SC receives 53 ballot boxes in Loren’s poll protest

- Delon Porcalla, Jose Aravilla -
Fifty-three ballot boxes involved in the first aspect of the electoral protest of former senator Loren Legarda against Vice President Noli de Castro were officially received by the Supreme Court from the House of Representatives yesterday.

The 53 ballot boxes consist of 48 ballot boxes containing election returns (ERs) and five ballot boxes containing the certificates of canvass (COCs) in last year’s vice presidential elections.

Ismael Khan Jr., Supreme Court spokesman, said that in the next few days, the Presidential Electoral Tribunal is expected to release the rules and guidelines for the recounting of the votes of Legarda and De Castro.

"The Supreme Court, sitting as the PET, officially received the ballot boxes for safekeeping," he said.

"They are now tightly secured at the old session building of the Supreme Court. In the next few days or the day after tomorrow, we are expecting the release of the rules and guidelines to be used by the PET."

Khan said the PET had yet to issue its guidelines for the counting and appointment of revisers.

"There are going to be new guidelines by the SC," he said.

"The guidelines of the electoral tribunal, in any event, they are going to revise these rules. The last revision was in 1992. It’s just a matter of revision," Khan said.

The House of Representatives has complied with the PET’s order for the "inventory-taking and collection" of the ballot boxes involved in the first aspect of Legarda’s electoral protest against De Castro.
Legarda hits ballot theft
In a statement, Legarda denounced the alleged "forcible opening and tampering" of ballot boxes in Tabagon, Cebu as "another brazen and barefaced attempt" to sabotage her election protest.

"This is shameless, and only God knows what other operations have been carried out and are being affected as I speak to cover up the massive fraud in the 2004 elections" Legarda said.

Legarda said Edwin Cadungog, Cebu provincial election officer, had exposed "massive tampering" with ballot boxes in Tabagon, Cebu in a report to the PET.

"Cadungog said most of the padlocks of the 120 old ballot boxes and 103 new ballot boxes used by the town in last year’s polls were lost and the inside security seals destroyed," she said.

"This could just well be (the) tip of the iceberg. Taken with the Newsbreak report of a break-in at Congress to allegedly tamper with the ballot boxes there, this incident at Tabagon gives us an idea on the immensity of what could be a top-to-bottom effort to cover up poll fraud."

Edna Cala Arbuyes, Tabagon municipal treasurer, should be investigated for causing the alleged unauthorized transfer of the ballot boxes from her office to the Public Service Office building where the tampering was allegedly discovered, Legarda said.

Earlier, the Supreme Court ordered the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to submit within 10 days the project of precincts used in the May 10 elections.

The Court also gave Legarda 10 days within which to submit to the PET all the annexes that she mentioned in her protest.

"The Tribunal further resolved to set the inventory-taking/collection of the ballot boxes involved in the first aspect of the protest of Legarda starting on Monday, 26 September 2005," the Court said.

In her electoral protest, Legarda said that a recanvassing of the votes should be done in five provinces and nine municipalities involving 12,105 precincts where alleged "manifest errors occurred and a revision or recount of ballots should be done in a total of 39 provinces and five highly urbanized cities involving 124,400 precincts due to massive cheating."

Legarda said the alleged fraud and irregularities in the counting of ballots were committed in Cebu, Pampanga and Maguindanao provinces during the May 10 elections last year.

A total of 22,800 precincts are involved in the six pilot provinces that she mentioned in her protest, she added.

Last June 30, Legarda posted a partial payment of P4,084,500 with the PET to cover both aspects of her electoral protest against De Castro.
Ballot boxes were ‘stolen’
Legarda reported yesterday the theft of the ballot boxes containing election returns connected with her protest against De Castro.

Efforts by Legarda’s camp to retrieve some 200 or so ballot boxes proved difficult since they only recovered 48 boxes containing ERs. Five others were also recovered, but these contained only certificates of canvass and statement of votes, not ERs.

"We don’t know where the others are," Sixto Brillantes, Legarda’s lawyer, told reporters yesterday.

"Whether they were lost, they didn’t arrive (here in Congress) or they are still in the provinces. We brought two trucks from the Supreme Court because we are expecting 200 ballot boxes."

A total of 3,400 ballot boxes have been kept in a makeshift storage area at the south lobby of the House of Representatives since last year, as agreed upon by senators and congressmen, as questions relating to the June 2004 canvassing have been raised by the opposition.

Brillantes said they decided to remove the recovered 48 ballot boxes rather than risk another theft. The boxes were brought to the Supreme Court, which sits as the PET handling protests in the presidential and vice presidential race.

During the canvassing of votes last year, lawyers of opposition candidates Fernando Poe Jr. and Legarda had pushed for the opening of the ERs, but the majority consistently outvoted them, ruling that it was not the duty of Congress, but that of the Comelec and the PET, to do so.

After every presidential election, the House, along with members of the Senate, sit as the National Board of Canvassers tasked to count the votes for the president and the vice president, and declare the winners afterwards.

Brillantes, a veteran election lawyer, also disclosed they plan to file another petition before the PET to allow them to go back to Congress and conduct "another inventory" of the ballot boxes, as they try to prove massive electoral fraud took place in the May 2004 national elections.

The PET allowed Legarda until Friday last week (Sept. 23) to retrieve the ballot boxes from three provinces — Lanao del Sur, Lanao del Norte and Surigao del Sur — which were all kept at the Batasang Pambansa complex in Quezon City.

Brillantes pointed out the ballot boxes need to be opened this week and next week so that the PET could determine any discrepancies in the ERs they obtained from the Commission on Elections.

They will also move for the retrieval this week of ballot boxes from three more areas — Cebu City, Maguindanao and Pampanga — where they obtained the supposed "winning votes" against de Castro, her former colleague at broadcast network giant ABS-CBN. — With Jess Diaz, Evelyn Macairan











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