Solon hits alleged SC delay in resolving Sulu poll centers issue

MANILA A ranking House of Representatives leader on Tuesday expressed frustration over a recent Supreme Court (SC) decision stopping the Commission on Elections (Comelec) from designating new polling places for at least five barangays in Sulu province for the May 13 elections.

In a statement, Deputy Speaker and Sulu Rep. Munir M. Arbison alleged that the SC is obviously delaying the resolution of a case questioning the corrections of voting centers made by the Comelec.

Arbison was referring to the April 2 Supreme Court Status Quo Ante Order enjoining the Commission on Elections from enforcing and implementing several resolutions it had recently issued involving the clustering, de-clustering, transfer, alteration, and establishment of several precincts in the province of Sulu.

A status quo ante order restores a specific condition to the state it previously existed prior to the issuance of an assailed order or action.

The SC was acting on two petitions filed on March 29 and April 1 the first by resident voter Almedzar Hajiri, and the second by Sulu gubernatorial candidate Abdusakur Tan and Sulu congressional candidate Nurhaipa Berto questioning several Comelec resolutions that involve changes in clustering of voting precincts in the province of Sulu.

Among them is the March 20 Comelec resolution assigning new polling places for the following barangays: Bas Mangkallay Elementary School in Barangay Mangkallay, for the barangays of Laha, Mangkallay; and Tingkangan Tangkulan Elementary School in Barangay Kutah Parang for the barangays of Bas Lugus and Pait.

"In designating polling places, the primary considerations of the Commission are guaranteeing the safety, convenience, and well-being of the voters and fulfilling its mandate of ensuring the conduct of free, peaceful, honest, orderly, and credible elections," the Comelec said.

This was pointed out by Arbison, who said the Comelec, in its resolution, just corrected the voting centers it found to be cumbersome and disadvantageous to the voters.

He cited the island barangay of Capual with more than 3,000 registered voters, but their voting center is in the mainland, which is more than 3 kms. away from their docking points.

Sulu remains to be one of the few provinces where voting centers of some barangay are clustered into one voting center, resulting in some form of gerrymandering, Arbison said.

Gerrymandering is defined as a practice intended to manipulate the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favor one party or group.

In Maimbung for example, more than 70 percent of the voters are assigned in only one voting center controlled by former governor Tan. This is the almost same case in Lugus, Pata, Panamao and Kalinggalan Caluang, Arbison noted.

The Sulu lawmaker also pointed out that the Comelec resolutions were ordered restrained by the SC acting on the petition filed by former Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr., Tan's lawyer.

However, according to the named private respondents in the Supreme Court case, it was the Comelec under then chairman Brillantes that made all the erroneous and whimsical clustering based on request coming from Tan and his allies, he said.

The present Comelec should not be barred from making the much-needed correction, he added.

Besides asking the High Court to issue the status quo ante order, Hajiri, Tan and Berto have also asked the SC to declare as void the Comelec resolutions issued between March 20 and March 22 this year.

The petitioners accused Comelec of gravely abusing its discretion in approving the declustering, transfer or modification of polling precincts even without good reason or urgent necessity and contrary to the recommendations of the Election and Barangay Affairs Department (EBAD).

Hajiri pointed out that there was no reported failure of elections or incidents of violence, fraud, intimidation and threats during the 2016 national and local elections to justify any change in the clustering of polling.

Meanwhile, Tan and Berto claimed the changes in the clustering of polling precincts were politically-motivated and violated the equal protection clause of the Constitution because Comelec supposedly acted only on petitions from Sulu and not on those from the other provinces. (PNA)

Source: Philippines News Agency