Thursday, June 19, 2008

Zubiri’s Senate seat in peril as SET OKs ballot review

Zubiri’s Senate seat in peril as SET OKs ballot review

By Angie M. Rosales

Daily Tribune 06/20/2008

The possibility of a last-minute change in the composition of the current 23-man Senate was raised yesterday as the Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) issued a resolution ordering the continuation of a review of contested election results following the findings of prima facie evidence and reasonable grounds on the complaint of losing senatorial bet, lawyer Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel.

The SET itself, in its nine-page resolution dated June 17, said that “spurious” ballots could directly affect the outcome of last year’s national polls, considering that Pimentel’s closest rival, Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri, who was proclaimed as the 12th senator, only won by 19,292 votes.

Zubiri’s camp, through his lawyer, Romulo Macalintal, however, remained unperturbed by this latest development, claiming he remains confident of Zubiri keeping his current post.

Macalintal said they welcome the resolution of the SET, to erase all doubts over his client’s victory as the 12th winning senator and that they are confident that, in the end, Zubiri’s victory will be affirmed.

“He is not surprised by the said resolution to proceed with the revision proceedings as it is the usual procedure in an election protest. The findings with regard to some spurious ballots found during the revision proceedings will not affect Zubiri’s standing since it has to be established that these are the same ballots used during the election or the ones counted at the precinct level,” Macalintal, who also acts as spokesman on the senator’s poll issue, said.

In particular, however, the so-called spurious votes are mainly from Mindanao, where all too suddenly, Zubiri obtained close to 100,000 votes in just one area, wiping out the 100,000 vote lead of Pimentel. The other Mindanao votes for Zubiri were also seen as questionable.

The contending parties have been issued gag order in discussing the pending protest case in public.

The SET has directed the parties to proceed with the revision on the remaining 75 percent of the contested precincts and the re-tabulation of the election documents in Patikul, Sulu.

“Accordingly, finding sufficient cause therefore, the Tribunal orders the continuation of the proceedings in the instant electoral protest case,” the tribunal said in its resolution.

This came following the recent completion by the SET of the recount of the disputed votes in pilot areas in four Mindanao provinces cast in the May 14, 2007 senatorial election in connection with the electoral protest filed by Koko Pimentel, a Genuine Opposition (GO) candidate.

This is pursuant to the SET rules which provide that a protesting candidate must prove he has solid basis for his protest by showing evidence of fraud in at least 25 percent of the election results in pilot places that are subject of his protest.

In the said resolution, the SET, composed of three Supreme Court justices and six incumbent senators, said results of the initial revision on the first 25 percent precincts revealed that Pimentel, the protestant, “has prima facie valid cause of action.”

“Indeed, there is reasonable ground to believe that the final outcome of the case could affect the officially proclaimed results for the 12th senatorial position in the 14 May 2007 national elections, hence, the election protest case deserves further proceedings by the Tribunal,” it said.

“Suffice it to say at this time, that the results of the initial revision and appreciation proceedings already done showed that the 14 May 2007 election in certain designated pilot areas was characterized by proven irregularities,” it further said.

Of the said revision proceedings comprising 25 percent of the questioned precincts, the tribunal discovered in six of the nine pilot municipalities in Maguindanao and Lanao del Norte, for instance, 98.15 percent of the ballots cast were found to be “spurious” or at least 70,922 ballots were discovered to have been doctored or spurious while only 1,334 ballots were considered genuine.

Zubiri of Team Unity (TU) received some 11,004,099 votes while Pimentel was ranked 13th with 10,984,807 votes.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) on July 14, 2007 proclaimed Zubiri as the last winning senator and immediately after, Pimentel filed his protest case before the SET.

The losing senatorial candidate and namesake of Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. has questioned the results in some 2,658 precincts covering 44 municipalities and seven provinces.

Earlier, the minority leader noted the conduct of the revision proceedings where his son has subjected 664 Precincts in Maguindanao, Shariff Kabunsuan, Lanao del Norte and Sulu as his pilot precinct areas.

Before the physical counting of the votes in the pilot areas, Koko Pimentel was trailing his rival by 17,251. But after the physical counting of the votes in the pilot areas, he led his rival by 17,117 votes, the minority leader said.

The bases for the reversal of leads consisted of proof submitted by Koko and his lawyers that showed, among other things:

1. The massive use of fake or spurious ballots testified to, among others, by Miguel Arcadio, division chief of the Press Division of the National Printing Office and Teodoro Ferrer, then consultant of the Printing Committee of the Commission on Elections.

2. Use of fake election returns (without watermarks, different sizes of forms, texture of paper, etc.)

3. Mixed genuine and fake ballots in certain precincts.

4. Ballots clearly written by one person or by the same group of cheats as shown by similar handwriting styles or strokes.

5. Precincts without tally boards.

6. Falsified statement of votes as in Matungao, Lanao del Norte.

7. Dagdag-bawas in Basilan where Koko’s votes were slashed by 4,260 votes.

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