OFFICIALS of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) second division told reporters Friday that they did not call Pampanga Governor Eddie Panlilio a cheater.

Comelec Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer refuted claims that the second division, which ruled on the controversial electoral protests against incumbent Liberal Party (LP) government officials, is indicating that Panlilio cheated after declaring former board member Lilia Pineda the rightful winner in the 2007 gubernatorial election in the province.

The poll body proclaimed Pineda as Pampanga governor after getting 2,011 votes more than Panlilio in the recount. Pineda received 190,729 votes, while Panlilio only got 188,718 votes.

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“There are interviews questioning us how we found out that a priest cheated. We did not even mention that,” Ferrer said.

He furthered that the second division did not even deal with the issue of cheating.

“We said that although both parties accused each other of having cheated, no evidence whatsoever was introduced so that we did not deal in the issue of cheating,” noted the commissioner.

Comelec was only concerned on the appreciation of votes in the ballots used during the 2007 elections.

Pineda filed the electoral protest accusing Panlilio of massive cheating, adding that some "Nanay Baby" votes were not counted by election officers.

Panlilio earlier defended himself, saying: "A priest does not have the ability to harass. A candidate with no political party and machinery has no means to cheat and to buy votes."

Ferrer also said that during the recount, some were reconsidered like the similarity in handwriting, nicknames of the two candidates, marked ballots and the neighborhood rule where a candidate was voted in the position he is not running for.

“It is possible that three ballots might be written by one or two ballots might be written by one,” said Ferrer.

Some ballots were also considered invalid after having found marks on them, which indicates that the voter actually voted for the politician who paid for his or her vote.

The commissioner said the two 2007 gubernatorial candidates might now have known the fraud proven through the recount.

“It is not actually fraud but sometimes that is being done to impress the candidate. We don't know what really happened...If ever there was cheating, I don't think the candidates are aware of that in fairness of them,” the Comelec official said.

Ferrer furthered that these ways of cheating will be not be a problem anymore with the implementation of the automated system this May elections.

No influence

Malacañang, meanwhile, continued to distance the name of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo on the dethronement of Panlilio.

Deputy Presidential spokesperson Gary Olivar on Friday said the President had no influence over the result of the electoral protest between Panlilio and Pineda conducted by the Comelec.

Asked about Arroyo’s reaction since Pineda is a known ally of the President, Olivar downplayed that he was not aware of how she reacted but that her position would always been in deference to the judgment of the Comelec, which is an independent body.

He added that he was not privy to the fact if Arroyo has called Pineda when the ruling came out.

Olivar further said the administration do not see this as advantage for Arroyo, in her bid for congressional seat in Pampanga’s second district in the coming May 10 elections, as she will be campaigning with an ally in the local political race.

“Well, I’m not sure if it would make that much of a difference because we are talking about district of Pampanga where the President is running as a congresswoman. So I’m not, you know, it’s not clear to me how, whoever is the governor of the province would be able to influence the race.”

The Palace official said that Arroyo’s fate is still up to the decision of the voters in the second district of the province.

“I think, regardless whoever is seating as governor and whatever working relationship between who the governor is and the President—assuming she’s elected to Congress from that district—there will be no problem in helping each other if they will both give priority to the welfare of the province.”

He added that as long the two officials both put the interest of the province on top priority, the issue whether they are ally or not is not important.

Mendoza vs Pagdanganan

In a related development, Ferrer asked the supporters of Bulacan governor Joselito Mendoza and Roberto Pagdanganan to follow the rules to avoid any misunderstanding.

“In the meantime, it is still muna sila. We are following the rules. Otherwise, if you don't follow the rules, there will be chaos,” said Ferrer.

The commission en banc is scheduled to have a re-hearing on the electoral protest against Mendoza on Monday.

Once the four votes are reached by the en banc, they will already be issuing a writ of execution to seat Pagdanganan as Bulacan governor.

Both parties were advised to submit separate memoranda as additional evidence to convince to commission en banc in their favor.

"It is to afford the seven of us (commissioners and chair Jose Melo) a chance to perhaps be convinced by others and change our stand," Ferrer said.

LP statement

LP spokesperson Erin Tanada said in a text message to Sun.Star that the pattern to harass the LP candidates is very evident in their recent decision versus Panlilio, Mendoza, and Isabela governor Grace Padaca.

“These incidents just show that the administration is afraid of the Liberal Party and has trained its guns on the LP and not the other political parties especially the NP (Nacionalista Party),” said Tanada.

NP is headed by its standard bearer Senator Manny Villar.

Meanwhile, the LP on Friday filed a petition before the Comelec seeking to be re-accredited as the dominant minority party in the 2010 elections.

Although, the group claims that there were moves to discredit it, the party is confident it will get the nod of the poll body.

“Despite efforts to muzzle the True Opposition and to prevent the imminent people’s victory, the Liberal Party has fielded the most number of candidates in the National and Local Elections in May 10, 2010 among all opposition or supposedly opposition parties,” the LP said in its petition.

The party is also banking on its “outstanding track record, its present political and organizational strength and its being a proven genuine opposition party” as compelling factors as to why the Comelec should accord it the dominant minority party status.

“Political parties come and go, but none has exuded the endurance and steadfastness that has characterized the Liberal Party from the time of its foundation on 19 January 1946 and until the present challenging period of our beloved nation,” the petition stated.

Under the Omnibus Election Code, the dominant minority party status is accorded to the opposition party with the most number of candidates being fielded, the most number of incumbent party-members, and the longest and most extensive track record in public service.

The dominant minority party is entitled to the sixth copy of election returns.

The LP is supporting the presidential and vice-presidential bid of Senators Noynoy Aquino and Manuel Roxas, the party’s president, respectively. (Kathrina Alvarez/Jill Beltran/FP/Sunnex)