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Shakedown at Comelec scored

The local elections in May, usually hotly contested and prone to violence, could run out of control early because candidates were being stripped of party membership and protection as part of alleged shakedown by unscrupulous officials of the Commission on Elections, opposition leaders said on Sunday. Lakas-CMD Deputy Secretary General Raul Lambino said the Comelec regional and provincial offices hide behind questions about “technicalities” to deny the party nominations of candidates for governors, mayors and other positions and they end up as independents. “Independents are at a disadvantage because they are not backed by party machinery. They are at the mercy of Comelec officials, who demand bribes to fix their problems,” Lambino said. “Things could run out of control early at the start of campaigning because many local candidates are angry. We found out candidates of other parties have the same problem as well,” Lambino said. Lambino also charged that some officials of Comelec, which has sole authority to allow people to carry guns outside or residence, of selling gun permits to candidates. “The long firearms are priced at P25,000 per permit and the hand guns at P15,000,” he said. Alab ng Mamamahayag, a party-list group representing media workers, also complained that the names of their candidates were dropped from the ballot due to “clerical error” but two Comelec employees demanded P3 million to correct the mistake. “Our group will definitely file disbarment and impeachment complaint against COMELEC Chairman Sixto Brillantes and other members of the Commission,” said Jerry Yap, the Alab national chairman. Official candidates are required to file with the Comelec a Certificate of Nomination and Acceptance (CONA) signed by party officials. If the Comelec refused to honor the certificate, the candidate will end up as “independent.” When an official candidate dies or withdraws, the party can replace the candidate. An independent candidate who dies or withdraws can no longer be replaced. Lambino said complaints were piling up in their office against alleged Comelec extortion because of “mistakes” in their CONAs and other problems, which can only be fixed if they come across and pay specific amounts. “What the Comelec calls as oversight or mistake is done deliberately to shakedown and extort from the candidates,” Lambino said. “The candidates would be given a run-around and the poll officials would send word they could fix the problem for a price.” House Minority Leader Danilo Suarez said he was surprised to learn that his authority to sign the CONA for their local candidates were ignored by Comelec. “We were all surprised when it was published in the Comelec website that most of our local candidates are now independents. It seems the double standard in this administration has cascaded down to the Comelec leadership as well,” Suarez said. He cited the case of a mayoral candidate in Leyte where the Comelec refused to honor the CONA signed by House Deputy Minority Leader and Leyte Rep. Ferdinand Martin Romualdez, who is a member of the Lakas-CMD national executive committee. Romualdez, who is running for re-election unopposed, is set to take over as Lakas-CMD president on Tuesday from Sen. Ramon Revilla. Suarez said when the Lakas mayoral candidate died in Leyte recently they could not replace him with another candidate because the Comelec has declared him independent. When sought for an explanation why their official candidate turned out to be independent, the Comelec tossed back the blame to the party, according to Lambino. “The Comelec said Congressman Romualdez and Congressman Suarez should have submitted their specimen signatures on or before October 1 last year,” Lambino said. He said if Comelec merely wanted specimen signatures they could have simply checked their database because the Lakas leaders have been running for office for a long time. “Martin Romualdez ran for congressman in 2007, 2010, and, in fact, he is running unopposed in 2013 and the Comelec has a copy of his signatures when he filed his own CONAs,” Lambino said. “The Aquino government has been harping on Matuwid na Daan , yet its Comelec officials are … making a killing from the problems that are arbitrarily given to candidates,” he said. When sought for comment, Comelec spokesman James Jimenez said they will deal with it as soon as the complaints were filed in their office. With Joel Zurbano
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