MANILA, Philippines – A Laguna court has allowed the Commission on Elections (Comelec) to take over the warehouse of ballot counting machines amid a dispute over property, Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes Jr announced Friday, December 28.
Biñan, Laguna Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 25 issued a writ of possession that allows the Comelec to occupy a warehouse of Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machines until June 2013. Presided over by Judge Teodoro Solis, the court issued the writ on Thursday, December 27, according to Comelec legal department head Esmeralda Ladra.
“We are now entitled to take over the possession of the entire warehouse, the one we are renting, even without a contract,” Brillantes explained in a mix of English and Filipino.
Before the writ, the Comelec faced the threat of eviction by the property owner, Power Serve Inc (PSI), which wanted the Comelec to enter a 3-year contract with it. The Comelec only wanted a 7-month contract.
An eviction would have imperiled the storage of over 79,000 PCOS machines, Brillantes said. Without such a warehouse, he said “we go back to manual" elections. (Watch more in the video below.)
Brillantes said the writ is a provisional remedy, which stands until the judge decides on Comelec's petition to temporarily expropriate the Cabuyao warehouse. "Pareho rin naman ang effect," he said, referring to the writ and the pending resolution on the merits of the case. (They have the same effect.)
Expropriation means the government will take over a private property, for a fee, for the sake of public interest.
Public interest 'paramount'
Brillantes noted that PSI's president has contacted him, too, and is willing to negotiate. The poll chief said he would prefer that Comelec's use of the property be bound by a contract with PSI.
“Naiintindihan naman namin ang business aspect nila eh. Mas paramount lang ang public interest namin kaysa sa business interest nila,” Brillantes said. (We do understand their business aspect, too. But public interest is paramount over their business interest.)
Earlier, Ladra said the Comelec has deposited around P44-M to expropriate the property. "We have to do it because it's urgent," said Ladra, explaining that the poll body needs to finish hardware acceptance tests, among others, in the Cabuyao warehouse.
Ladra explained that the Comelec cannot rent the Cabuyao property for more than 7 months, or beyond June 2013, because that will be "grossly advantageous" for the government. "It's the government funds that we are spending," she said. – Rappler.com
Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.