THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) Second Division has found the election protest filed by former Cebu City Mayor Michael Rama against Mayor Tomas Osmeña to be “sufficient in form and substance.”
Last May 20, Rama’s camp filed an election protest asking the poll body to conduct a manual count of the votes cast during the May 9 polls to verify electoral fraud.
The move was supported by 42 village chiefs in the city, who signed a manifesto for it.
After the May 9 elections, Rama was defeated by Osmeña by a margin of 34,036 votes. Osmeña earned a total of 267,222 votes compared to Mike’s 233,186 votes.
The former mayor lamented that his loss to the Bando Osmeña Pundok Kauswagan stalwart was “statistically improbable” because he was winning by around the same margin in the eight surveys he had prior to the polls.
Osmeña’s camp filed a counter-protest, moving for the dismissal of Mike’s request.
He argued that the election protest did not specify which precincts were involved in the alleged irregularities.
Rama, in response to the counter-protest, did not present any special and affirmative defenses.
The former mayor, instead, maintained that the “only way to ascertain the truth and veracity” of the alleged irregularities is through the recount and revision of the ballots, both in the protested and counter-protested clustered precincts.
In its order dated last Nov. 11 (but released last Dec. 2), Comelec found that both the election and counter-protests contained allegations of similar nature, such as the malfunctioning of the vote-counting machines (VCM) and the non-counting of valid votes by the VCM.
Both parties also accused each other of practicing substitute voting and massive vote-buying during the election and campaign periods.
“With this distinct observation, this Commission (Second Division) is convinced that the gravity of the allegations of electoral frauds, irregularities and anomalies in all their contested precincts are so serious that the evaluation, consideration and examination of both the election protest and the counter-protest by this Commission is aptly called for,” reads a portion of the order.
Presiding Commissioner Al Parenno and Commissioners Arthur Lim and Sheriff Abas said that to examine the evidence supporting the common allegations from both parties, a recount of the votes may be conducted as provided by the Omnibus Election Code.
The Comelec officials said that reopening and recounting the ballots would provide a better standpoint concerning the issue of “reliability” of the VCMs.
It would also help the Commission in determining whether the allegations of irregularities are warranted or not.
“The recount or revision process would also positively give the parties closure anent the issue of the integrity of the results of the election in Cebu City,” the officials said.
The Commission denied the special and affirmative defenses in Osmeña’s counter-protest.
In a phone interview yesterday, Osmeña declined to comment on the matter as he has yet to receive a copy of the order.
Asked if he will be filing a motion for reconsideration or appeal, the mayor said he will discuss the matter with his legal counsel.
He, however, clarified that he is not against a recount, should Comelec deem it necessary.
In a separate interview, Councilor Jocelyn Pesquera, one of the lawyers handling Rama’s case, said the order “bolstered our allegations” that there was a problem with the VCM.
“Most likely within this month, they’ll be able to come out with an order directing the Comelec Officer and the City Treasurer to turn over the ballots and deliver the 20 percent of all clustered precincts we’ve identified.
We’re protesting for more or less 167 precincts. Based on likelihood, there was an error,” she said.
It is the standard procedure of the poll body to review first 20 percent out of the 837 clustered precincts in the city.
The election protest proceedings will only continue if Rama will be able to recover at least 20 percent of Osmeña’s overall vote lead.
Lawyer Ernesto Rama, another legal counsel of Rama, said that the non-dismissal of their protest would mean a positive chance for the camp.
Rama said that the development could perhaps be an “early Christmas gift” for Team Rama.
“We are very pleased that the poll body has found merits in our petition as being sufficient in form and substance. God is good,” he said through a text message.