By Marvin Sy (The Philippine Star) Updated August 12, 2011 12:00 AM Comments (23)
MANILA, Philippines - After four years of contesting his loss in the 2007 senatorial elections, lawyer Aquilino Pimentel III was finally proclaimed the 12th winning senator, officially - and belatedly - edging out Juan Miguel Zubiri who resigned last week in the wake of fresh allegations of systematic poll cheating.
The Senate Electoral Tribunal (SET) handed down the ruling at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza in Pasay City.
Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio, chairman of the SET, led the proclamation of Pimentel before his family and supporters. By Pimentel’s side during his proclamation were his wife Jewel, their children, siblings and parents, former Senate president Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Bing Pimentel.
“I thank the SET for dedicating its full attention to my protest. It took time because of the extensive counter protest (of Zubiri). The results have been stored in their (SET) computer since 2008,” Pimentel said.
Also present during the proclamation yesterday were SET members Justice Teresita Leonardo-de Castro and Senators Pia Cayetano, Francis Pangilinan, Ramon Revilla Jr., Gregorio Honasan and Antonio Trillanes IV.
Vice President Jejomar Binay also showed up at the proclamation to greet his fellow PDP-Laban party member.
In a briefing held after the proclamation of Pimentel, SET secretary Irene Guevarra noted that the total number of votes, after additions and
deductions from the two sides, showed Pimentel garnering 10,898,786 votes as against Zubiri’s 10,640,620 or a difference of 258,166.
Zubiri’s proclamation as senator in the 2007 elections was based on the 11,004,099 votes he got against Pimentel’s 10,984,807 or a difference of only 19,292.
Pimentel contested Zubiri’s proclamation, saying his victory was “manufactured, padded, fraudulent, altered, distorted and illegal.”
In his protest, Pimentel disputed the election results in 2,658 precincts in 44 municipalities in seven provinces - all in Mindanao.
Zubiri filed a counter protest and contested the results in 73,265 precincts, including the 2,658 cited in Pimentel’s protest.
SET’s Guevarra said their decision was based on their “revision and appreciation” of the ballots, the election returns in Sultan Kudarat and Shariff Kabunsuan, correction of manifest errors in the election documents for Patikul, Sulu, revision and appreciation of the municipal certificates vis a vis the results of the revision of ballots.
A total of 384,680 ballots were examined by the SET, of which 314,869 were rejected, mostly because they turned out to be spurious.
In its review and examination of the ballots, the SET - with the help of the paper manufacturer for the ballots, the head of the National Printing Office and a consultant of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) - found the absence of security features in the contested ballots.
Flaws were also found in the watermarks of the ballots. Other security features did not show up during chemical testing of some ballots.
Some of the rejected ballots were also found to have been prepared by one or two persons.
A total of 69,682 votes were deducted from Pimentel after the review by the SET, while 298,224 votes were taken away from Zubiri.
Guevarra admitted that the decision of the SET was hastened by Zubiri’s resignation and withdrawal of his counter protest because they no longer had to go over the ballots in the remaining provinces included in Zubiri’s counter protest.
“We were in the process of collecting the ballot boxes in Quezon then next was Laguna. It would have taken a while to finish,” Guevarra said.
“Indescribable. But of course I’m very happy and relieved. Now it’s official, it’s finally over, but also there’s reality also, I have two years left and I need to work double time, I should hit the ground running,” Pimentel said.
His wife appealed for prayers, saying there was little time left for him to fulfill all his plans at the Senate.
“He has to work now. It’s all over, let us all learn from this experience, that we will not allow cheating, the stealing of votes because this is sacred and a violation of the Constitution. Let’s just all learn our lessons from this,” she said
The elder Pimentel said he expects his son and namesake to do what he thinks is right and what is best for the country.
Pimentel’s mother said her son’s triumph was divine justice.
His sister Gwen, who ran and lost during the 2010 senatorial elections, will be his chief of staff just as she was for their father during his stint at the Senate.
After his proclamation, Pimentel was to take the last flight to Davao City to prepare for his oath taking in Mati, Davao Oriental. Mati City is a three-hour trip by land from Davao City.
He is expected to report to the Senate on Monday and work on bills related to electoral reforms, justice, overseas Filipino workers’ welfare and Mindanao.
Pimentel said that he wants to be a member of the SET so that he can help introduce reforms based on his experience.
“I hope that what happened here would affect other institutions delivering justice in the country. It can be done. The only look out for us is how to do it more speedily,” Pimentel said.
At Malacañang, deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte congratulated Pimentel, saying “at the very least, the people’s mandate has been served.”
But even if Pimentel’s troubles are now over, more Comelec officials and employees have expressed readiness to come out in the open to expose more evidence of systematic cheating in the 2004 and 2007 elections, said Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER).
“There are so many stories coming from them. It’s basically an open secret so we told them to come out and testify,” Casiple said.
Last week, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Comelec announced the creation of a joint panel that would look into alleged election fraud during the Arroyo administration.
In Mindanao, several local officials are expected to attend Pimentel’s oath-taking to be administered by Davao Oriental Gov. Corazon Malanyaon.
Davao del Sur Gov. Douglas Cagas and Sultan Kudarat Gov. Suharto Mangudadatu are also expected to attend the oath taking.Pimentel is also expected to pay a courtesy call on Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte and Vice Mayor Rodrigo Duterte tonight.
Reposted From Marvin Sy of The Philippine Star