Tensions flare up in Comelec Cotabato office during ERB hearing

COTABATO CITY (MindaNews / 11 Oct) – Tensions ran high inside the city office of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) here while the Election Regulatory Board was hearing petitions for disqualification of new voters.

Rep. Bai Sandra Sema in Congress. Photo from Rep. Sema’s Facebook page

Cotabato City Rep. Bai Sandra Sema, one of those petitioned to be disqualified for allegedly being a registered voter of the municipality of Datu Odin Sinsuat in Maguindanao, had an argument with lawyer Jars Guiani, counsel for petitioner Jimmy Sandigan, former village chair of Barangay Rosary Heights 7 here.

Sema showed up at the ERB hearing around 9 a.m. to “show prima facie evidence” that she is a resident of Rosary Heights 7. She said she registered with the poll body as transferee from Datu Odin Sinsuat.

“Where is my petitioner?” Sema asked the ERB headed by lawyer Mohammad Samama, acting city election officer.

Guiani, counsel for Sandigan and cousin of Cotabato City Mayor Cynthia Guiani-Sayadi, also told the ERB her client was coming late within the day.

“I showed up here as prima facie evidence. But where is the oppositor? He was lying. The summon given was [for us to be here at] 9 a.m. Everybody knows I am a resident of Cotabato City,” Sema said in an interview even as she threatened to file perjury charges against Sandigan for “lying under oath.”

Guiani said she manifested before the ERB that the oppositor to Sema’s voter registration was coming.

“I raised my hand and told the board I would like to raise a manifestation your honor that the oppositor will arrive today,” she said, adding that her client had until 5 p.m. to appear before the ERB.

But when the clock struck 5 p.m., petitioner Sandigan failed to show up, according to Samama.

Sukarno Utto, former chair of Barangay Rosary Heights 3, told reporters that the high number of new registrants is alarming and suspected that some of them are not residents of their barangay. He petitioned the delisting of about 300 voters.

“That is why we oppose registrants who we know are not from our village,” Utto said.

Mayor Guiani-Sayadi led her team in a motorcade around the city Thursday before filing certificates of candidacy with the Comelec office. She also led the launching of her party – the “One Kutawato Party” or OK Party.

Guiani’s group was the first to file their certificates of candidacy here for the 2019 local elections.

The Guianis and the Semas are openly known as political archrivals.

Guiani-Sayadi has publicly expressed her opposition to the inclusion of Cotabato City to the new political entity created by the Bangsamoro Organic Law with Sema as the principal author and now an avid campaigner.

Sema, in a separate interview, said she remained undecided whether to run for city mayor or not, now that she had decided to transfer her residency. Speculations were escalating that she transferred her voter registration to the city for that purpose.

“My family remained undecided on this. I will ask my supporters,” Sema said.

Guiani-Sayadi said the law must prevail on the issue of voter registration.

“Even if you threaten the oppositors, the fact remains that you are not a registered voter,” Guiani-Sayadi said. “If you are a registered voter, that’s okay with me but do not threaten anyone, do not harass. If you harass Cotabateños, I will not allow it. Ako makakalaban niyo (I will become your enemy).” (Ferdinandh Cabrera / MindaNews)