MANILA, Philippines - What's in a name?
For Lilia Pineda, a close ally of President Macapagal-Arroyo popularly known as ?Nanay Baby,? it meant finally getting the gubernatorial seat of Pampanga.
On Thursday, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) unseated Pampanga Gov. Eddie ?Among Ed? Panlilio, a Catholic priest-turned-politician, and declared Pineda, whose husband is widely known as a ?jueteng,? or illegal numbers, kingpin, the winner of the 2007 elections.
The Comelec Second Division said Pineda, a former provincial board member, was the ?duly elected governor? of Pampanga after an appreciation of the votes from 21 towns and cities in the province showed that she had an edge of 2,011 votes over Panlilio.
?I don?t know if I?ll be happy or sad,? Pineda said. With an expected appeal, she said the case was far from resolved.
?I?m not even giving it attention,? she added.
?A priest has no capability to harass,? Panlilio countered. ?A candidate with no party in 2007 does not have the machinery to cheat and buy votes.?
Malacańang urged the parties to abide by the Comelec ruling.
?We accept the wisdom and discretion of the Comelec,? said Gary Olivar, deputy presidential spokesperson. ?We urge everyone to get into the habit of respecting due process whether we like it or not.?
It was the latest in a string of controversial decisions that the Comelec Second Division had issued. It earlier annulled the win in the 2007 vote of Bulacan Gov. Joselito Mendoza and kicked out the polio-stricken Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca. The two belong to the opposition.
In reaching the decision, the Comelec division considered as valid the votes for ?Nanay Baby? that were previously set aside, giving Pineda the gubernatorial seat three months before the May 10 general elections, where the two will again face off for the same post.
The ruling penned by Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer said that Pineda got 190,729 votes, while Panlilio received 188,718 votes, which erased his 1,147 lead in the 2007 count.
The appreciation of the votes was not unanimous among the three members of the division, however.
Commissioner Lucenito Tagle had a different computation of the contested votes.
Tagle, in his separate concurring opinion, said Pineda was still the victor in the 2007 race at 190,819 votes, but her lead was much smaller.
He placed Panlilio?s total votes at 190,463, putting the difference between the rivals a mere 356 votes.
The different counts were a positive thing for Panlilio, according to his lawyer, Sixto Brillantes. He said that he would question the appreciation of votes in his appeal.
With the ruling, the Comelec ordered Panlilio to leave his post and allow Pineda to take over as governor.
Final and executory
The decision was final and executory, but the Comelec gave Panlilio five days to file a motion for reconsideration with the commission en banc.
On August last year, the Comelec began to open the ballots from all the precincts in Pampanga for the recount ordered by the Supreme Court two years after Pineda filed her electoral protest.
Pineda, whose husband was previously investigated for his jueteng connections, accused Panlilio of harassment and cheating in the 2007 balloting.
The 11,000-page ruling detailed objections and questions on each of the votes cast for the candidates. The objections ranged from anomalous markings on the ballots to questions on the registered nicknames of the candidates.
The election commissioners looked at each issue raised and decided whether to deny or allow the vote for the candidate.
?Forces of darkness?
Pineda?s lawyer George Garcia said the appeal centered on getting the board of election inspectors to include votes cast for ?Nanay Baby? which were previously disallowed.
The revision of the ballots aimed to ensure that votes cast for Pineda under this nickname were counted, Garcia explained.
?They did not know that the nickname ?Nanay Baby? was registered for my client,? he said after the promulgation at the Comelec headquarters in Intramuros.
Garcia said he would file a motion for execution pending Panlilio?s appeal.
The Liberal Party (LP) condemned the Comelec decision that, it said, in effect called Panlilio a cheater.
?We are enraged for the Comelec as a democratic institution, particularly its second division, as it seems that the forces of darkness have effectively used it as a conduit in its machinations against local leaders of hope,? said Sen. Mar Roxas, LP vice presidential candidate.