Legarda asks PET to order Congress to preserve ballot boxes

- Nikko Dizon, Aurea Calica -
Defeated vice presidential candidate and former Sen. Loren Legarda has asked the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) to order Congress to undertake all the necessary steps to preserve and protect the integrity of the ballot boxes in its possession.

In an omnibus motion, Legarda also sought the PET’s permission for her to conduct an inspection and inventory of the ballot boxes to ensure they were intact pending their transfer to the tribunal for a recount.

Legarda filed an election protest along with her running mate, defeated presidential candidate Fernando Poe Jr., asking for a revision of the ballots in many areas of the country where they alleged they were cheated by President Arroyo and Vice President Noli de Castro.

Mrs. Arroyo and De Castro denied the allegations and filed separate counter-protests, saying they were the ones cheated in the areas specified by Legarda and Poe.

The President and Vice President have asked the PET to dismiss the election protests of Legarda and Poe on the grounds that these protests have insufficient form and substance.

Legarda and Poe insisted that they were the rightful winners of the May 10 elections, alleging that the camp of Mrs. Arroyo and De Castro resorted to poll fraud.

Legarda said it was important to preserve the ballots, as they will prove that the correct results in the election returns were not reflected in the subsequent documents from the congressional canvassing.

Legarda also said she should be allowed to inspect and make an inventory of the ballot boxes necessary for the prosecution of her protest case.

The PET has yet to decide whether a revision of ballots should be conducted.

Meanwhile, former Commission on Elections (Comelec) chairman Christian Monsod did not mince words against the current group heading the election body when he spoke at a recently concluded electoral reform summit.

Speaking at the second National Electoral Summit Thursday, Monsod blamed the supposed incompetence of the Comelec’s commissioners for the many blunders in the May elections, including the disenfranchisement of voters.

The opposition claimed that the disenfranchisement of voters was part of an alleged conspiracy among the Comelec, the administration, media and other government entities to cheat and seal the victory of Mrs. Arroyo.

But Monsod disagreed and offered a rather more practical explanation: "Disenfranchisement was not a premeditated and systematic attempt to reduce opposition votes. It was more the result of incompetence at Comelec Central, at the commissioner level."

Monsod said the recent elections, as a process, was at best "tolerable, with the competence of the commission as the main issue."

He presented a long list of other issues that saddled the election body throughout its preparations for the elections.

Topping Monsod’s list were the appointments of two commissioners with "questionable credentials " — referring to acting commissioners Manuel Barcelona and Virgilio Garcellano.

The list included the Comelec’s wrong priorities, high cost-low relevance projects such as the P1-billion voter’s ID project, the automation contract struck down by the Supreme Court, the election body’s indecisiveness on key issues and its perceived blundering or misleading responses to public questions, such as the availability of voters’ lists.

Monsod also said the Comelec had to deal with allegations of corruption at the "highest levels" and "its partisanship for a sitting President".

What kept the elections from turning into a "disaster," Monsod said, was the professionalism of Comelec’s career officers. He singled out the "composed performance" of Comelec lawyer Betty Pizana, who was grilled by the Congressional canvassing committee for a missing Certificate of Canvass (COC).

"The vast majority of them did their job well, despite the unnecessary burden of poor leadership," he said.

To remedy the problem of incompetence, Monsod recommended the appointment of commissioners that are "impartial, competent, and honest".

Participants of the summit, composed of representatives of non-government organizations led by the Consortium for Electoral Reforms (CER), the Comelec, and the House Committee on Suffrage and Electoral Reforms, proposed that Congress should amend the President’s sole power to appoint commissioners.

They suggested that a Judicial and Bar Council (JBC)-type of selection for Supreme Court justices should be followed. It should be a multi-sectoral body to ensure transparency and a strict screening process.

As a final note, Monsod stressed that he "did not mean to offend anyone" by his candid remarks.

"But this matter of electoral reform and modernization is long overdue and all of us are a little impatient to see it happen," he said.

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