By Dona Z. Pazzibugan, Marlon Ramos | Inquirer.net
MANILA, Philippines — After initially dismissing reports about pre-shaded ballots that emerged as the monthlong overseas voting began on April 10, Election Commissioner George Garcia said he would find out why a supposed spoiled ballot was mixed with the official ballots for overseas voters in Singapore.
“I will discuss everything in the en banc [meeting] and will not stop until I get an answer … I will move to investigate why this happened,” Garcia told reporters on Monday night, referring to the weekly meeting of the seven commissioners with top officials of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) every Wednesday.
Garcia said he would have the Comelec task force on electoral “fake news” open an investigation.
He changed his stance after the Philippine Embassy in Singapore confirmed late Monday afternoon that an overseas voter was given a pre-shaded ballot in favor of front-runner presidential bet Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and running mate Mayor Sara Duterte on the first day of overseas voting on April 10.
Although the embassy downplayed the incident as “isolated,” Garcia said just one case of pre-shaded ballot could cast doubt on the entire elections.
“Personally I’m so concerned because this should not have happened at all. A single incident like this can create a doubt as to the integrity of the entire process,” Garcia said in a TV interview on Tuesday.
“Of course, this is human error, we realized that. But we are asking and pleading to the electoral board that the same incident should not happen again,” he continued.
He said he would find out why a pre-shaded ballot was given to a voter when all spoiled ballots are supposed to be segregated and placed in an envelope so they would not get mixed with the good.
In Dubai too
Garcia said they were still waiting for the official report from the consulate general in Dubai about a similar pre-shaded ballot incident.
The consulate general has issued a statement on Monday denying that any irregularity took place during the voting.
Meanwhile, Vice President Leni Robredo on Tuesday disclosed that their camp had been warned about a supposed plot to rig the May 9 elections by feeding pre-shaded ballots into the vote-counting machines as she backed calls to investigate the problems that marred the first day of overseas absentee voting.
Robredo, who held a campaign rally in San Fernando City, La Union, along with running mate Sen. Francis Pangilinan, said the delay caused by logistical difficulties in sending election paraphernalia to Philippine embassies and consulates was a “cause for concern.”
She said it was just appropriate for the Comelec, the Senate, and other state agencies to look into the concerns raised by overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) who complained about the disorder during the opening of the 30-day absentee voting abroad on April 10.
“For me, this is a cause for concern, especially because even before the absentee voting for OFWs started, many have warned us that [some groups] are really planning to use pre-shaded ballots,” Robredo told reporters after their political rally at Saint Louis College La Union.
“I have asked our lawyers to look into this. Definitely, we will [raise] this. This should be investigated because this could happen in other areas,” she said.
She also urged overseas Filipinos who witnessed irregularities, such as the presence of pre-shaded ballots, to report such incidents to Philippine embassy officials.