Defeated Mayor Evelio Leonardia is asking the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to conduct a manual recount of votes in all 450 clustered precincts of Bacolod City and to declare a “failure of elections”.
The mayor in his complaint filed before the Comelec central office in Manila on Friday, May 20, and docketed as Election Protest Case No. 008-2022, also asked for the conduct of a special election for the position of mayor.
Leonardia’s complaint cited alleged massive vote-buying and fake voters allowed to cast their votes that resulted to the “mysterious and unbelievable” outcome of the May 9 polls, Dr. Chris Sorongon, his spokesman, said at a press conference at Planta Hotel in Bacolod on Tuesday, May 24.
Benitez who garnered 171,893 votes in the May 9 polls, defeated Leonardia, who had 107,447 votes, by a wide margin.
“The baseless and frivolous complaint filed by the incumbent mayor is another desperate move of one who refuses to accept the truth,” Benitez said in response.
The conduct of the 2022 elections was generally peaceful, credible and orderly. No documented and concrete evidence has been shown to prove any irregularities at the voting precincts, he said.
“Such electoral protest is therefore an exercise of futility, and will surely be dismissed. The people of Bacolod have spoken and it is time to move on and buckle down to work,” Benitez said.
Sorongon, who was joined by Leonardia’s lawyers Marcus Vaflor and Jireh Alimon at the press conference, said the massive and rampant vote – buying which affected all 61 barangays and 450 clustered precincts in Bacolod involved the giving of amounts ranging from P300 to P4,000 to voters before, during and after the elections.
Numerous fake voters were also allowed to vote despite their information not matching those in the Election Day Computerized Voters Lists (EDCVL), Sorongon said.
Sorongon said it was the first time that Leonardia, in his 34-year political career starting when he ran for councilor in 1988, filed an election protest.
Leonardia filed the complaint in response to the people’s clamor, Sorongon added.
“The people of Bacolod want to know the truth. For them, the results were unbelievable as they pointed out the longest caravan ever mounted during our opening salvo, the mammoth crowd that massed up during our miting de avance, the huge turnout of our daily campaigns and handshaking sorties and caucuses, the survey results both done internally and conducted by independent institutions on top of the achievements of the current administration and a clear platform of government,” Sorongon said.
Bacolod Elections Officer Revo Sorbito said the complaint is a right provided by law.
However, he asked how there could be fake voters when only those whose names appear on the Election Day Computerized Voters Lists can vote.
He pointed out that the groups of Leonardia, Benitez and the national bets had watchers at the precincts and the Comelec had not received complaints of fake voters on Election Day.
The Comelec had not received reports that fake voters were challenged at the precincts, he said.
Fake voters are improbable unless the teachers would risk their careers, he said.
Sorbito said the Comelec received reports of vote buying but when the police were sent to the areas where they were supposed to be happening no persons were caught.
It’s on record that the police were dispatched to respond to such allegations, he said.
Vaflor said they have a lot of evidence and witnesses to prove that there were fake or flying voters, and massive vote buying in Bacolod.
“We are confident we can prove our claims”, he said.
The hearings of the case and a recount if granted will be held at the Comelec in Manila, he said, adding that Leonardia paid a substantial filing fee.
Their complaint has several other grounds that they cannot discuss at the moment, said Vaflor, who refused to give the media a copy saying they have to protect their witnesses.
“Massive vote buying is just the tip of iceberg, other grounds are contained in the protest,” he said.
Vaflor also said their complaint questioning the residency of Benitez is still pending.
The complaint will not stop Benitez from assuming the mayorship at the end of June, it will be a long process, Vaflor said.
Sorongon claimed there were fake voters in all precincts and they have witnesses in every barangay.*