By Rolando O. Borrinaga
A delivery truck of Argo International Forwarders, with plate number ZJG-187, was intercepted by concerned civilians at Sitio Dapdap, Barangay (village) Agpangi here around noon yesterday (May 14). Its cargo bay yielded two Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines and two units of Broadband Geographical Area Network (BGAN), an equipment used to transmit election results.
The cargo had no escort by a representative from the Commission on Elections.
The two BGAN equipment were allegedly used in the municipalities of Almeria and Kawayan, respectively, during the automated local and national elections last May 10. But both items and the PCOS machines were reportedly picked up by the truck personnel in Kawayan.
In a joint affidavit sworn by ten civilians, including those who conducted the citizens’ arrest, they stated that they were surprised by what they had bagged, since they were aware that the 166 PCOS machines used during the elections in Biliran Province, including the 11 contingency PCOS machines issued to seven municipalities except Kawayan, were already retrieved based on their inventory conducted at the Argo Warehouse in Tacloban City last May 13.
Lawyer Alvin Richard N. Japson, Biliran COMELEC Provincial Election Supervisor, was with them when they conducted the inventory.
The inventoried items were delivered to Tacloban in the afternoon of May 13, escorted by COMELEC officials, Biliran poll watchers, and police escorts as mandated by COMELEC procedures.
The affiants were Genevere M. Dacer, Ruel J. Rosales, Jenny Vi M. Auman, Marilyn D. Quijano, Flora R. Busa, Maribeth G. Jamin, Florencia G. Lorana, Romeo Almonte, Kenneth M. Lacar and Gemma V. Alba.
The attested that they initially got the word of Japson that no contingency PCOS machine was issued to Kawayan. They sought confirmation for this from Ronnie Tonalde, warehouse supervisor of Argo Forwarders, but he did not give an answer.
Argo Forwarders is the company hired by the COMELEC and SMARTMATIC to deliver and retrieve the PCOS machines.
Lawyer Redentor C. Villordon, vice-mayor-elect of Naval, who represented Lakas CMD-KAMPI, said Japson had assured all parties last May 13 that the PCOS machines in Biliran had all been accounted for and turned over to the Provincial COMELEC. This assurance paved the way for the transport of the items to Tacloban.
This was affirmed by Flora R. Busa, one of the affiants, who cited her conversation with Japson in the presence of PNP Regional Director Rey Lanada.
The go-signal to transport was agreed and effected at the height of a large political rally inside the Provincial Capitol compound here last Thursday, which involved at least a thousand protesters and a crowd dispersal unit from the Philippine National Police Regional Command, who put up road blocks and barricades, restricted the movement of people, and prevented food and water from reaching the protesters for half a day.
The protesters were clamoring justice for electoral fraud allegedly committed by the Espina political dynasty. They demanded a manual recount of the votes cast, particularly for the congressional race, won by Gov. Roger Espina with the narrowest of margins over re-electionist Rep. Glenn Chong.
There are strong suspicions here that members of the Espina family here won the election by manipulating its digitalized results in their favor, probably during transmission. Local observers who have blogged their analysis in www.biliranisland.com website claim that the votes for the Espinas might have been digitally padded by as much as 10,000 votes.
They also demand a manual recount of the votes, which could also validate whether the digitalized results match with the actual number of paper ballots cast.
Some observers believe the digital manipulation of the results here were centered in Kawayan town, where former Rep. Gerardo Espina Sr. had been proclaimed as mayor, and his son, Mayor Rodulfo Espina, had been proclaimed as vice-mayor.
The accusations of fraud were denied by Gov. Roger Espina and Kawayan Mayor Rodulfo Espina in text messages sent to various recipients and shown to this writer.
But the interception of the extra PCOS machines and BGAN equipment here added fuel to the local cynics’ suspicions of electoral fraud.
Local reporters tried to reach Japson for his comment on this issue, but he could not be reached. He has reportedly changed the number of his cellular phone.
Meanwhile, COMELEC Regional Director Jose Nick Mendros has issued an official statement through a Tacloban daily newspaper dismissing the allegations of electoral fraud in Biliran, which resulted in the return of the Espina clan to key positions and the defeat of Representative Chong.