Investigation continues for the curious case of election documents from a polling center in Tondo, Manila that ended up in an empty lot in Amadeo, Cavite as no conclusive findings yet have been disclosed by the Commission on Elections (Comelec).
It’s imperative for the poll body, according to Commissioner George Erwin Garcia during a press briefing on Monday, May 23, to resolve the issue even though the black boxes only contained excess non-accountable election documents since the incident may cast some doubts on the otherwise clean May 2022 polls.
“Yan po ay makaka-create pa rin ng doubt doon sa integridad ng napakalinis na halalan at hindi tayo papayag ng ganun (It can still create doubt on the integrity of the clean elections and we will not allow that),” he said.
How it started
Probe on the matter was stirred by a Facebook post of a certain Rodne Rodiño Galicha which showed a video as well as several photos of black boxes containing various documents including Election Returns (ERs) on a vacant lot, soaked under the rain.
Atty. Gregorio Bonifacio, Election Officer (EO) of Manila District 3, said that what was found inside the said boxes were indelible ink, stamp pads, unused bond paper, secrecy folders, unused forms, excess physical (ERs) and excess envelopes.
He assured that the ballot box which contained the half of the excess official ballots, valid ballots used by voters, the minutes of the meeting and the Voter-verified paper audit trail (VVPAT) have already been retrieved by the Office of the Treasurer and as per Garcia, were intact.
As part of the regular procedure, unused ballots at the end of election day were torn in half. One half is placed inside the dedicated envelopes while the other is placed inside a ballot box. The envelopes should be under the custody of the designated EO.
F2 Logistics should only get the VCM
Even Garcia expressed his curiosity on how the documents got as far as Amadeo and is eager to get to the bottom of it.
Engr. Julio Thaddeus Hernan, Director IV of the Administrative Services Department (ASD) of Comelec explained that in the reverse logistics process, F2 logistics should have only collected the Automated Election System (AES) machine and not the boxes.
He added that Amadeo is not along the route to Sta. Rosa, Laguna where the machines are said to be brought. Even if they take the longer route, Hernan mentioned that they will not even reach Amadeo since it is already too far.
Why was it picked up?
Given that the personnel from F2 logistics were apparently briefed on what they should collect from the polling centers and the presence there of police and members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), it is unclear as to why the incident occurred. Bonifacio stated that the reason why the men took the boxes is beyond him.
“Ang sabi po kasi nung Administrative Officer ng Rizal Elementary School, sinabihan sila nung F2 na kukunin lahat. Nung kinukuha po kasi yung Vote Counting Machine (VCM), few meters away lang nandun yung itim na box. Ang pagkakaintindi lahat so pati po yung itim na box kinuha (What the Administrative Officer of Rizal Elementary School said was that they were told by F2 that they will get everything. When they fetched the VCM, a few meters from it was the black box. From what they understood is that they will get everything so even the black box was retrieved),” he explained.
“Hindi ko po kayang i-explain bakit kinuha ‘yun (I cannot explain why they took it),” he added.
Bonifacio even shared photos of F2 personnel loading the cargo to their vehicle.
Meanwhile, Hernan said that it is part of their ongoing investigation to find out how the items ended up on the vacant lot. He stated that it should be part of the formal report that will be submitted to them by F2 Logistics.
Garcia said that if the poll body finds out that there has been violation of the contract or that F2 logistics failed to satisfy their contractual obligation, Comelec can opt to rescind the contract; cut the payment due to damages; withhold the payment until they are satisfied; and ultimately, to prosecute them.
“It’s very important that we are able to pinpoint yung (the) chain of custody sino talaga may kagagawan (on who is liable),” he said.