COMELEC: Floating ballot box was stolen from municipal office

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 17) — The Commission on Elections (COMELEC) denied allegations of poll fraud after photos showing a ballot box floating in a swamp near a municipal office in Maguindanao province went viral.

The COMELEC, quoting Datu Salibo town municipal treasurer Ali Mamoribid, said the ballot box was actually stolen from the municipal office by still unidentified people.

However, Sam Zailon Esmael, the defeated mayoral bet of the town who posted photos of the ballot box on his personal Facebook account, said this is not possible.

Hindi pwedeng manakaw ‘yun kasi ang munisipyo naka-padlock. Ngayon ang COMELEC na ‘yan, hugas kamay ‘yan,” Esmael told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: That could not be stolen because the municipal office is padlocked. The COMELEC is just washing its hands.]

The COMELEC has insisted there was no fraud in the May 13 polls in the Maguindanao town.

“Contrary to allegations made by Esmael and in the absence of any proof of fraud, Datu Salibo Election Officer Mary Ann Marohombsar maintains that the conduct of the May 13 polls in her jurisdiction was fraud-free,” the poll body said Monday in a statement.

The COMELEC added that Mamoribid and Marohombsar, along with the poll body’s regional office in Maguindanao, are closely coordinating with the police in probing the incident.

It also cautioned the public against believing “unfounded claims and malicious allegations clearly intended to taint the integrity of the recently concluded 2019 midterm polls.”

Esmael, who is an incumbent barangay councilor, said the ballot box was found by a member of the Barangay Fishing Action Team who happened to be fishing in the area. In the box, he added, are voting receipts which show votes for him.

Kataka-taka po ‘yung ginawang paglublob sa isang ballot box. Kasi po ‘yung barangay na ‘yun, ‘yun po ang pinakabalwarte kong barangay. Nandoon ho ang malaki kong botante sana,” Esmael said.

[Translation: The sinking of the ballot box is strange because that barangay is my bailiwick. That would have been the source of a large number of my votes.]

He said power at the municipal hall went out twice during canvassing and poll watchers were asked to leave the place, apparently at the behest of Marohombsar.

Kasabwat talaga. Utak siya. Common sense. Pag-isipan niyo lang nang maganda,” Esmael said, without providing any proof.

[Translation: She’s behind it. She’s the brains of it all. Common sense. Just think of it well.]

Esmael said he has not filed any formal complaints regarding the floating ballot box or any of his allegations of poll fraud, but he is coordinating with outgoing Datu Salibo Mayor Norodin Salasal and his lawyer on their next move.

For now, the ballot box has not been surrendered to the COMELEC and is being kept in a barangay hall in the town, Esmael said.

Ang gusto ho namin dito sa Datu Salibo, especially kami na mga barangay official ng naturang barangay, ay mabigyan ng pansin at magkaroon ng proper investigation at pananagutan ang mga taong involved dito. Kasi hindi ho ito karapat-dapat sa taongbayan,” he said.

[Translation: What we want here in Datu Salibo, especially us barangay officials of the said barangay, is that this is given attention, a proper investigation and all those involved are held accountable. Because this is not acceptable for the people.]

CNN Philippines Researcher Dessy Bautista contributed to this story.