Aquino aunt slams gov’t over ballot stealing charges

Paterno R. Esmaquel II
Aquino aunt slams gov’t over ballot stealing charges
Margarita 'Tingting' Cojuangco and 13 others face separate complaints filed by the Commission on Elections' law department

MANILA, Philippines – The aunt of President Benigno Aquino III slammed the government after the poll body’s legal department filed complaints against her, as well as 13 others, for allegedly stealing ballots to discredit the 2013 elections. 

Aquino’s aunt, former Tarlac governor Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco, linked the complaints to politics.

Joining a rally on February 22, Cojuangco called on Aquino to quit after the botched January 25 police operation in Mamasapano, Maguindanao. The bloodbath in Mamasapano killed 67 people, including 44 members of the police Special Action Force (SAF), and jeopardized a peace process to end a 4-decade Muslim secessionist movement.

“Perhaps it’s a case by the administration against us, to divert it from other issues that I’m actually asking for answers to, like ‘SAF 44 for Justice and Truth,’” Cojuangco told reporters after a congressional hearing on the automated elections on Thursday, March 19.

“But you know, I am not bothered, because we have legitimate, legal answers to what the accusation is. And it’s not for me to prove what I have and what I don’t have because… the burden of proof lies on them,” Cojuangco added.

Commission on Elections (Comelec) spokesman James Jimenez confirmed that the Comelec law department filed 5 separate complaints against 14 people, including Cojuangco, before the assembly of Comelec commissioners.

Sitting as a body, the Comelec commissioners will now study the complaints and decide if the Comelec can file charges against the 14 people before Philippine courts.

‘Aquino quit’ group accused

Other persons accused include Glenn Chong, a former congressman who has questioned the Philippines’ election system; Norberto Gonzales, a defense secretary and national security adviser under former president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo; Francisco Tatad, a press secretary under the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos; and Lipa Archbishop Ramon Arguelles, one of Aquino’s staunchest critics.

Chong, Gonzales, Tatad, and Arguelles also demand Aquino’s resignation. They belong to the National Transformation Council, which the Department of Justice said is plotting a coup against the Aquino administration. (READ: ‘Aquino quit’ group: We have no leader, financier

The Comelec law department filed complaints against them after Worthy Acosta, who said he was Cojuangco’s former aide, implicated Cojuangco and Chong in allegedly stealing and tampering with ballots in 2013.

Acosta said Cojuangco ordered him to steal ballots from the Baguio City Treasurer’s Office “to discredit the 2013 elections by making it appear that there was massive electoral fraud,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer reported on February 7.

The order reportedly came in June 2013.

Acosta said Chong, for his part, instructed him “to tamper with the ballots,” the Inquirer added in its report.

On Thursday, Chong told reporters, “I categorically deny that I ordered Mr Acosta to tamper with the ballots.”

Jimenez said the complaints involve violations of the Omnibus Election Code and the Automated Election System Law, which prohibits “tampering with, damaging, destroying, or stealing” ballots.

While Chong denied Acosta’s accusations, he admitted that he questions the automation system used in Philippine elections. 

One of the Comelec’s fiercest critics, former poll commissioner Gus Lagman, also discredited the Philippines’ precinct count optical scan or PCOS machines. Lagman pushed for the manual counting of votes in election precincts – a proposal which former elections chief Sixto Brillantes Jr said will bring the Philippines back to “Jurassic Park. – Rappler.com

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Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email pat.esmaquel@rappler.com