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‘They got the ballots, and shaded them’

/ 04:28 AM May 28, 2016

(Last of two parts)

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NORMINA Taha, wife of a United Nationalist Alliance (UNA) candidate for councilor, referred to ballots piled up on a table beside the vote-counting machine (VCM) shown on a video as those already shaded at a precinct in Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Maguindanao province.

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“The votes cast by other people they put on standby because they needed to check if all the names of the members of their lineup were shaded,” she added.

Taha said the board of election inspectors (BEI) did not care. “They (supporters reelectionist Mayor Samsudin Dimaukom) only asked her to sign the shaded ballots to validate the votes before feeding them into the VCM. The BEI was standing on a corner, doing nothing. She was only watching what the mayor’s men and (Moro Islamic Liberation Front’s [MILF] 118th base commander Wahid) Tundoc’s relatives were doing,” she said.

“They got ballots by the bundles and shaded them. By 11 a.m., hundreds of ballots assigned to that precinct were all filled out,” she told the Inquirer.

These were not immediately fed into the VCM on the BEI’s advice so the Commission on Elections (Comelec) would not be suspicious.

Slow ballot feeding

“The BEI told them to slowly feed the ballots into the VCM because it was too early. She said if they ran out of ballots to feed into the VCM too soon, it will be detected. So, they had to prolong the process until voting closes at 5 p.m.,” Taha said.

By 2 or 3 p.m., registered voters arrived to cast their votes but could not vote anymore “because the ballots were all out. They’ve already been shaded,” Taha said.

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First, second video

A Bassir Utto supporter, who started to record the first video, was forced to stop the recording when someone asked if he was taking a video. The video showed Tundoc’s daughter receiving several shaded ballots, checking if the LP slate was shaded before feeding the ballots into the VCM and verifying the voter receipt.

Utto ran for vice mayor in Datu Saudi Ampatuan against Anida Dimaukom, wife of the reelectionist mayor.

The second video showed Tundoc’s daughter presiding over the entire process with shaded ballots sitting on a large pile ready for feeding into the VCM. A woman’s voice could be heard asking in the Maguindanaoan dialect, “Have all the intact ballots been fed?”

In response, Tundoc’s daughter, who could be seen glaring into the mobile phone camera, said in the same dialect, “Let’s work together. All of you be careful because someone’s taking a video.”

The video also shows a man in a green shirt, accompanying Tundoc’s daughter, who was carrying a sling bag with a firearm inside.

Brandishing pistols

Asked if they have filed an election protest pertaining to the incident, Taha said: “We can’t file a complaint there (Maguindanao) that is why we went all the way here (to Metro Manila). If we filed a complaint there, we might end up being charged instead.”

In his affidavit, Utto said when he arrived at 1:20 p.m. of May 9 at Datu Pendililang Piang Elementary School, he observed some 300 supporters of Dimaukom surrounding the polling center with about 30 of them brandishing pistols.

“There were also about 11 heavily tinted vehicles parked around the school, which we knew to be loaded with high-powered firearms. The incumbent mayor and his wife were also there. The AFP/police authorities were nearby but tolerated the group of incumbent mayor Dimaukom,” he said.

Utto pointed out that the men threatened and intimidated voters at the polling center similar to what they did in Barangay Kabinge and harassed poll watchers for candidates not allied with the incumbent mayor, forcing them to leave the school.

When only Dimaukom’s supporters were left inside the polling center, they allegedly started filling out the ballots in place of the displaced voters and fed them into the VCMs.

“No other persons aside from individuals belonging to incumbent mayor Dimaukom’s group were allowed inside the mentioned voting center and precincts. The batch feeding of ballots was fraudulently done to favor the candidates of the Liberal Party, particularly incumbent Mayor Dimaukom and his wife,” Utto said, accusing the members of the BEI of conspiring with the couple.

“Amid the violence and intimidation employed by incumbent Mayor Dimaukom and his supporters, not one report was made thereon by the election officer, AFP soldiers, policemen, BEI, Smartmatic VCM technicians, etc.,” he lamented.

Utto told the Inquirer that Dimaukom won by “a landslide because most of our supporters were not able to, were scared, to vote.”

15,470 registered voters

The reelectionist mayor got 8,615 of the 11,888 recorded voter turnout in the municipality while his wife got 7,632 votes, more than double Utto’s 3,339 votes.

According to Comelec records, Datu Saudi Ampatuan town has 15,470 registered voters for the 2016 national and local polls.

Utto intends to file a formal protest in the Comelec and seek special elections in the municipality because of the massive and blatant cheating.

“We can’t say the elections were clean. We can see it clearly in those videos,” he said.

On Election Day, UNA Maguindanao gubernatorial candidate Ali Midtimbang’s lawyer, Kampo Amor, reported nearly 800 preshaded ballots uncovered by the candidate’s volunteers in Datu Saudi Ampatuan and immediately filed a protest in the Comelec.

Disenfranchised

He claimed that 800 voters in the town were deprived of their right to suffrage.

With the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao known as a hub for electoral fraud, whether through bloated voter registration or poll-related violence, Comelec officials earlier pronounced that the automated elections would make cheating and other irregularities things of the past.

But for the town of Datu Saudi Ampatuan time has apparently stood still.

Maguindanao Gov. Esmael Mangudadatu had, months ahead of the polls, expressed his dream of seeing provincial candidates raising the level of political campaign and promoting peace.

Like Dimaukom, the governor is a member of the LP. It was also Mangudadatu who gave the Datu Saudi Ampatuan reelectionist the chance to break into politics in 2012 when he named Dimaukom vice governor of Maguindanao.

“The bottom line is all of us want to serve our people. So there’s no need to use violence to get an upper hand,” Mangudadatu was quoted as saying in an interview in October last year.

The Inquirer tried but failed to get a comment from the MILF. The Dimaukom couple could not be located. With a report from Nico Alconaba, Inquirer Mindanao

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TAGS: ballots, Datu Saudi Ampatuan, Elections 2016, Maguindanao province, Normina Taha, UNA vice mayoral candidate, United Nationalist Alliance, VCM, vote counting machine
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