Philippine priest demands probe into 'massive poll fraud'6:18 PM, May 16, 2019
Philippines:Calls for announcement of winners to be postponed until investigation into allegations of vote buying is completed.
Election officials start the official count of results of the Philippine midterm elections in Manila on May 14. (Photo by Angie de Silva)
A Catholic priest in Manila has called for the official announcement of winning senatorial candidates in this year's Philippine midterm elections to be postponed pending probes into alleged massive fraud.
Father Edwin Gariguez, executive secretary of the social action arm of the Catholic bishops' conference, said the proclamation of winners should be done only when allegations of vote buying and ballot-counting machine irregularities are investigated and resolved.
"We demand an independent and impartial investigation of the alleged fraud and manipulation of automated canvassing by the [Commission on Elections]," said the priest.
Father Gariguez, who expressed support for opposition candidates before the election, said his call has nothing to do with his political preferences.
"When I saw the results, I could not react immediately. Something is fishy here," he said, referring to delays in the release of election results in several areas in the country.
He also said the demand for an investigation was his own call and did not reflect the official stand of the social action arm of the bishops' conference.
Commission on Elections spokesman James Jimenez said it is "very unlikely" announcing the winners will be suspended because of a mere allegation.
"If an allegation of fraud were enough to suspend a proclamation then there would never be any proclamations ... It's not conducive to orderly elections," Jimenez said.
He described the allegations as "100 percent speculative" because "everyone who had a window into what actually happened is unanimous in saying that nothing happened."
"You have the [poll watchdogs], you have the watchers, all of them were saying that nothing was amiss," the election official said.
"There was nothing wrong, there was a problem with a small part of the process, but it would not affect the integrity of the results."
Poll watchdog Kontra Daya, however, claimed that this year's elections were the "worst ever" due to numerous errors with vote-counting machines and "rampant vote buying."
Vote buying is an election offense penalized with imprisonment and perpetual disqualification from holding public office.
Professor Danilo Arao, convenor of the election watchdog, said election officials seemed not to look at voting "as a sacred process wherein even just one vote being miscounted should be a cause for concern."
Arao accused the poll body of "downplaying" issues and complaints raised by some sectors.
Brizza Rosales of the Legal Network for Truthful Elections group noted that allegations of vote buying are the "easiest to file but the hardest to prosecute."
"You will catch a lot [of vote buyers and vote sellers] but how are you going to attribute them to a certain candidate?" she said.
Arao, however, said that one has to also understand why people sell their votes. "We have to look at vote buying and vote selling within the context of poverty," he said.
On election day on May 13, President Rodrigo Duterte called vote buying an "integral" part of the country's electoral exercise.
He said what people call "vote buying" is just politicians paying the fare of local leaders who are helping ensure votes for them in a locality.
* Marielle Lucenio contributed to this report.
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