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Comelec en banc upholds decision to annul 2013 mayoralty poll result in Tuguegarao

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TUGUEGARAO CITY, Philippines- The Commission on Elections (Comelec) En Banc affirmed the decision of the First Division annulling the proclamation of Tuguegarao City Mayor Jefferson Soriano as winner of the 2013 mayoralty elections in this city.

In its order dated November 17, the Comelec commissioners declared its resolution on August 17, which denied the Motion for Reconsideration filed by Soriano against the decision of the First Division to oust him of his office, final and executory.

The order, however, has no effect already on Soriano’s office because his 2013 to 2016 term had already elapsed.

Copies of the decision have been sent to President Rodrigo Duterte, Department of Interior and Local Government (DILG), Commission on Audit (COA) and the Secretary of the Sangguniang Panglungsod of Tuguegarao.

The decision stemmed in the electoral protest of Soriano’s rival in the 2013 election, Delfin Ting.

The Ting clan held the city’s mayoralty seat for over two decades before Soriano took over in 2013.

The protest alleged that there were “widespread fraud, irregularities and terrorism perpetuated” by Soriano’s camp.

But Soriano countered Ting’s claim, citing that there were lack of knowledge and insufficient evidence.

‘Irregularities’

In its January 26, 2016 ruling, the Comelec First Division, after a technical audit, found out that out of 5,547 signatures examined from Election Day Computerized Voters’ List (EDCVL), 1,662 were found be not identical with those in the Voters’ Registration Record (VRR).

“The substantial number of signatures and thumbmarks found in the EDCVL to be not identical with those appearing in the VRRs is higher than the 1205-lead of protestee over protestant,” Comelec said.

In July 2015, after the Comelec-First Division ruled to proceed to the technical examination of the remaining ballots, the Comelec’s local office in Tuguegarao office were robbed with the EDCVL of the 2013 elections.

The robbery incident, the Comelec said, impaired their power to investigate the fraud.

“To rule on either side, at this point, would prove futile in determining the true will of the electorate,” the Comelec said.

The Comelec added that they cannot determine for whom the ‘questionable’ 1,662 votes were for.

It said that substantial number of irregular signatures present a nagging question on the win of Soriano.

Pure allegations

But in his motion for reconsideration, Soriano insisted that he did not cheat during 2013 elections as he appealed as the “rightful” winner in the mayoralty post.

Soriano said the Comelec-First Division erred when it ruled to remove him from his office, saying that its basis is just mere allegations.

Soriano cited a phrase in the same ruling which, he said, will prove that there has been no established fact that he cheated.

“Findings based on “reasonable possibility of substitute voting”…not to mention the directive for the law department to investigate the “veracity of the allegations of massive substitute voting” are not conclusive findings,” Soriano said, adding that the doubts remain nothing but pure allegations.

“The ballots are the best and most conclusive evidence of the voter’s will,” Soriano argued.

He said the EDCVL and VRR have no direct connection to the validity of the ballots, adding that the Comelec-First Division itself cannot annul his proclamation as mayor because “annulment of proclamation is power vested…in pre-proclamation controversies, not in election protest.”

The nullification of election results, he added, should only be decided by the Commission en Banc.

He also argued that based on the physical recount of ballots, the votes he initially got in the Statement of Votes and Proclamation were accurate and correct and Ting’s vote remained the same.

“Yet, the Honorable Commission First Division chose to turn a blind eye on the results of the recount,” Soriano said. “These allegations do not carry more weight than the undisputed results of the recount/revision of the ballots showing that it was indeed the Protestee who won.”

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