Sunday, December 06, 2009

Poll papers seized in raids

COMELEC ASKED TO TAKE HOLD OF AMPATUAN BALLOT DOCUMENTS

Poll papers seized in raids

By Angie M. Rosales

12/07/2009

Ballot boxes and other election paraphernalia were among those secured by raiding teams on properties owned by the Ampatuans to reinforce suspicions that the decision to impose martial law on Maguindanao province was also meant to seal off evidence on the massive fraud in the past two national elections in 2004 and 2007, opposition leaders said yesterday.

Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said he received information that election officials assigned to the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) have been ordered to examine and take custody of the poll documents.

Pimentel believed the documents are key to prove the rigging of results in the 2004 polls that enabled President Arroyo to win another six-year term as president and for administration candidates to sweep the senatorial race in the province in 2007.

“The Ampatuans have threatened that if the government would nail them down, they would reveal what really happened in the past two elections,” he said.

Pimentel said he was informed that during the series of raids conducted by the military and police forces, they discovered and confiscated ballot boxes containing election documents.

The senator urged the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to take custody of the ballot boxes and other election paraphernalia that the military obtained in a series of raids on sprawling properties of members of the Ampatuan clan along with caches of firearms and ammunition.

United Opposition (UNO) president and vice presidential bet Jejomar Binay added the martial law proclamation is likely a hunt for evidence of past election frauds.

Binay said great care is being taken to present martial law in Maguindanao as different from martial law in 1972. “It is a supposedly a smiling martial law, without the restrictions that are associated with martial law,” he said.

Arroyo signed Proclamation 1959 placing the entire province of Maguindanao

under martial law, citing the threat of rebellion in the province following the arrest of a scion of the powerful Ampatuan clan identified as the mastermind of the gruesome massacre of civilians –including women and journalists - in November.

Pimentel said it should be the Comelec officials in Manila that should scrutinize and take custody of these documents.

He suggested that a team from Comelec’s main office to be dispatched to Maguindanao and it should be led by lawyer Fernando Rafanan, head of the legal department.

Possibly, he said, one of the reasons for the declaration of martial rule in the province could be for the Arroyo administration to cover up the massive fraud in the province that marred the last two national elections.

Pimentel said he is worried that the election documents may be tampered with or destroyed because certain election officials in the ARMM were involved in the cheating operations in the 2004 and 2007 polls.

“Due to martial law, the public may not be able to know what is happening. The people are afraid to speak. Even journalists may not be able to report the truth because of threat to their lives. Warrantless arrest are being enforced and they can be picked up on order of martial law authorities,” he said.

Pimentel said he does not find any legal ground for declaring martial law as a means of going after the perpetrators of the November 23 massacre that resulted in the murder of 57 civilians.

He argued that the conditions laid down by the Constitution for imposing martial law were not present in Maguindanao, specifically the threat of rebellion and invasion by an external force.

“What happened in Maguindanao was that members of the Mangudadatu family and their companions, including lawyers and journalists were ambushed, abducted and massacred. Where is rebellion there?” the senator from Mindanao said.

Pimentel said even military commanders dispatched to Maguindanao reported that while they were able to confiscate huge cache of firearms and ammunition from the weapons arsenal of the Ampatuans, they saw no indication that these political warlords and their followers were attempting to fight back.

“Clearly, there is no basis for the claim that there is a threat of rebellion from the Ampatuans. May be this is just a gimmick to say there is a ground for martial law. But as I see it, this is just a ploy to hide the evidence of massive cheating in the last elections,” he said.

Pimentel said he and Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile have agreed that the Senate will first meet at 9 am today to discuss Arroyo’s martial law proclamation.

He said the Senate will also hold a joint session with the House of Representatives tomorrow at the Batasang Pambansa building in Quezon City also to take up Proclamation 1959 that imposed military rule on Maguindanao.

The President is required to report to Congress within 48 hours from the time she declared martial law. The President may appear personally before the legislature or submit a written report.

If Congress finds no justification for the martial law declaration, it can overturn the President’s action and she could not veto it, the senator said.

He said that while the Constitution prescribes a 60 day period for the effectivity of martial law, it can be shortened if warranted by circumstances.

Pimentel said the Senate is likely to vote against the martial law declaration if it is not convinced of the grounds cited by the Chief Executive. But he said the voting at the House may turn out to be different because it is dominated Mrs. Arroyo’s legislative allies.

Binay said the various conditions cited by Palace officials for justifying the declaration of martial law in the province have been disputed by the Supreme Court and known legal luminaries.

“The claim that there is a state of rebellion is factually doubtful since the mere sighting of armed men does not constitute rebellion. And the Supreme Court itself had denied government’s claim that the courts in Maguindanao are not functioning,” Binay said.

With the factual basis and legal basis for the declaration of martial law in doubt, Binay said the question arises as to the real motive behind the declaration of martial law in Maguindanao.

If the Ampatuans’ threat to expose the extensive cheating in the province during the 2004 presidential elections is proven true, Binay said the Arroyo administration is “committing another injustice to the victims of the Maguindanao massacre.”

“They are exploiting the nation’s outrage to cover up another serious crime, that of stealing the 2004 elections,” he said.

“It would now appear that the Arroyo administration is using the full might of the state – the Armed Forces, the police and all agencies of government - to recover original election returns or certificates of canvass reportedly in the possession of the Ampatuans,” he said.

“A state of martial law will allow the administration to conduct raids and searches without going through the courts,” he added.

Maguindanao has long been considered an administration bailiwick, delivering the votes for Mrs. Arroyo in the 2004 presidential elections over opposition bet Fernando Poe Jr.

In the “Hello Garci” recordings, former election commissioner Virgilio Garcillano mentioned that “there would be no problem” for Arroyo in Maguindanao. DAILY TRIBUNE

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