CAMP VILLAMOR, Bangued, Abra – Casting of votes in Lapat Balantay, Tineg, Abra is extended by about five hours after it was disrupted from 8:30 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. on Monday.
“They should extend the voting in that barangay (village) until all the voters have voted,” Atty. Mae Richelle Belmes, Abra provincial election officer said in a press conference at the command center of the Provincial Election Monitoring center here.
Belmes said the situation stemmed from a shooting incident around 8:30 a.m. about 500 meters at the back of the voting center in Barangay Lapat Balantay but no added information was given.
“The election officer said the teachers were so afraid and trembling that they refused to resume the voting, but our rules said that the character of the voting in any election should be continuous and uninterrupted. If there is a question that is raised by a watcher, it should form part of the report but there should be no interruption,” she added.
Together with the members of the Provincial Joint Security Control Center (PJSCC), Belmes immediately brought three police-special electorate board (SEB) using a chopper to replace the teachers and ensure that the 258 voters at said precinct would not be disenfranchised.
“Our immediate action is to deploy a substitute. The voting place is located about six hours by walking from the municipal hall. We were able to reach the place in 15 minutes with the help of the Black Hawk of the Philippine Army,” Belmes shared.
Despite the arrival of the new SEB, Belmes said the teachers refused to resume voting as well as refused to turn over the election paraphernalia, even locking them in the ballot box.
“They have declared a failure of election and locked the paraphernalia. It is not within their function because it is only Comelec that can declare a failure of election,” she said.
After hours of negotiation and explanation and upon Comelec’s order to arrest the teachers for violation of the Omnibus Election Code, the three teachers gave in and resumed voting.
“They have to extend the same hours as the time the voting was interrupted,” Belmes said.
Belmes said she had ordered the municipal election officer who was accompanied by the Commander of the 102nd Battalion to proceed to Lapat Balantay so that there would be a Comelec representative in the area until the proceedings were over.
“We will investigate further. We have already informed the DepEd (Department of Education of the situation),” she said.
Aside from the incident in Lapat Balantay, Belmes said the other issues they recorded were the presence of politicians in voting precincts where they are not registered and the presence of a lawyer in Lapat Balantay when the problem was at its height, who was peacefully asked to leave the premises.
Belmes said voting in the whole of Abra started at 7 a.m. except for Barangay Kalaw in Villaviciosa due to some problems with the supplies, which was due to the negligence of the electoral board.
Meanwhile, an unopposed candidate for village chief in Barangay Lanec, Tineg was rushed to a hospital in the capital town, Bangued, due to heart attack before 7 a.m. on Monday. He was declared dead before noon, thus is covered by the rule on substitution.
“Only a legal spouse can substitute an unopposed candidate but the person is single, thus the substitution rule does not apply. The number one kagawad (village council member) will automatically take the post of the barangay captain,” Belmes explained.
Bucay, which was declared an area of concern, did not record any single incident on election day.
“Our teams were there to react. Maganda na rin na na-declare na (it was good it was declared as an) area of concern. Lapat Balantay in Tineg is under a green category but it was there where the biggest election-related incident for this election was recorded,” she said.
Despite the incidents, Belmes said voting in Abra was peaceful.
She, however, said the provincial election office is bracing for the counting of votes and the proclamation of winners, wherein some problems may arise.
“We are posting additional security forces in the voting place of Zone 6, Bangued where the proclamation of winning candidates facing charges will have to be suspended as ordered by the Comelec En Banc,” she said.
Belmes called on the security forces not to let their guards down until after the election period is over on Nov. 29. (PNA)