MANILA, Philippines — Vowing to make him “cringe like a cornered rat,” the Commission on Elections Tuesday ordered the arrest of its embattled poll supervisor, Lintang Bedol, for his supposed refusal to explain how Maguindanao vote tallies in his custody were stolen.
The arrest order marked the latest twist in a bizarre election saga that has kept Filipinos in suspense for weeks over who won the 12th and last Senate slot, drove some school teachers into hiding and apparently led to the murder of a school official.
Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer announced the arrest order after the Comelec cited Bedol in contempt for his failure to appear and explain in writing the circumstances behind the supposed theft of the municipal certificates of canvass (CoCs) for Maguindanao.
Calling the poll supervisor “a fugitive,” Ferrer warned Bedol, who purportedly refused to give him his address, to “hide himself very well” if he was in hiding.
He also called on the people to effect a citizen’s arrest and turn Bedol over to the police.
Ferrer’s remarks seemed curious. Bedol appeared to be roaming freely around the Maguindanao capital of Shariff Aguak, giving interviews to the Philippine Daily Inquirer on Monday night and the following day and also going to his office in the provincial capitol. On Tuesday, he arrived at his office at 9 a.m.
The CoCs, or vote tallies, would ostensibly support the contention of the administration’s Team Unity (TU) ticket that its senatorial candidates had scored a 12-0 sweep in Maguindanao.
In Shariff Aguak, Bedol appeared unfazed by the arrest order.
“Sige (Go ahead). That means they have plans to file a case against me. I can post bail,” he told the Inquirer.
“Maybe I can ask for piso-piso (P1) donations from friends,” added Bedol, who said he would go to Davao on Wednesday for a medical checkup.
The controversial Maguindanao election supervisor suffered a stroke last year that partly impaired his speech.
Ferrer said Bedol, who is also facing dismissal from his post, could be penalized for six months in jail for contempt.
He also faces a possible criminal case for infidelity in the custody of documents and another case for illegal possession of firearms, Ferrer said.
On top of all that, Bedol could be slapped with a 60-day preventive suspension upon the filing of the cases, Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos Sr. said.
Comelec officials said they had other plans for dealing with Bedol.
“We would like to surprise him,” Ferrer said. “Let us see what he will do. I think he will start cringing like a cornered rat.”
The seemingly blitzkrieg moves against Bedol came a day after he challenged his detractors, in an interview with the Inquirer, to sue him in court, saying he was ready to face his accusers.
Ferrer, head of Task Force Maguindanao that looked into allegations of vote fraud in the province, said the Comelec was “planning something” that would test Bedol’s “bravery.”
Bedol had told the Inquirer he owned more than 20 guns for his protection and had a gun strapped to his waist during the interview.
On Tuesday, Bedol backtracked on his claim, saying he only had two registered pistols and that he no longer had the other firearms, which he said he had needed before when elections were hotly contested in Maguindanao.
Ferrer said the poll body held Bedol in contempt for repeatedly defying its orders.
“We have been giving him all the chances to defend himself. Unfortunately, he prefers to challenge this commission and we accept his challenge,” an incensed Ferrer told reporters.
Acting on the recommendation that Bedol be indicted for infidelity in the custody of documents, Abalos directed the Comelec legal department to file the case in the courts.
Bedol has washed his hands of any liability in the loss of the documents.
“He claims that he is not the custodian, but he is by appropriating for himself the municipal certificates of canvass,” Ferrer stressed.
Irked by Bedol’s “bragging” about his small personal armory, Ferrer said: “Is this the brave Bedol that he claims to be? Kung talagang matapang siya, bakit siya nagtatago sa lungga (If he is really brave, why is he hiding in a hole)?”
Interviewed in his office Tuesday, Bedol said that Ferrer’s Task Force Maguindanao should go and talk to the teachers and supposed whistle-blowers to find out for itself if massive electoral fraud did take place during the May elections.
His now familiar pistol strapped to his waist, Bedol said he had not been notified of the task force’s decision to relieve him as Maguindanao’s chief election official.
“Bahala sila. They can do that (dismiss him). It’s an administrative prerogative which can be done by any manager … It’s good because you can rest,” Bedol said, smiling.
Seated behind his empty table, Bedol said there was no reason for the Comelec not to be able to find him.
“They know where the capitol is. It’s not possible they don’t know where my office is,” he said.
Bedol said that of late, he had not received any Comelec subpoena compelling him to appear in Manila for an investigation.
He said it was only in court that he would certainly “get justice.”
“OK lang maalis ako (It’s OK if I am removed). I’ll see to it that I will fight (the accusations). It is not in my nature to make things easy for my enemies,” he said.
Bedol vowed to answer “each and every detail” of any accusations against him.
He stressed he wanted his accusers to face him in court without covering their faces with shawls as some of them had done in television interviews. He was referring to several teachers who spoke out about alleged cheating in Maguindanao.
Some of those teachers had reportedly gone into hiding for fear of their lives. A school official who supported the teachers’ claims, Maguindanao Schools District Supervisor Musa Dimasidsing, was gunned down on June 9.
Bedol said he welcomed the investigation to uncover the truth.
“I am happy with the investigation because it will correct whatever wrong has happened and to prevent a repetition of all this,” he said in Filipino.
Bedol urged the task force to “go further, go deeper” in its probe.
“Get the testimony of the people. I also want every error corrected. Go back to what happened on election day. Talk to the teachers, the supposed witnesses. Talk to the people and ask how the alleged cheating and alleged manufacturing of documents were done and not just focus on the regional director and the election supervisor,” he said.
He said the task force should also get the testimonies of the poll watchdogs and barangay officials.
“Why are they hammering on the supervisor? What have I got to do with it?” Bedol said.
As chair of the provincial board of canvassers, Bedol said he cannot inquire into the incidents of voting in precincts.
He said if there was a changing of vote tallies, it could have only been done at the “lower stages” of the counting, not at the provincial canvassing level, since his tabulation was based on the municipal certificates of canvass submitted.
Zero votes possible
Again, Bedol said it was possible to get zero votes in Maguindanao, especially if the candidates did not bother to campaign.
Bedol said he saw the TU’s candidates Juan Miguel Zubiri and Prospero Pichay campaign in Maguindanao and that Pichay even met with Gov. Datu Andal Ampatuan Sr.
“Going into the house to be welcomed by the governor is important to people here,” Bedol said.
“In Islam, we only believe in three things — the Koran, the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and the duly constituted authorities. It is important that one meets with our leader,” he said, explaining how Muslims choose their candidates.