Comelec count bogs down

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE official tally of the Senate and party-list elections ground to a halt yesterday with only one certificate of canvass processed.

As the Commission on Elections adjourned at noon, Chairman Benjamin Abalos said 13 certificates of canvass had yet to be processed, accounting for more than five million votes.

Canvassing began at 10 a.m. yesterday for the lone certificate from Davao City. By noon, there was nothing left to tally.

“This is no slowdown,” Abalos said at a press briefing. “Slowdown… means you have something to canvass. Here we don’t have anything to canvass.”

He said the Comelec had yet to receive certificates of canvass from Basilan, Shariff Kabunsuan, Lanao del Norte, Sultan Kudarat, Surigao del Norte, as well as from Lanao del Sur, where a special election was held on May 26.

The Comelec has also deferred canvassing of certificates from Maguindanao, Sulu, Caloocan City, Taguig-Pateros, Davao del Sur, North Cotabato and South Cotabato over legal challenges raised.

Abalos added that these legal challenges, particularly at the provincial level, had added to the delay in the official count.

The large number of votes remaining made it difficult to proclaim even a partial list of winners, he said.

“If the remaining votes are, say, four million and the lead of the [winning] candidates is just about 500,000 or even one million, we can’t proclaim [them as winners],” Abalos said.

Also yesterday, Aquilino Pimentel III, an opposition candidate for senator, said he would charge members of the provincial board of canvassers in South and North Cotabato with electoral sabotage, an offense punishable by life imprisonment.

“This is a test case of the new election law which punishes people involved in tampering [with the] votes,” he said at a press conference.

Pimentel is contesting the 12th and last Senate seat with Team Unity candidate Miguel Zubiri, who also comes from Mindanao.

Pimentel said 45,000 was shaved from his votes in North Cotabato, and that he lost 125,000 votes in South Cotabato.

“I am not taking this sitting down and a [Team Unity] candidate is behind this scheme,” Pimentel said.

At the same press conference, opposition candidate Panfilo Lacson urged Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento to resign for mishandling the special elections in Lanao del Sur.

Makati Mayor Jejomar Binay refused to respond to allegations that the first and second place winners in his city garnered more votes than the people who actually voted.

The Palace yesterday dismissed opposition claims that it had pressured Sarmiento into resigning as the head of a Comelec task force to investigate allegations of fraud in Maguindanao province.

Chief presidential legal counsel Sergio Apostol said the Palace was in no position to influence Sarmiento, since the Comelec was an independent constitutional body.

“Sarmiento said he resigned for health reasons. We must believe the guy,” Apostol said. “He is a former Sandiganbayan justice. He has a record of credibility and integrity. He will not be influenced by anyone.”