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  A Samson and Delilah in Catbalogan

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The Election that was...Honest and Peaceful?

May 30, 2007

For more than ten years working as broadcast journalist has given me that chance to hear people talk and be heard by people. You see, broadcast journalism is not only talking, it also means listening.

Last May 14, 2007 was one of my most depressing experience as a broadcaster. The radio station which I work for went off because of some technical problems, one module of the transmitter just stopped working. Financial limitations made immediate and costly repair impossible.

Worst of all, it happened during the time when the right of suffrage was being exercised and to be counted soon after, and people were  eager and excited to know the results, and more, were so eager to know what was going on.

It left me no option but write. The chronicle of events which I tried to gather may come to you this late; nevertheless, it might help you see a closer look of what have happened.

One week before the May 14, elections 70 ballot boxes were rumored to have been transported to the province from somewhere. Text messages spread that some of these boxes were spotted in Guiuan, Barangay Campesao in Borongan, San Policarpo and Dolores.

It is very unfortunate though that these texters when asked does not respond or just say "basta ayon na la mayda mahitatabo nga panlimbong, ikmat" (just believe that cheating is going to happen, beware).

In Balangkayan, precincts number 9A should have a ballot box with serial number CEO7-079-400, but CEO2-053-126 instead, which according to the reports that reached NAMFREL/PPCRV office, is non existent. Precinct number 10A should have ballot box with serial number CE07-077-134, but CEO1-077-524 instead, which according to the same source should be at precinct 12A and B. But this seemed to have not affected the electoral exercise.

It was a common observation that the Election Returns did not bear the official logo of the Commission on Elections, when verified by the NMAFREL/PPCRV, Atty Butch Beato the Provincial COMELEC officer said it was not relevant, but the regional people of COMELEC said it is abnormal. BEIs who served for decades testified that it was the first time to see ERs without the official COMELEC Logo.

In Dolores, watchers of 5 precincts were alarmed by a burning cotton believed to be contaminated with a chemical not known to them, was thrown inside while ballots were being counted. According to them police immediately responded and secured the area.

Policemen assigned in Dolores who refused to be identified too, confessed that they were asked by an official of the municipality to vacate the area (where the canvassing was held) for unknown reason. They refused to obey for reasons that they (police) are tasked to secure the ballots, the people and the area.

May 15, a day after the election, another rumor that municipality of Sulat will be attacked by 30 armed men alerted the police and the incumbent mayor. A NAMFREL volunteer who happened to pass by said municipality confirmed the mayor was at the municipal building with police securing the same.

Late afternoon of  the same day Zenaida Coquilla wife of the Congressional candidate Teodulo "Doloy" went to the PPCRV/NAMFREL office and reported a telephone call from a certain Eli Baguinon (who was in Homonhon Island that time) political leader of the incumbent mayor Analiz Gonzales-Kwan of Guiuan, informing them of a group on board a helicopter. Fear it might be one of those who will implement the alleged cheating plan, urgently seek for help and warned that their watchers be alerted.

BEI composed of teachers assigned at Barangay Casuguran Homonhon island where the helicopter landed, immediately secured the ballot boxes, kept them in toilets where they thought it would be safe. Mayor Analiz told them to secure properly the ballot boxes and never turn over the same without a clear authority. "The sacredness of the people's decision has to be safeguarded" Kwan told BEIs.

On his way to San Policarpo, a town northeast of the province, another NAMFREL/PPCRV volunteer narrated seeing about 14 vans mostly CUVs and imported cars like Chevrolet were parked in a house along the highway uptown of Taft. For him it was so unusual since there was no fiesta, no wedding, or occasion such as a derby. It was suffice for him to think that those were political supporters of a candidate.

Late night of May 15, while the NAMFREL volunteers were busy with tabulations, one volunteer was alarmed by another text message "kompirmado na mayda na magios panlimbong bantayi niyo mga balota, COCs tikang ha Sur labi na an tikang ha mga isla Homonhon and Manicani" (it is confirmed someone has started the move to cheat, watch the ballot boxes, and COCs from the South specially those from the islands of Homohon ad Manicani).

Private local media tried to make possible connections with Manila people that same night in order to seek for help. Msgr. Pepe C. Quitorio CBCP Spokesperson was reached by phone and arranged with Radio Veritas through the Catholic Media Network (CMN) for an interview and Eden Cidro of DYVW a sister station of Veritas reported the events and a telephone line was kept open for Eastern Samar. Carlo Lorenzo of GMA also responded and kept open one line at the news desk of the network should any eventuality occur.

The LENTE (Legal Network for Truthful Elections) lawyer volunteer Atty. Nelie Canillas-Dulfo also came to the rescue with her connections in Manila. This made everything ready for any possible cheating or interventions to disrupt and destroy the credibility of the election.

Other supporters like Atty. Lutgardo B. Barbo former governor of Eastern Samar (now the president of the Phil Normal University) came and signified their concerns and support. Fr. Euly Belizar of the Cathedral Parish Team Ministry of Borongan called the parishioners to join a prayer vigil at the Legislative building where the official provincial canvassers were waiting for the arrival of other ballot boxes and COCs.

For the first time in Eastern Samar a dramatic arrival of election returns, with an on going prayer vigil and 12 cars in convoy escorting the carrier of the ballot boxes and COCs, applauding the BEIs and the volunteer watchers, any attempt to cheat could have been difficult.

"We cannot be neutral in front of cheating and signs of deception or can we put into our own hands justice which we are not authorized, nor pass judgment to those we think bad, the most that we can do is stand firm on what is morally right. We joined the vigil not because we support a candidate but we want to be sure our one vote is counted", a teary Lola Elay a retired teacher in her late 60s holding her rosary beads, told local newsmen.

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