymnasium to ensure their security.

The mayor’s daughter Honey Lumayag-Matti is seeking to replace him in the upcoming elections under the administration-backed Liberal Party-Nationalist People’s Coalition-Achiever’s with Integrity Movement (LP-NPC-AIM) slate.

Nilda Almencion, United Nationalist Alliance mayoralty candidate and independents Fernando Faldas and Leo Cordova had asked the Polomolok election office to investigate reports that the Lumayag camp had obtained copies of the official ballots.

Cordova, who is a lawyer, claimed that they have two eyewitnesses who could prove that the mayor’s camp has obtained some of the official ballots and even filled up or shaded them during a recent session with their supporters.

But Lumayag said the other political camps might have misinterpreted the mock elections that they earlier conducted for their poll watchers.

He said the ballots that they used for the activity were copies of the sample official ballots posted by the Comelec on its website.

Paidumama said they already referred the matter late Friday to the Comelec central office and they’re hoping to get a response before the voting starts on Monday.

“We need to have some clarification first regarding these discrepancies before we’ll start the voting in these precincts,” he said.

The official said they may opt to just open the boxes that contained the ballots on Monday and count them in front of the public before proceeding with the voting.

But he said they might face some problems with the lacking ballots as they could cause further tension among local political camps.

“Kapag nangyari yan, kawawa naman ang mga BEI (board of election inspectors), ang municipal treasurer at pati na rin ako. So para maproteksyunan ang lahat, di tayo magsisimula ng botohan hanggat kulang ang mga balota at malinaw sa amin kung ano talaga ang naging sanhi ng problemang ito (When that happens, the blame might be placed on our BEI’s, the municipal treasurer and on me. So to protect everyone, we will not start with the voting until the lacking ballots are addressed and we proper clarification on what really caused this problem),” he added. (Allen V. Estabillo/MindaNews)