Ballot box opening in Maguindanao poll protest set-A A +A
Thursday, September 20, 2012
THE Regional Trial Court (RTC) formally granted and set the date for the forcible opening of ballot boxes that are subject for recount in an election protest case filed by a mayoralty candidate in Datu Saudi Ampatuan town in Maguindanao, provided that the integrity of the documents are preserved.
In an order dated September 17, RTC Branch 16 presiding Judge Emmanuel Carpio said the revision of the ballots will be around 2 to 5 p.m. of September 24 inside their court room.
The opening of the ballot boxes was approved after lawyer Israelito Torreon, counsel for Kindatu U. Datucali, asked the court to forcibly break the ballot boxes pointing out that the case has long been transferred and yet the keys of these items are still in the hands of the Comelec.
Datucali filed an election protest against Datu Saudi Ampatuan Jr. before a local court in Cotabato City for allegedly being cheated during the May 2010 elections, believing that the results of the election in 17 clusters were clearly manipulated, specifically in Barangay Katipok.
Serge Tupas, assigned sheriff for the case, said the 17 ballot boxes, containing the election returns and other election paraphernalia used in May 2010 elections, were ferried at the Hall of Justice on May 29 by the Datu Saudi Ampatuan's election officer Jeofrew O. Lala and municipal treasurer Sadrudin Masukat.
He said the two town officials were escorted by personnel of the Philippine National Police (PNP) in Cotabato City for safe delivery of the election materials.
Torreon, on the other hand, said the delay in the proceeding of the case has been marked because the same ballot boxes are also used in the election protest filed by defeated vice presidential candidate Mar Roxas against Vice President Jejomar Binay.
The court sought guidance from the Comelec and the Presidential Election Tribunal (PET) on the issue of whether to grant the request of Datucali to “break open” the ballot boxes during the revision.
In the latest order, the court said the letter of Jose M. Tolentino Jr. of the Comelec said the court has to issue appropriate guidelines and mechanics ensuring that the integrity of the documents and paraphernalia inside is “safeguarded”.
It said the PET, on the other hand, has not yet replied to the same query.
Thus, the court granted the request to forcibly open the ballot boxes considering the time element of the case since the forthcoming election is already eight months from now.
The court also directed Datucali and Ampatuan "to provide their own respective padlocks with the corresponding keys on each ballot box being break-opened" to ensure the integrity of the ballot boxes and related paraphernalia inside the ballot boxes.
Datucali is also directed to coordinate with the Branch 16's clerk of court, Lawyer Salud, who is also the chairman of the Revision Committee "for the photocopying of the needed forms to be used on the revision of the ballots."
The election protest case was filed before the RTC Cotabato City but was transferred to RTC Davao Branch 16 after Torreon filed a petition before the Supreme Court asking for the transfer of hearing of the case.
Carpio granted the "very urgent motion for re-issuance of precautionary protection order" filed by Datucali, asking to allow the retrieval of ballot boxes, election equipment, document and paraphernalia used during the election.
Torreon earlier said Datucali believes that the result of the election in 17 clusters was clearly manipulated, specifically in Barangay Katipok, Datu Saudi Ampatuan.
Datu Saudi Ampatuan has nine barangays, namely: Dapiawan, Elian, Gawang, Kabengi, Kitango, Kitapok, Madia, Pagatin and Salibu.
The May 2010 elections had 17 clustered precincts and 74 precincts.
Published in the Sun.Star Davao newspaper on September 20, 2012.