Comelec has more witnesses on Maguindanao poll fraud

By Nikko Dizon
Last updated 10:41pm (Mla time) 07/25/2007

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will pursue its investigation into allegations that widespread electoral fraud took place in Maguindanao even after it promulgates its verdict on controversial provincial supervisor, Lintang Bedol, an election commissioner said.


Comelec commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer said on Monday that witnesses have been
“lined up” to give their testimonies about the alleged cheating in the southern Mindanao province.


Ferrer heads Task Force Maguindanao, which was formed by the Comelec during the national canvassing last May to investigate allegations of fraud.


After the May 14 midterm elections, teachers reported to the watchdog, Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente), that they were forced to fill out ballots in Maguindanao under the watch of heavily armed men.


Weeks later, whistleblower Musa Dimasidsing, the schools district supervisor of Pagalungan town in Maguindanao, was shot dead in Lanao del Norte.


Bedol was investigated for a possible contempt citation and other disciplinary sanctions after he repeatedly failed to appear before the Comelec to explain the theft of the original copies of the municipal certificates of canvass in Maguindanao.


Ferrer said he had yet to ask the witnesses “preliminary questions” as the Comelec became preoccupied with the national canvassing that had the poll body proclaiming the 12th senator, Juan Miguel Zubiri, two months after the May midterm elections.


Ferrer said the individuals would not be witnesses against Bedol.


The Comelec will hand down its decision on the indirect contempt charges against Bedol on August 7.


Ferrer said Bedol still faced charges of infidelity in the custody of public documents and violations against the civil service code.


“We still have a lot of things planned for him,” Ferrer said in Filipino.


On Wednesday, Comelec commissioner Rene Sarmiento said he was set to formally ask Congress to amend the law that would allow national elections to be held at least two weeks earlier in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), the usual epicenter of election fraud.


Sarmiento, commissioner in charge of ARMM, said he hoped that the amended law would be passed in time for the 2010 presidential elections.


He explained holding the elections in ARMM ahead of the rest of the country would allow “the mobilization of all the resources” of the Comelec, the election watchdogs, the Church, and the Armed Forces and the national police “to ensure a clean and honest elections.”


Sarmiento was a guest at the Islam and Democracy Media Forum organized by the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy (PCID) and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung about the conduct of the midterm elections in the ARMM.


He added that the de-synchronization of the national and local elections was something that should be studied.


“Voters fill out too many names in one ballot, including the partylist,” he said.


Sarmiento said this would make the conduct of the elections easier and more efficient.


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