Comelec still printing ballots for May 13 elections?By Christine O. Avendaño
Philippine Daily Inquirer
Is the Commission on Elections still printing ballots for last May’s polls?
An election watchdog group and a former Comelec lawyer questioned Tuesday the alleged printing of ballots for the elections that were over more than two months ago.
Automated Election Systems Watch (AES Watch) and former Comelec lawyer Melchor Magdamo showed reporters photos of the ballots that they said were printed nonstop over the last two weeks at Holy Family Printing on Congressional Road in Quezon City.
“That is highly irregular,” said Fr. Joe Dizon, AES Watch convenor, in a news conference.
Magdamo, who had exposed several scams at the Comelec, including the overpricing of ballot secrecy folders in 2010, said Holy Family had won the contract to print the ballots for the May 13 elections.
He said an “intel” group in the Comelec that was disgruntled by reports the agency had a P30-million intelligence fund had “leaked” the photos.
He said that under the law, the Comelec could order the printing of official ballots if it was holding a special election. The printing, he added, could only be done by the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and the National Printing Office.
“So why was there a printing of May 2013 ballots when the elections had concluded already?” he said.
The Comelec, he said, could not claim the ballots were for the barangay (village) and Sangguniang Kabataan elections in October because “ordinary ballots” would be used for this.
Comelec Commissioner Lucenito Tagle on Tuesday denied the agency had sanctioned the printing of ballots by Holy Family.
“Why are they still printing when the elections are over and we don’t have any dealings with them?” said Tagle in an interview.
He said the NPO was the official printer of the 2013 midterm elections ballots.
AES Watch should show its evidence to the Comelec “so we can get to the bottom of this,” Tagle said.
He also dismissed allegations the Comelec had used its P30-million intelligence fund as a “pork barrel.”
“That’s not true, it was Malacañang that gave the funds to us,” Tagle said.
He also denied AES Watch’s claim the intelligence funds were used to spy on the election watchdog.
“We did not use the money to spy on them. We used it to visit our offices in the regions and provinces,” he said.
Magdamo raised two possibilities for the printing of more ballots by the Comelec.
One was that the Comelec was printing eight million more ballots to “match” the number of ballots it first said it had printed for last May’s elections, which was 39 million. Later on its website the Comelec whittled the number to 31 million ballots.
When questions arose on the change in numbers, Magdamo said the Comelec removed the figures from its website.
“So there was a shortage of eight million ballots so it’s possible they needed to fabricate eight million ballots,” he said.
Another possibility was that “genuine ballots” in the ballot boxes being held in connection with various investigations would be “switched” with the newly printed ballots.
As for the P30-million Comelec intelligence fund, AES Watch questioned if it was a pork barrel given by Malacañang to the poll agency.
The group raised the matter on Tuesday, the first day of a Court of Appeals hearing on the group’s petition for a writ of habeas data against Comelec Chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. and the six other commissioners.
The group said it wanted the Comelec to reveal any information it may have gathered against it using the P30-million fund that Brillantes was earlier quoted as saying was to be used to monitor “election saboteurs.”
It had asked the Supreme Court to issue a writ of habeas data which the tribunal granted last week. The high court also referred AES Watch’s petition to the Court of Appeals for a hearing.
At the hearing, AES member Harry Roque showed the appellate court’s Sixth Division justices photocopies of three checks totaling P1.25 million that Brillantes had allegedly given former commissioner and now AES Watch member Augusto Lagman in August and September 2011. The checks were supposedly for Lagman’s “confidential and intelligence funds.”
The checks were for P800,000, P200,000 and P250,000 and formed part of the documentary evidence AES Watch presented to the court to show that the Comelec had such funds.
Roque also asked the court to subpoena Brillantes and deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte to shed light on the intelligence fund.
It was Valte who had revealed the existence of the fund, while Brillantes had said it would be used to monitor “election saboteurs” like “AES Watch.”
Lagman, for his part, said “it appears” the intelligence funds Brillantes gave him and the other commissioners had come from the pork barrel of the Comelec.
He said that when Brillantes gave the checks to him he deposited them in his personal account. But he was told on March 19, 2012, by the Comelec’s chief accountant to liquidate the funds and the latter presented to him a document for his signature.
“The document stated I had spent the money on several items,” Lagman said. He said he told the chief accountant that he did not spend the money and they had an argument. Lagman then said he would return the money to the Comelec and the accountant agreed.—With a report from Philip C. Tubeza