The provincial office of the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) in Palawan said on Wednesday it has rejected a petition filed by gubernatorial candidate Arthur Ventura and his supporters to nullify the results of the provincial polls, stating that the petition did not follow the poll body’s “rules and procedures.”
Provincial elections office spokesperson Jomel Ordas said they have forwarded Ventura’s petition to their legal department in Manila as a “reported incident and not as a verified election complaint.”
Ordas was referring to a petition filed by Ventura together with Makabayan Palawan coordinator Absie Eligio and Palawan NGO Network, Inc. (PNNI) program manager Lorie Cagatulla.
The petition is seeking to nullify the local elections in Palawan, citing cases of vote buying, defective vote counting machines (VCMs) and SD cards.
“Kasi meron sila doong mga accusations sa certain candidates at kahit paano damay nga ang COMELEC kaya hindi naman pupuwede ‘yong sinabi mo lang. Dapat i-under oath mo siya. Mag-fa-fall na kasi ‘yon doon sa parang election complaint. Kapag election complaint siya dapat sumunod sa rules and procedures ng tamang pag-file. Dapat verified complaint with affidavits ng complainant mismo na kasama doon,” Ordas said.
Ordas said aside from the two-page petition, what was submitted to their office was the attendance list of the May 18 meeting of One Palawan and Save Palawan Movement.
He said vote buying is a serious allegation with electoral liabilities that should be notarized and supported by pertinent evidence.
“Tini-treat natin na reported incident siya kasi ang proper filing talaga dapat under oath siya, verified complaint siya with affidavits at evidence. Pareho din iyan sa kapag nag-file ka ng mga complaints sa regular court, dapat may ebidensya, may legal requirements at procedures,” he said.
Ordas said they sent the petition to their legal department on the same day it was filed and also to the Task Force Kontra Bigay (TFKB) that was formed as a special body to look into vote buying complaints.
He said they also wrote on May 28 to defeated gubernatorial candidate Ventura to inform him about their “local action” to report the appeal as an “election incident” through Atty. Robert Chan, executive director of the PNNI.
Ordas further said that if the civil society groups want to make their complaint official, they can do so by following “proper filing procedures.”
“Na-forward namin kaya lang may aksyon din ‘yong ano provincial COMELEC at ‘yon nga gumawa tayo ng reply doon sa petition nila kahapon din (May 28) na kung interested sila, puwede nilang i-file ng official talaga. Dapat verified complaint talaga tapos may affidavits talaga at complete with evidence,” he said.
In defense of the COMELEC on defective SD cards and vote counting machines (VCMs) cited in the petition, Ordas pointed out that the procedure concerning this was open to the public to stamp out suspicions and doubts.
He added Palawan is not the only province that had issues about delayed transfers of electronically counted returns.
“Open naman ‘yon sa public hindi ba? ‘Yong nagkaroon ng problema sa SD cards, hindi lang naman sa atin ‘yan, buong Pilipinas ‘yan. At saka before gagawin ang isang procedure, halimbawa nasira ang isang SD card, ina-announce ng electoral board ‘yan doon sa mga botante na ganito ang nangyari, ano ba ang gusto ninyo? Boboto agad kayo, itutuloy niyo ang pag-fill up ng balota? Wala namang ganoon na sinasabi nila, hindi ko lang alam kung naiintindihan nila ang technical procedure,” he said.
In the civil society groups’ petition to deny the results of the 2019 midterm poll in the province, it stated that the outcome of the election is questionable because 11 VCMs were already discovered to be defective at the onset of the “final testing and sealing” on May 7.
The petition also noted that this was not experienced in other provinces in Region 4-B (or MIMAROPA).
“Sapagkat, ang kaduda-dudang resulta ng halalan ay lalo pang pinatingkad ng mga natuklasang 11 depektibong VCMs sa umpisa pa lamang ng ‘Final Testing and Sealing’ noong Mayo 7, 2019, samantalang sa ibang probinsya sa Region 4-B ay walang ganoong naiulat na kaganapan,” the petition stated.
Ordas said that laying open their technical procedures to the public means the COMELEC is not hiding anything.
He said the provincial COMELEC did its best to ensure that the election in Palawan will be carried out with utmost integrity and credibility and denied they acted dishonestly.
“Hindi naman gagana ang VCM kung walang SD card kasi automation, ang nandyan technical procedures, technical operation, ganoon talaga. Kahit saan naman nakaka-encounter ng problema… pero hindi gagawa ang COMELEC ng mga bagay na puwedeng mag-resulta sa pagdududa,” he said.