BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Breaking News / Election Watch
May 23, 2007 – 7:36pm
Thousands braved strong rains and rallied this afternoon near the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), where the national canvassing of votes is being held, to protest what was described as “the Arroyo administration’s orchestrated cheating” in the recently-concluded senatorial and local elections.
Present at the rally were conveners of the poll watch group Kontra Daya (Anti-Fraud) — former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, Jr., Fr. Joe Dizon, National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, film director Carlitos Siguion Reyna, and former Transportation and Communication Secretary Josie Lichauco; as well as members of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance), Boses ng Masa (The Masses’ Voice), Laban ng Masa (The Masses’ Fight), the Black and White Movement, the United Opposition (UNO), the National Coordinating Council of Volunteers (NCCV), the Be Not Afraid Movement, and the Trillanes for Senator Movement.
A special focus of concern among the rally speakers was Maguindanao, where early returns show the province delivering a 12-0 victory for the administration coalition Team Unity. A teacher in the said province has reported to the poll monitor Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente), under the cloak of anonymity, that teachers in the said province were forced by soldiers at gunpoint to fill up ballots with the names of Team Unity senatorial candidates.
Based on data from the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), some 336,000 votes are at stake in Maguindanao — enough to affect the 11th and 12th slots in the senatorial race. As of yesterday, Genuine Opposition candidates Antorio Trillanes IV and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III are in the 11th and 12th slots, respectively, based on the Comelec tally as of 4:45 p.m. today.
“It was Maguindanao in 2004, today it is still Maguindanao,” Guingona said, referring to the alleged fraud in the 2004 elections, where the said province was reported to be a major operation center.
Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos said in a press conference yesterday that persons or groups who fail to substantiate reports of fraud will be punished. “We are also looking at the other side because unverified, invalidated reports, which cause alarm to our people, should not be tolerated and should not be left unpunished,” he said.
“Instead of encouraging witnesses to come out in the open, the Comelec is threatening them,” Dizon said in response to Abalos’ statement. “Is the Comelec afraid of the truth that it now resorts to threats?”
Former Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman, who is with the Black and White Movement, expressed a similar view. “The teachers who exposed the fraud there should be given protection, because their lives are in danger,” she said.
Genuine Opposition senatorial candidate Anna Dominique “Nikki” Coseteng urged the filing of charges against election officials proven to be involved in poll fraud.
Bayan Muna (People First) nominee Teddy Casiño lauded the people for their vigilance, saying it was what prevented more fraud from taking place. Still, he urged the public to continue keeping watch.
The ralliers assembled at 3 p.m. in front of the Star City. They were supposed to hold their program in front of the PICC, but police stopped them a few steps away.(Bulatlat.com)