THE Commission on Elections (Comelec) has begun the re-inventory of all election paraphernalia in the city following allegations that poll forms, envelopes for voting and counting, pens and indelible inks were stolen Monday night.
Comelec officer Raul Pabito handed Tuesday morning the order to city treasurer Engr. Marilyn Legaspi at the Cagayan de Oro City hall amid the mounting political tension following the discovery of the alleged theft.
“Please notify the different stakeholders and this office prior to the schedule of said inventory and conduct the inventory in the presence of Comelec representative(s), citizens’ arm, candidates and representatives/watchers of political parties to erase doubts on the integrity of the election paraphernalia,” the order from City Comelec chief Palmer Palamine read.
Cagayan de Oro has a voting population of 277,931.
Legaspi immediately ordered her personnel to notify all political parties, the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) and the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) to send their representative to witness the inventory scheduled at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, May 7.
She also provided the media with copies of the inventory report of the ballots and other forms of supplies that the City Treasurer’s Office (CTO) received from the Comelec.
Late Monday afternoon, tension ran high after a group of Namfrel volunteers spotted three City Hall workers spiriting out four boxes from the CTO.
Fearing a repeat of the 2010 incident when ballots and compact flash memory cards for PCOS machines were found dumped at the sanitary landfill, the NAMFREL called in their volunteers to hold a vigil at the City Hall.
Hundreds came, including supporters of Misamis Oriental Governor Oscar Moreno, who is running for mayor in Cagayan de Oro.
The call elicited a similar response from supporters of reelectionist Mayor Vicente Emano, who is seeking a second term.
City Budget officer Griscelda Joson later came forward, claiming that the boxes contain her “personal effects.”
But she refused to open the boxes unless there is a court order.
She remained firm with her decision not to open the boxes unless there is also an order coming from Mayor Vicente Emano especially that the boxes have become an issue now.
“Dili na gyud hinuon ko mosugot nga abrihan. Murag naay legal action sila si Atty. Pacuribot so maghulat na lang ko unsay resulta (I will not allow the opening (of the boxes). It seems Atty. Pacuribot has initiated legal action, so I will just wait for the result),” Joson said.
Namfrel local chief Nestor Banuag said his group will also insist on the opening of the suspicious four boxes owned by Joson and welcomed the Comelec order, saying this would lower the political tension in Cagayan de Oro.
“The inventory will allow us to see if anything valuable in the election paraphernalia is missing or not,” Banuag said.
The inventory list provided by city treasurer Legaspi to the media includes election forms, envelopes for voting and counting, indelible ink and other supplies from the Comelec.
Banuag said they will also inspect if the 360 boxes containing the ballots are intact and not tampered.
Complaint vs Legaspi
The legal team of the Liberal Party-Cagayan de Oro (LP-CDO) also filed a complaint against the city treasurer Tuesday for the alleged transfer of four boxes from the city finance storage to the acting budget officer’s office.
Lawyer Jonathan Pacuribot, LP-CDO legal counsel, told Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro he has already filed the complaint along with the request to transfer all election paraphernalia stored at the city finance office to the one-stop-shop an extension building of finance office where the official ballots are currently stored.
“Nag-file na mi, complaining essentially nganong sayon ra makagawas ang boxes gikan diha unya mga tawo pa gyud nga walay uniform, walay ikapakita nga mga papers, so kinsa man ang dili mahimong suspicious. While I do not want to make any conjecture, they can’t also blame me if I’m suspicious (We have already filed our complaint on why those boxes were easily carried out from the city treasurer’s office by people who were not in uniform. They failed to show any document, that’s why we became suspicious),” Pacuribot said.
The legal team of the LP camp had also put on record at the police station in Divisoria the plate numbers two of the three vehicles that allegedly carried the four boxes that Joson owns.
City councilor bet Ingrid Agudo, in a text message to Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro, said the black toned Toyota Revo bearing plate number KCR-573 is allegedly registered to Mayor Emano while the black toned Suzuki APV bearing the plate number KGL 101 is allegedly registered to Mary Jane B. Lazaga of Camella Homes this city. Lazaga is allegedly a city hall employee and a spa owner.
“Kinahanglan manubag ang angayan manubag (Those who are liable must be held accountable),” Lawyer James Judith, one of the members of the LP legal team, said.
City election officer anxious
Palamine however expressed his anxiety over the incident saying that he feared if boxes were taken from the City Treasurer’s office where the election supplies are stored, the election paraphernalia for the May 2013 elections might be lacking.
“Ako mismo nahadlok nga tungod kay aduna may nakagawas nga mga boxes basin unya og makulangan na kini panahon sa election,” Palamine said.
He said the inventory will erase the doubts of the people if proven to have complete listings of election paraphernalia as it will appear in the inventory sheets.
The inventory, Legaspi said, might reach until the early dawn of Wednesday as it will do a re-inventory of all election paraphernalia including indelible inks, pencils, secrecy folders and other paraphernalia of the 360 clustered precincts in the city.
Palamine said the ballot boxes will also be included in the inventory before its storage will be locked again.
“Usahon na tanan ang election paraphernalia sa usa ka lugar as also suggested by the City Treasurer,” Palamine said.
The inventory has been witnessed by Namfrel, PPCRV, representatives of different political parties, media and police personnel. (With a report from Froilan Gallardo of Mindanews)