MANILA,  JUNE 4, 2004
By PETER J. G. TABINGO - A 15-minute video footage of the transfer of the ballot boxes from the Camarines Norte Board of Canvassers to the Senate shown at the House yesterday failed to provide any answer as to the whereabouts of the missing certificate of canvass from the said province.

The film clip snuffed Maguindanao Rep. Didagen Dilangalen's imputation of culpability on Senate President Franklin Drilon about the loss of the COC, Senate Secretary Oscar Yabes said, as it showed that the ballot boxes were delivered in good order and were properly sealed upon receipt.

A close up of the exchange of custody displayed that the envelope purportedly containing the COC was appropriately sealed.

So, if one disregards the possibility that the board of canvassers sent an empty ballot box by mistake, when, where, and how did the COCs disappear?

Yabes has cleared Drilon. The Comelec said it did deliver the ballot box to the Senate, untouched, and even had a receipt of delivery to prove it.

Dilangalen questioned how the COC was lost while the envelope and the ballot boxes containing the documents from the provincial board of canvassers of Camarines Norte were under the custody of Drilon's office.

Data in the hands of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP) showed Fernando Poe Jr. won in the province with 70,566 votes to President Arroyo's 46,461.

Dilangalen said the loss of the COC puts in doubt the integrity of the rest of the ballot boxes.

Yabes said it was likely that the COC was not placed in the sealed envelope when it was sent.

This aspect, he said, is now best left to the explanation of the members Camarines Norte provincial Board of Canvassers.

Dilangalen had questioned Drilon why the certificates of canvass and election returns supposed to be inside the ballot box were not in the box when it was opened before the joint public session.

Drilon had admitted that the ballot boxes were opened after they were received by the "reception committee" of his office, but he stressed that he had no hand in opening the ballot box. The Senate reception committee that received the ballot box certified that the envelopes supposedly containing the relevant documents were in the ballot box when opened in the Senate.

Dilangalen said the integrity of ballot boxes has been put in question because of the opening of the ballot boxes while in the custody of the Senate.

A KNP lawyer said that Congress as the National Board of Canvassers is empowered to tabulate votes directly from election returns (ERs) or statement of votes (SOVs) in lieu of tainted COCs.

Rufus Rodriguez said that at the very least Congress should determine the authenticity of COCs by comparing them with the ERs and SOVs.

Rodriguez made the statement to debunk the claim of administration lawyer Grace Maduramente that the KNP can no longer ask Congress to examine the ERs and SOVs since the party should have done that at the precinct or regional level.

"Probably Atty. Maduramente forgot that the Omnibus Election Code does not allow any question on any election return on alterations and erasures because there are no pre-proclamation controversies in the provincial, city and municipal levels for the presidential, vice presidential and senatorial candidates," said Rodriguez.

"That's why the law says that where there are erasures in the COCs and the SOVs, then Congress can open the ERs to count the votes," he said. (With Rhoel Fernandez)

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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