Catholic priest: Suspend proclamation of winning senators until poll fraud allegations are resolved

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 16) — The head of the social justice arm of the Catholic Church in the country is asking the Commission on Elections to clear issues of alleged election fraud first before declaring winning senatorial candidates in the midterm polls.

In a release on the website of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) Wednesday, Caritas executive secretary Fr. Edwin Gariguez said, "We are calling to suspend the proclamation of winning senatorial candidates until the allegation of fraud is resolved,”

The statement said they called for the probe after receiving reports of possible fraud due to glitches involving vote counting machines and transparency servers.

However, in an interview with CNN Philippines Newsroom Ngayon Thursday, Fr. Jerome Secillano, CBCP spokesperson cleared this was not the stand of the CBCP, but only by Gariguez.

"Malinaw naman na ito ay panawagan ni Fr. Gariguez, at sa aking pagkakaalam wala pa naman na tahasan na pagsuporta o kung anupaman na ibinibigay na mga kumento ang ating mga obispo," he said.

[Translation: It is clear that this is from Fr. Gariguez, and to my knowlege, bishops have not categorically supported this or have given any comment.]

Secillano said accusations of poll fraud happen every time there are elections, but what is important is the presence of evidence to support such claims.

"Kung napapakinggan natin puro lang mga ganitong kwento, at wala din naman tayo na nakikita — katulad ng sinabi ni James Jimenez — napakahirap din naman na tawaran mo yung kumbaga ay katotohanan na nangyari dito sa eleksyon," he added.

[Translation: While we all hear these kinds of stories but have not seen anything — like James Jimenez said — it is difficult to deny the truth of what happened in the elections.]

Meanwhile, Commission on Elections (COMELEC) Spokesperson James Jimenez told CNN Philippines they have not received a formal report from the CBCP-National Secretariat for Social Action regarding allegations of electoral fraud.

Jimenez said it must be substantiated before the poll body.

He added all independent parties in the election have not raised issues of fraud so far.

On Wednesday, COMELEC Commissioner Rowena Guanzon also told CNN Philippines that the supplier of secure digital (SD) cards used during the midterm polls would be questioned over apparent defective units.

Guanzon called the issue a "management problem," adding she would raise it with the Commission en banc where she would "insist" the suppliers not be paid in full and be penalized.

Gariguez' demand comes as the the Joint Congressional Oversight Committee on the Automated Election System said a probe into the midterm polls wil be conducted on June 4, according to its chairman, Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III.