MANILA, Philippines - The Commission on Elections (Comelec) yesterday presented its first witness in the trial of former President and now Pampanga Rep. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and co-accused, former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. and former poll official Lintang Bedol, on charges of electoral sabotage.
Susan Cabanban, former municipal election officer of SK Pendaton town in Maguindanao, said there was no tampering of election returns at the municipal level but the results in national voting of the May 2007 elections went missing.
Under direct examination, Cabanban told the court that someone from the provincial capitol told her that the results of the national elections would be canvassed at the capitol of the province.
“I did not recognize the voice but out of fear I complied,” she said in Tagalog.
In the trial presided over by Judge Jesus Mupas of the Pasay Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 112, Cabanban said the separate submission of the local and national results was irregular since they should be canvassed together.
Defense counsel Benjamin Santos objected to the testimony of the witness that there were irregularities in the process. Santos urged the court to strike out the testimony from the court records.
Mupas, however, sustained the testimony of Cabanban and ruled that it would remain on record.
Cabanban was the first of more than 50 witnesses lined up against Arroyo and her co-accused in the alleged cheating in the 2007 midterm elections.
After the hearing, Santos told reporters that the testimony of the witness has not proven any tampering of election results as alleged in the information.
“As far as the defense is concerned, the testimony is nothing, it’s zero” he said.
Santos clarified there is nothing irregular in the separation of results of the local and national election.
“The 2007 was a synchronized election for both the local and national candidates,” he said.
The court ordered the continuation of testimony of Cabanban on Feb. 7.
The party-list Sanlakas, meanwhile, urged the court to convict Arroyo in the electoral sabotage case.
“The best way to clean elections is to convict and punish election saboteurs. Failing to do so would encourage unscrupulous politicians to keep on cheating,” Sanlakas spokesman James Miraflor said.
Sanlakas also called on the prosecution to take its case against Arroyo seriously to send a strong message against electoral corruption.
The group also expressed support for the Comelec in its fight for electoral justice.
“It is not enough that we keep the institution of elections clean. We have to create a public lesson out of those who besmirched it in the past,” Miraflor said.
Sanlakas also urged the public not to vote into office members of the Arroyo family. On the other hand, Arroyo sought the suspension of trial of the P15-million civil suit filed against her by some members of the so-called “Morong 43.” – With Mike Frialde, Janvic Mateo