MANILA — At least 2 commissioners of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) on Monday questioned the veracity of a Singapore-based Filipino's claim that the ballot she received was "pre-shaded," adding that prosecution awaits those who spread "fake news" that undermine the integrity of the elections.
In a Facebook earlier in the day, overseas Filipino worker (OFW) Cheryl Abundo posted shared her alleged experience voting in the Philippine post in Singapore.
"Kakatapos lang bumoto sa embahada. The ballot I received came pre-shaded. Nang binalik ko para palitan, ito raw ay spoiled ballot from yesterday," she said.
(I just finished voting in the embassy. The ballot I received came pre-shaded. When I returned it, I was told it was a spoiled ballot from yesterday.)
Commissioner Marlon Casquejo, who is currently in charge of the Office for Overseas Voting (OFOV), said that such incident is unlikely because voters are asked to sign on a paper to signify that the ballot they received is not tampered with before casting their vote.
"Kapag pumunta na siya do'n sa kaniyang voting booth, tapos binalik n'ya, sasabihin n'ya pre-shaded na, hindi na katanggap-tanggap na rason yan... Kasi unang-una, once na ibinigay yung balota, pipirma pa siya don. So imposible po na after they received the ballot, paglabas nila sa polling center, sasabihin nila ay shaded," he said.
(Once she goes to the her voting booth, then return the ballot and say it's pre-shaded, that's no longer an acceptable reason because first of all, once the ballot is given, she will immediately sign there. So it is impossible that after they received the ballot, once they go out of the center, they will say it is shaded.)
Casquejo said once the voter heads to their voting booth without any opposition, then there is a presumption that the ballot is "clean."
"Yung procedure natin, kapag binigyan ng balota yung botante, yung chairman ng SBEI (Special Board of Election Inspectors) makes sure na walang laman ito, walang shade or anything. So kapag dun pa lang nakita na ng botante na shaded, hindi na tatanggapin dapat ni botante... So kapag umalis na si botante na walang opposition, then there is a presumption already na malinis yung balota nung tinanggap niya," Casquejo explained.
(Our procedure is once the voter is given a ballot, the chairman of the SBEI makes sure that it is blank, it is not shaded or anything. If they voter sees that it is shaded, the voter will not accept it. So if the voter leaves without opposition, then there is a presumption that the ballot he or she received was clean.)
Commissioner George Garcia said they have yet to receive an official report from their Singapore post regarding the alleged pre-shaded ballot.
"Wala po tayong natanggap na report mula sa ating post, kahit na kaninong opisyal natin d'yan sa Singapore, and therefore fake news po," he said.
(We have not received a report from our post, from any official there in Singapore, and therefore, it is fake news.)
Garcia warned overseas Filipinos who propagate "fake news" about the elections.
"Akala po kasi nila 'di namin sila mahahanap... Definitely we will be assigning commissioner Aimee Neri to be in charge of the prosecution of all these individuals," Garcia said.
(They think we cannot locate them.)
Reacting to Garcia's and Casquejo's statements, Abundo said that she "reported purely facts" and that her only "agenda is to protect the sanctity of our votes and the election process."
"They can either dismiss it or act on it, and make sure there are no irregularities... I hope they take the route of checking that no such irregularities happen again," she told ABS-CBN News.
She recounted that it only took her a few seconds upon receiving her ballot to notice that "something was wrong."
"It took me a few seconds to realize na may mali. There was no one shaded for president. Sara Duterte was shaded for vice president. Some senators were also shaded," she said.
Abundo, however, did not say who the allegedly pre-shaded senatorial candidates were.
She said she immediately informed election supervisors in her precinct and was told she was given a "spoiled ballot" from the previous day.
"And I told them, if it was indeed a spoiled ballot dapat di nakahalo sa mga blangkong balota na pinamimigay. And they should check all ballots they hand out," Abundo added.
(If it was indeed a spoiled ballot, it shouldn't be mixed with the blank ballots being given out.)
She also said that she told 2 watchers at her precinct and a marshal at the Philippine Embassy about the incident.
"I'll also try to email Comelec and the embassy," she added.
For its part, the Philippine Embassy in Singapore denied allegations that pre-shaded ballots were being given out to voters.
"This is not true," the embassy said in a statement posted on Facebook Monday.
"The Embassy is aware of only 1 incident wherein 1 spoiled ballot from yesterday's voting exercise, was inadvertently and unintentionally given to a voter this morning," it added, acknowledging Abundo's incident.
The embassy also noted that this "was an isolated incident."
OFW WISHES FOR BETTER VOTING CONDITIONS
Meanwhile, another OFW in Rome called out to the government to improve voting conditions for Filipinos casting their votes abroad.
Speaking before senatorial and party-list candidates aligned with the ruling party PDP-Laban, Rome-based Daisy Solomon noted that some were forced to cast their votes on benches outside the Philippine embassy there.
"Ang hindi namin maintindihan, bakit wala kaming place—maski table man lang—para puwede kaming magsulat ng aming ballots?" Solomon said.
(I don't understand why we don't have place to write our ballots on, even a table.)
Party-list group Ako OFW said that because of this, reforms should be done and the embassy should be held liable.
"Ang boto, sagrado ito eh, hindi dapat sa tabi-tabi lang, sa lansangan o inuuwi," Ako OFW third nominee Nald Santos said.
(Votes are sacred. They should not be cast on sidewalks, on the streets, or brought home.)
Overseas Filipinos who registered with the Comelec are allowed to cast their votes from April 10 to May 9.
—with report from Zandro Ochona, ABS-CBN News