‘Massive fraud’ in favor of reelected Talisay mayor

THE defeated candidate for mayor in Talisay City, Cebu Vice Mayor Alan Bucao and his entire slate who also lost in the recent elections have filed a petition asking the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to declare a failure of elections in the city due to the alleged existence of poll fraud in all clustered precincts.Bucao and the 10 other complainants said in the petition, a special action case or SPA, that Talisay City had “experienced massive acts of fraud, manipulation on the results of the election in favor of the incumbent/reelectionist Mayor Gerard Anthony Gullas [Jr.] and his whole slate” during the local and national elections on May 9, 2022.These fraudulent acts, said the complainants, were achieved through “massive cheating during the casting of votes, counting of votes cast, transmission [of] receipts and canvassing of votes” that they said resulted in “a failure to determine the true mandate of the electorate of Talisay City and has resulted to the disenfranchisement of the will of the people and their rights to suffrage.”Gullas’ camp, Alayon Party, allegedly committed widespread chaos and harassment; threats and intimidation were employed by the reelected mayor’s supporters, followers, coordinators and leaders in barangays, according to the complainants.At least 27 witnesses, majority of whom are poll watchers, have executed affidavits to support the complainants’ allegations of electoral fraud. They narrated incidents of illegal voting, violations of prohibited activities like vote buying, presence of prohibited persons in the polling places, tampering of the machines and the boxes used in the elections, and recording of lost votes.The petition was received before the Comelec’s central office in Manila last May 20, 10 days after Gullas and his entire slate were proclaimed winners.‘Dismissible petition’Gullas on May 13 urged Bucao in a video message posted on his Facebook page to accept defeat, asking his erstwhile ally to “respect the majority of Talisaynons who voted” for him. The mayor, grandson of outgoing Cebu First District Rep. Eduardo Gullas, issued the statement following Bucao’s allegations of electoral fraud.In a statement, Talisay City Legal Officer Giovanni Sususco said the Omnibus Election Code states that there are only three instances to declare a failure of election: no election has taken place; election is suspended; there is an election but during the canvass of votes, any form of violence, terrorism and the like exists.“In the election in Talisay, none of these instances transpired nor took place. In other words, their petition is dismissible for being moot and academic,” Sususco said.Bucao failed to unseat Gullas, getting only 31,277 of the votes cast to the latter’s 93,701. His running mate Rico Almaria also lost the race for the vice mayor’s seat to Gullas’ partner Richard Francis Aznar.Gullas’ 10 partymates also swept all the seats in the City Council: his younger brother Eduardo “Digul” Gullas III, Manuel Cabriana, Rodolfo Cabigas, Danilo Caballero, Marc Arthur Bas, Ferdinand Rabaya, Alito Bacaltos, Gail Restauro, Lester Daan and Ofelia Ylanan.Aside from Bucao and Almaria, the other complainants are the nine defeated candidates for councilor, namely Jarred Cabilte, Gilbert de la Serna, Clifford delos Reyes, Aldin Diaz, Iñaki Jordana, Ellen Lastimosa, Lina Libres, Roger Lopernes and Bernard Odilao.Witnesses’ accountsOne of the complainants’ witnesses, Lilibeth Bardinas, a poll watcher assigned in Cluster 144 of Barangay Candulawan, said she saw the husband and child of the village chief, Josefina Concial, buying votes outside the school premises. Concial’s two other children, she said, were able to enter and exit the polling places “with ease and with no objection from the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs).She further said that some of Concial’s men voted on behalf of the jail inmates who cast their votes in Cluster 144.Bardinas said BEI members shook the Vote Counting Machine (VCM) every time it encountered problems.Another poll watcher for Bucao’s camp assigned in Cluster 146 in Candulawan corroborated Bardinas’ claims.Poll watcher Sheila Montebon, in her affidavit, said that during the counting of votes in Cluster 136 of Barangay Bulacao, a total of 676 votes were cast but one vote was rejected, so only 675 votes were counted. But when she saw the receipt, she said Gullas got 500 votes while Bucao had 150 votes.“It was strange that 25 votes were not accounted for and were also not explained. This incident raises anomalies as to where the lost votes [went],” said the complainants, who added that the watchers were not given an explanation and the “incident effectively disenfranchised 25 votes” from the cluster.‘Self-serving testimonies’For Sususco, the complainants’ allegations are focused on the actions of the Electoral Board and these are not even substantiated with evidence.The legal officer said the complaint does not state any action of fraud committed by the candidates under Gullas’ camp.“They rely on the affidavits of their witnesses who are their supporters and as such considered as self-serving testimonies,” he said.