CEBU, Philippines—The fight for the 4th district congressional race is not over for candidate Celestino Martinez III.
His lawyers will go to the Supreme Court in a bid to stop the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from canvassing the remaining election returns from Bogo City using the copies of the election watchdog C-Cimpel.
“It’s not time to concede yet. We see this as only the beginning of a much larger litigation through the proper forum,” said Inocencio dela Cerna Jr., a member of Martinez’s legal team.
He said they would be filing a petition for mandamus, certiorari and prohibition before the High Tribunal today, a day before Municipal and Provincial Board of Canvassers were to reconvene and canvass the remaining ERs from Bogo using “authentic copies.”
Based on the copy furnished to Cebu Daily News, named respondents in the petition would Comelec second division, the board of canvassers and Benhur Salimbangon, Martinez’ rival in the congressional race.
Comelec Comissioner Resurreccion Borra, who is in-charge of Western and Central Visayas, ordered the board of canvassers to proceed to the Comelec session hall in Intramuros, Manila on Saturday, instead of Friday.
“The Board is further ordered to submit immediately to the National Board of Canvassers the complete/amended/supplemental Certificate of Canvass of the province of Cebu together with its attachments,” said Borra, in his order yesterday.
The order stemmed from the July 3 resolution of the Comelec second division that ordered the board of canvassers to reconvene and canvass the returns for the fourth district and then proclaim the winner.
But the poll body ruled that the C-Cimpel returns should be canvassed and not the official ERs after these were found to be “spurious and manufactured” after comparing these with the C-Cimpel copies and the Certificate of Votes issued by the Board of Inspectors to Salimbangon’s supporters.
In his petition, Martinez asked the Supreme Court to issue a temporary restraining order to stop the Comelec from canvassing the returns using the C-Cimpel copies in place of the official ERs.
He asked the SC to order the Comelec to continue the canvassing of the official returns and not the C-Cimpel’s copies as the latter should not be used as basis for the canvass for the votes for a member of the House of Representatives in place of official returns.
Martinez said there was no basis to make a “comparison” of the official ERs with the C-Cimpel copies.
“It is clearly beyond the jurisdiction of the public respondent Comelec. Again, it falls within the jurisdiction of the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET). Further, should a comparison really be necessary, the document to be used should be the one intended for the COMELEC; not the C-Cimpel.”
He also pointed out that the C-Cimpel through Fr. Mhar Balili did not present any copy of the ER to the Comelec during the June 21 hearing.
“To reiterate, the said hearing proceeded squarely on the oral arguments of the counsels of both parties. No evidence was submitted on record during the said time or prior thereto. And notably, that was the only hearing conducted by the respondent Comelec in so far as the three (3) petitions are concerned.”
The July 3 resolution, Martinez said, was misleading because Salimbangon did not possess any copies of the ERs of the ruling majority party, Lakas-CMD because he was not the official candidate of the party.
Martinez also urged the High Tribunal to include in canvassing the three ERs in the possession of Bogo election officer who was only waiting for an order for him to turnover the same to the board of canvassers.
Assuming that Salimbangon was indeed winning by 308 votes, he added the three ERs could determine the final outcome of the canvassing.
The Comelec second division earlier said that if the “authentic copies” of the 15 ERs were to be canvassed, Salimbangon would lead by a margin of 308 votes, which is equivalent to the size of one precinct.
Salimbangon, for his part, said it is the right of Martinez to go to the Supreme Court and question the Comelec resolution.
But he urged him to just wait for the next elections because he said the former Bogo mayor lost the ascendancy to file an election protest because of what happened to the returns from Bogo.
He added that his margin would have been bigger than 308 votes had the municipal board of canvassers not insisted in canvassing the other “fake” returns.
But he said he would file charges against Bogo officials responsible for manipulating the returns. They were the municipal treasurer (now city treasurer), the election officer and assistant election officer in Bogo.
He claimed that the manipulation of the ERs was done at the treasurer’s office where the ballot boxes were brought from the polling precincts.
But he could not say if they would include the special board of canvassers at the Capitol, as they had not yet established if they were part of the scheme to rig the results.
In the meantime, the Cebu Police Provincial Office is on alert for any untoward incident that may arise during the proclamation of the winner in the congressional race.
Senior Supt. Carmelo Valmoria, CPPO head, said they already had a stand by force to augment the police personnel in Bogo to diffuse the tension between the supporters of Salimbangon and Martinez.
With a report from Correspondent Rene Alima