Comelec pressed to resolve swiftly 2019 mayoralty protest in Lipa City

Lipa City

Less than two months before the May 9, 2022 national and local elections, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) has been asked to resolve the election protest filed almost three years ago on May 23, 2019 involving the mayoralty election in Lipa City.

The plea to resolve was contained in the memorandum filed by Bernadette P. Sabili who challenged the proclamation of Eric B. Africa as mayor.

On May 16, 2019, Africa was proclaimed mayor with 78,109 votes as against Sabili’s 76,511 votes or a margin of 1,598 votes. Sabili filed an election protest alleging “massive fraud, anomalies and irregularities” and, thus, the election “did not reflect the real and genuine voice of the electorate.”

After the revision of the ballots in the contested and counter-protested precincts, and the technical examination of the election day computerized voter’s list (EDCVL) and voter’s registration records (VRRs) used in the pilot protested precincts, the Comelec found that Sabili won as mayor with 69,758 votes as against Africa’s 69,611 votes or a winning margin of 147 votes.

“Even assuming that the 21 claimed ballots/votes of the Protestant (Sabili) will not be credited, the fact still remains that she is the legitimate winner for the position of Mayor of Lipa City, Batangas during the 2019 elections garnering 69,737 votes as against the Protestee’s (Africa) 69,611) votes or a winning margin of 126 votes,” the memorandum stressed.

The memorandum pointed out: “Hence, the presumptive proclamation of the Protestee made by the City Board of Canvassers of Lipa City, Batangas is illegal and null and void as it does not represent the lawful choice of the constituency thereat.”

Lipa City has 72 barangays (villages) with 245 clustered precincts and 200,706 registered voters during the 2019 election.

The Comelec found that after examining the 49 pilot precincts or the first 20 percent of the total number of precincts, there was a total of 15,728 registered voters who fraudulently cast their votes, the memorandum stated.

Citing Supreme Court (SC) ruling, the memorandum stated that there are two indispensable requisites that must concur in order to justify the drastic action of nullifying the election – the illegality of the ballots must affect more than 50 percent of the votes cast on the specific precinct or precincts sought to be annulled, or in case of the entire municipality, more than 50 percent of its total precincts and the votes cast; and there is impossibility to distinguish with reasonable certainty between the lawful and unlawful ballots.

In the 2019 Lipa City mayoralty election, the memorandum stated that there were 23 protested precincts where “more than 50 per cent of the votes cast were found to be spurious and illegal since numerous signatures/thumbmarks of the registered voters appearing in the EDCVL were not identical to their signatures appearing in the VRRs.”

These protested precincts were those in Barangays Marauoy, Poblacion Barangays 1, 2 and 7, Bagong Pook, Banay-Banay, Bolbok, Lodlod, Muntingpulo, Pinagkawitan, Plaridel, Sabang, Sampaguita, San Carlos, San Celestino, San Lucas, and Tambo.

The Comelec examiners found that the signatures and thumbprints of the 15,728 registered voters in the EDCVL were not identical with those in the VRRs. Only 16,920 registered voters in the 49 pilot precincts have identical signatures and thumbprints in both the EDCVL and VRRs, it said.

Citing another SC ruling, the memorandum pointed out that “when the fraudulent are so mixed up with the legal ballots that the legal cannot be separated from the illegal ballots, and the election returns are not reliable by reason of certain marks thereon, indicating that they have been falsified, the election must be annulled.”

The memorandum also stated:

“It is the humble proposition of the Protestant that after the examination, revision, recounting and re-appreciation of the official ballots found in the protested clustered precincts in Lipa City, it will be easily revealed that the true winner and genuine choice of the electorate none other than herein Protestant.

“Accordingly, the voice of the electorate of Lipa City, Batangas should not be thwarted based on the grossly erroneous, irregular and illegal proclamation made unto the Protestee as the alleged winner for the Mayoralty Position during the 2019 Elections in Lipa City, Batangas.

“After all, it is settled that above and beyond all, the determination of the true will of the electorate should be paramount. It is their voice, not ours or of anyone else, that must prevail. This, in essence, is the democracy we continue to hold sacred.”