In New Bataan, Canvassing Snags — From Threats to Blackouts

May. 17, 2007

By Cheryll D. Fiel
Davao Today

DAVAO CITY — The canvassing of votes in New Bataan, Compostela Valley province, hit another snag when a congressional candidate filed a petition Wednesday seeking the transfer of the canvassing to another venue.

Joselito B. Brilliantes, who is seeking a congressional seat of Compostela Valley Province’s first district against incumbent representative Manuel “Way Kurat” Zamora, cited as reason for the petition the death threat allegedly received Tuesday by Armeli Entero, then the acting election officer of the town.

That threat led to the suspension of the canvassing. Entero has since been replaced by a new election official, Faisal Guro Dipatuan, who came all the way from Manila.

Entero discounted any personal grudges behind the threat. “I know it was done by a candidate,” she told, referring to the threat that was sent via a text message. Entero is now at the Comelec office in New Bataan, guarded by police escorts.

In the petition, Brillantes argued that even the replacement of Entero would still not make the place secure for the canvassing of the remaining election returns.

Hence, he said the canvassing must be done instead at the municipal hall of Compostela Valley Province’s capital town, Nabunturan, which is around 50 kilometers from New Bataan.

The canvassing, which was stopped at 6 pm Tuesday, resumed at around 8 Wednesday morning. But when the New Bataan Municipal Board of Canvassers (MBOCs) received Brillantes’s petition at around 11 am, they had to stop the canvassing anew by 12 noon.

Finally, after deliberations, the MBOCs decided, at around 3 p.m., to transfer the canvassing to the town of Nabunturan. But it didn’t happen because, according to the officials, it rained heavily that afternoon and there were no vehicles available to bring the ballots to Nabunturan. These conditions prompted the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) to refuse the transfer of the canvassing venue.

Under the law, the BEIs are required to stay within the vicinity of the canvassing site until election returns have been canvassed. This is to allow the Board of Canvassers to verify any error or irregularities noted in the election returns.

Around this time, 60 of the town’s 105 election returns have yet to be canvassed. Under Comelec rules, each MBOC is given 36 hours to finish the canvassing of election returns from the time it officially started. The canvassing resumed late afternoon on Wednesday.

The canvassing had been interrupted several times on the first day of the canvassing. Canvassing of votes by the MBOC in New Bataan started 3 am Tuesday, was stopped an hour later, resumed at 8 am the same day, stopped again around 12 noon, and continued until it was again stopped at around 6 pm due to the alleged threat on the life of the election officer.

Last night, too, a blackout engulfed New Bataan for more than three hours, from six to nine pm. Also, an explosion that seemed to residents like a grenade explosion was heard near the station of the Metro Shuttle Bus, just moments before the blackout.

New Bataan has a total of 23,348 registered voters, but according to Entero, only about 12,000 actually voted.

The town has seen the heavy presence of the military during the elections. Two armored personnel carriers of the military have been stationed at the vicinity of the New Bataan town hall.

Watchers of partylist group Bayan Muna in New Bataan had reported that soldiers who were supposed to be 50 meters away from the canvassing area had been seen patrolling the corridors of the town hall, near the door of the very place where the the canvassing was being conducted.

Bayan Muna had been tagged by the military in its active campaign prior to the elections as one of the partylists that people should not vote because it is allegedly a “front organization” of the New Peoples’ Army (NPA), which operates in the province.

The MBOCs said they did not leave the canvassing area in the wake of Tuesday night’s suspension, but election watchers of other parties, especially those of Bayan Muna partylist, went home for fear of possible violence.

The election in New Bataan was hotly contested. On the eve of elections, the vehicle of New Bataan mayoralty candidate Sheila Cualing Soriano was ambushed.

Compostela Valley province had been put under Comelec control, which means the Comelec could deputize members of the army and police to troop the area for security.

The military had premised the deployment of more than 1,000 soldiers, on top of the existing battalions and brigade AFP formations in the province, on the presence of the NPA, which it said is the major threat to the conduct of elections in the province. (Cheryll D. Fiel/

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