SC orders stop to ‘frivolous’ recount of Pampanga votes

By Leila Salaverria, Tonette Orejas
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines — If Pampanga Gov. Ed Panlilio had reason to cheer, it was because, he said, God listened to his plea.

The Supreme Court Tuesday ordered the Commission on Elections to stop its planned recount of votes in the 2007 Pampanga gubernatorial elections, and directed the Comelec to maintain the status quo while the court deliberates on Panlilio’s petition to nullify the recount.

The high court also ordered the Comelec and Pineda to file within 10 days their comments to Panlilio’s petition.

Panlilio has said Pineda’s electoral protest was a “sham” and not based on any clear proof of cheating.

Pineda lost by 1,147 votes to Panlilio, a Catholic priest.

“We are very happy. God has answered our prayers,” Panlilio told the Philippine Daily Inquirer in a telephone interview.

Panlilio’s lawyers said they were grateful to the Supreme Court for its swift action on their client’s petition. They assailed the Comelec orders allowing the recount to proceed.

The lawyers included Romulo Macalintal, Leila de Lima, Pete Quadra, Sixto Brillantes and Ernesto Francisco Jr.

‘Frivolous’ protest

“We are confident that in the end, we could prove that the protest is without basis and merely intended to harass Panlilio,” the lawyers said in a statement.

In his petition, Panlilio said the frivolity of Pineda’s protest “is demonstrated by the fact that private respondent is contesting all the precincts in all the municipalities and cities in Pampanga (except Angeles City) and she even identified a total of 4,836 precincts in (her) petition.”

“If true, this means that (Pineda) is claiming that she was cheated in all these 4,836 precincts without any objection from her watchers or without questioning before the Board of Election Inspectors … which is a very incredible and unbelievable claim indeed.”

Comelec order

In a July 2007 directive, the Comelec’s second division ordered a recount of ballots pursuant to Pineda’s protest and later denied Panlilio’s motion for a reconsideration.

It also rejected Panlilio’s motion to elevate the issue to the Comelec en banc.

“Aside from being merely copied from other existing election protests, the grounds are bare, general and scattered and intended merely to fish for evidence during the recount of ballots,” Panlilio’s lawyers said.

Half a million votes

The lawyers said Pineda’s claim that ballots from about 4,500 precincts, totaling some 500,000, were written by one or two persons “is incredible since not a single ballot was objected to by Pineda when they were counted at the precinct level.”

“Also, how could Panlilio, who merely relied on volunteers and contributions from concerned citizens of Pampanga, be guilty of vote buying? Surely the protest is baseless,” they added.

Pineda lawyer George Irwin Garcia said he had yet to receive a copy of the high court’s order but if true, “we cannot do anything but obey.”

Be sober

Pineda could not be reached for comment. She went to the United States two weeks ago.

She had claimed that Panlilio and his supporters committed various forms of election fraud.

Provincial election supervisor Temie Lambino said he had yet to receive a copy of the SC order.

Lambino previously set a meeting for Thursday to decide whether to proceed with the inventory and transfer of contested ballot boxes to Manila.

Panlilio on Tuesday asked his supporters after a Mass to “be sober” and not to hold protests at the Comelec.

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