POSTSCRIPT / August 14, 2007 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Post-election protests: Out-cash, outlast them!

SCATTERGUN: The unusual haste with which the second division of the Commission on Elections gave due course to a scattergun protest against the election of Fr. Ed Panlilio as Pampanga governor is suspicious.

The protest filed by losing candidate Lilia Pineda, wife of suspected jueteng lord Bong Pineda, alleged that in all the 4,847 precincts of Pampanga’s capital city and 21 towns there were vote-buying, use of fake ballots, and misreading of ballots.

Why is this alleged massive cheating being raised only now? There were no objections or protests filed by Pineda’s army of watchers in the same precincts during the actual counting of the ballots.

Now Panlilio, who even during the campaign did not have money, has to raise at least P10 million to protect his rights during the revision/recount of the previously unquestioned ballots.

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VERBATIM: The protest was merely copied verbatim — word for word with just the names, places and dates being changed — from other poll protests in other places pending before the Comelec.

Yet the Comelec’s second division gave the protest credence and special treatment. It denied Panlilio’s plea to refer his motion for reconsideration to the Comelec en banc.

Even before Panlilio’s motion was denied on Aug. 1, Pineda already issued a P4 million check to pay for the recount, and her lawyer manifested that she had deposited the money to start the process immediately.

How come Pineda knew in advance that the division would order a recount? She wrote her check July 31, the same day Panlilio was still filing his motion for reconsideration and one full day before the division hurriedly denied it.

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BATTLE OF MILLIONS: As in the costly May 14 polls in Pampanga, a moneyed operator appears to be reducing the protest before the Comelec, and eventually the courts, into a battle of millions. Whoever can out-cash and outlast the other party would win?

The talk in Pampanga is that one candidate spent around P1 billion in the last election — more than a senatorial candidate running nationwide would.

The poor priest, bound by a vow of poverty, is realizing only now that after winning the election fair and square, he still has to hurdle a protest costing him at least P10 million.

The former parish priest of Betis suddenly finds himself the one being accused of vote-buying and using fake ballots!

The P10 million, btw, is just for a recount. He may need more millions for collateral expenses when dealing with some Comelec types.

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PLAGIARIZED: Panlilio moved earlier to dismiss the plagiarized protest on the ground that it was merely copied word for word from other cases. Listen to election lawyer Romulo B. Macalintal, one of Panlilio’s volunteer counsel, talk about it:

“We have copies of protests involving the mayoral candidates of Taal, Batangas, and Sta. Rosa City, and the vice mayor of Cavite City from where the Pineda protest was copied word for word, period for period, comma for comma, with same wordings of the grounds of protest, differing only in the names of parties and the places involved.

“Such a protest, clearly insufficient in form and substance, is an insult to the integrity and competence of the Comelec because no one in his right mind would believe that the same alleged fraud or irregularities like vote-buying and misappreciation of ballots could be committed in the same manner, at the same time, by the same kind of election officials in the 22 municipalities of Pampanga, in Taal, Batangas, in Sta. Rosa City, and in Cavite City — when not a single objection was raised against any of the ballots nor any irregularity reported or recorded during the counting at the precinct level.”

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GLARING POINT: Macalintal added: “Considering its expertise in deciding election cases gained over several decades, how can the Comelec miss the glaring fact that the protest contains frivolous and scattergun allegations of vote-buying, misappreciation or misreading of ballots and use of fake ballots in all the 4,847 precincts from the 22 municipalities of Pampanga?

“The Comelec boasted of a clean, honest and credible election. And yet, in this case, it suddenly forgot such claim by giving due course to the protest which alleged that in all 4,847 precincts there was vote-buying, use of fake or unofficial ballots, and misreading of ballots.”

The Comelec’s action, he stressed, violated “the constitutional guarantee that a bona fide candidate for public office should be free from any form of harassment and discrimination.”

Macalintal noted that the Comelec’s own spokesman had admitted that Pineda’s protest was a “shotgun approach” and that her lawyer had admitted that the complaint was only copied from other cases.

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LAHAR SCAM: The capitolio reported, meanwhile, that revenue from the quarrying of lahar/sand in the province in just 28 WORKING DAYS (July 2-Aug. 8) totaled P29.4 million.

Nothing has changed in the volume of sand being taken out, yet the previous administration under then Gov. Mark Lapid reported a total quarrying revenue of only P29.1 million for the ENTIRE YEAR of 2006!

The diversion to private pockets of hundreds of millions in revenues was a key issue in the last election. Graft complaints against Lapid and some others were filed with the Ombudsman before the May election by Pineda partisans.

To further improve quarry operations and fee collection, Panlilio has called a meeting for Friday of the Provincial Mining Regulatory Board.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 14, 2007)

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