Opposition lawyers quit

But Comelec continues Maguindanao special canvass By Nikko Dizon
Last updated 01:04am (Mla time) 06/27/2007

SHARIFF AGUAK, Maguindanao — Lawyers of the Genuine Opposition (GO) Tuesday quit the scandal-ridden Maguindanao vote canvassing and Bayan Muna’s chief legal counsel staged a walkout, charging the proceedings were meant to “legitimize” fraudulent vote tallies.


A special board of canvassers is retabulating the tallies — or municipal certificates of canvass (CoCs) — from 22 towns to determine who between the administration’s Team Unity (TU) candidate Juan Miguel Zubiri and GO’s Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III would take the 12th Senate slot in the midterm elections.


As of Tuesday, partial results of the retabulation of tallies from five towns showed Zubiri with 56,865 votes and Pimentel III with 23,466.


In Manila, the Supreme Court Tuesday held back from issuing a temporary restraining order to stop the contentious Maguindanao vote count until it had heard from the Commission on Elections and Zubiri.


A court spokesperson said the tribunal hoped the Comelec would not do anything in the meantime to preempt the court’s decision.


The court scheduled oral arguments for 2 p.m. on Thursday on Pimentel’s petition to stop the canvassing and exclude the votes from Maguindanao in the Senate tabulation.


“These proceedings are loaded. They are meant to legitimize the Bedol CoC, maybe bawasan ng konti ang mga boto (shave the votes a bit) … Solved na si Zubiri,” a frustrated Neri Colmenares, Bayan Muna lawyer, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer after he walked out of the provincial capitol’s session hall where the canvassing was being held.


Colmenares was referring to Maguindanao’s controversial election supervisor Lintang Bedol, who claimed he had lost to thieves the first copies of the Maguindanao CoCs.


Colmenares abandoned the proceedings hours after GO counsel Sixto Brillantes and Leila de Lima left for Manila, saying they had to attend to other election cases.


But De Lima left with a parting shot.


She pointed out to the special provincial board of canvassers the discrepancies in the votes received by Senator-elect Antonio Trillanes IV in tallies from Gen. SK Pendatun town.


De Lima said these could be “additional evidence that the municipal CoC was manufactured.”


The board spent much of their discussions Tuesday on the party-list issue and could tabulate only the senatorial tallies from Datu Saudi Ampatuan and Pagagawan. The board tabulated results from only three towns the other day.


Colmenares walked out after the board, led by Comelec lawyer Emilio Santos, denied Bayan Muna’s objection to the retabulation of votes in 16 municipalities where the total votes cast for party-list groups overshot the total number of registered voters.


Santos explains


Colmenares said that among these towns was Pagalungan, where counting of votes only took place in 19 of its 57 precincts, according to a report of school district supervisor Musa Dimasidsing.


Dimasidsing was later gunned down in Lanao del Norte province.


Colmenares wanted the board to defer the canvassing — as what it did to the Shariff Aguak CoC on Monday — because of the discrepancies.


But Santos told the Inquirer that the board’s only mandate was to canvass Maguindanao’s municipal CoCs as long as they appeared regular on their face.


“We cannot go beyond that,” Santos said.


Santos said that all objections regarding vote discrepancies could be raised before the National Board of Canvassers subcommittee for party-lists.


Santos said the special canvassing would continue and be considered legitimate even without representatives from the opposition and the party-list as they had been duly notified of the proceedings.


According to the Comelec’s last official tabulation in Manila, Pimentel leads Zubiri by more than 111,000 votes, without counting Maguindanao.


Lawyers from both camps agree that Zubiri would jump to 12th place if the Maguindanao votes are tabulated. In an unofficial Maguindanao tally shown by lawyers to reporters, Zubiri has 195,823 votes and Pimentel 67,057.


Maguindanao became a center of controversy after several school teachers in the town of Pagalungan told media and poll watchdog groups that armed men had seized their ballot boxes and filled out the ballots with the names of TU candidates, to ensure a 12-0 administration win in the province.


If Zubiri wins …


If Zubiri wins because of Maguindanao, Colmenares said “it would affect the credibility of his election.”


TU lead counsel George Garcia said nothing could change the mind of the opposition that the Maguindanao votes were rigged.


“When the canvassing began, that was already in their minds. You can’t change that anymore. Their thinking has always been the result is false, a hoax. What can we do?” Garcia said.


Garcia said that after perusal of the 22 CoCs, he was convinced that these were genuine and authentic documents.


Moreover, checking the vote tallies, Garcia said he saw that several towns gave more votes to GO candidates than to TU candidates.


In its resolution, the Supreme Court directed the Comelec and Zubiri, if he desires, to file their comments on Pimentel’s petition by noon on Thursday.


The high court said it would only be fair to get the side of the Comelec and Zubiri before issuing any TRO since there were factual and legal matters in Pimentel’s petition that needed to be resolved first.


“Accordingly, and considering the presumptive regularity of the Comelec’s assailed actions and the processes emanating therefrom, it is only fair that the Court, before it considers the propriety of issuing a TRO, accords the Comelec an opportunity to be heard by way of a written comment,” it said in a June 26 resolution.


Don’t preempt court ruling


Supreme Court spokesperson Jose Midas Marquez said the high court was banking on the poll body not to do anything that would make the court’s action useless, when asked if the issue could be rendered moot should the Comelec finished the canvassing of Maguindanao votes before Thursday.


“We are hoping that with the order of the court, they will act accordingly and will not do anything to preempt the decision of the high court,” Marquez told reporters.


“The fact that the case is being set for oral argument would be enough for the Comelec to act accordingly.”


In a 13-page petition, reelected opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson asked the Comelec to dissolve the special provincial board of canvassers (SPBOC) for Maguindanao on grounds it was illegally created.


Lacson also asked the Comelec to not to canvass anymore the results from the Maguindanao, nullify the board’s proceedings and quickly proclaim the last winning senator.


Lacson said the Comelec en banc, sitting as the National Board of Canvassers, did not have the authority to form the SPBOC, that its creation was not needed and that the Commission committed grave abuse of discretion when it turned over the second copies of the municipal vote tallies it gathered from Maguindanao to the SPBOC for retabulation. With reports from Leila B. Salaverria and Jerome Aning


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