Central Board urges Comelec to nullify votes, calls for new CSC elections

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Comelec Chairman Arvin Bersonda (right) proclaims the winners in this year's student polls, where results revealed that Thomasian voters rejected candidates in four of six posts for the Central Student Council Executive Board. Photo by Deejae S. Dumlao

THE OUTGOING Central Board of the Central Student Council (CSC) has urged the Central Commission on Elections (Comelec) to hold new elections, claiming the poll body committed “gross negligence” during the April elections.

The Central Board, the CSC’s legislative arm dominated by the losing Lakas Tomasino Coalition party, filed a case against the Comelec last May 17 before the Central Judiciary Board, claiming the poll body was unprepared for the manual elections and “its local units miserably failed to fulfill their mandate to conduct a free, orderly, honest, peaceful, credible and democratic elections.”

“[I]t is most respectfully prayed, after notice and hearing, that all the votes cast last April 18 to 21, 2017 be declared null and void. It is also prayed that the [Central Judiciary Board] resolve the matter, relieve the officers from their duties, and impose authoritative penalties as the board may deem just,” the complaint read.

The complaint came after it was revealed that Steven Grecia, the Lakas Tomasino candidate who lost the presidential election to “abstain” votes, questioned the massive abstentions before the judicial body. The Comelec however affirmed the results of the April polls, which produced winners only for the posts of secretary and public relations officer.

Nykko Bautista, Central Board speaker and outgoing president of the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery Student Council, confirmed that the legislative board sought new elections for the CSC executive arm.

Bautista said the case was based on grievances and complaints from students.

But James Ballecer, outgoing president of the Faculty of Civil Law Student Council, said there was no formal board meeting called to discuss the complaint, adding that he was not given a copy of the document filed before the judicial body.

“[T]here’s no formal meeting called for that matter, as far as I can remember. I also haven’t signed anything relative to the said matter,” Ballecer said in a text message.

The Varsitarian contacted other Central Board members but they have yet to respond as of writing.

Absentee voting

Bautista said the board’s main concern was the Comelec’s failure to release guidelines on absentees’ loss of right to vote for CSC executive officials.

But Comelec Chairman Arvin Bersonda said absentees were still given the chance to vote if able to present valid reasons.

“When it comes to the absentees hindi naman fully [na] di na sila pwede bumoto. [T]hey [had] a chance to request given that they have a valid reason kung bakit sila absent,” Bersonda told the Varsitarian.

While the UST Students’ Election Code of 2011 has no provision for absentee voting, Bersonda said he was able to announce guidelines during the March 24 launching and press conference held at the Tan Yan Kee Student Center lobby.

No formal announcements

The Central Board also claimed that the Comelec failed to make formal announcements regarding the voting process, and that it violated Article 2, Sections 3 and 4.3c of the election code, provisions that ensure the proper announcement of the activities of the Comelec.

“[T]he Comelec’s way of information dissemination is insufficient or unsatisfactory considering that there were reports by the students saying that they had no idea that the election was already ongoing,” the complaint read.

Bersonda pointed out that the Comelec called for a press conference to launch the start of the central and local student council elections.

“[R]emember we [had] a [press conference] and launching? I announced it there,” Bersonda said, referring to the March 24 press conference.

On Feb. 13, Comelec also posted on its official Facebook page Resolution No. 09 Series of 2016 to 2017 or the revised general calendar of activities for the election of student council officers for Academic Year 2017 to 2018.

Article 2, Section 3 of the code states that one of the functions of the Comelec’s public information officer is to “Ensure the proper announcement of the activities of the central Comelec by means of bulletin boards, advertisements through the Tomasian Cable Television and the Varsitarian, teasers, and electronic billboard.”

Article 2, Section 4.3c of the code states that one of the functions of the Comelec Chamber is to “suggest rules and processes which are necessary to have peaceful, free, fair, honest and credible elections.”

Envelopes instead of boxes

Other issues reported by the Central Board included Comelec’s supposed failure to provide a master list of students, and the use of envelopes in keeping the ballots instead of ballot boxes.

Bersonda said the use of envelopes “added extra security” as these contained the exact number of ballots and were sealed with the signature of the class president.

Article 10, Sec. 6 of code states the Comelec “shall prescribe the ballot boxes where the voters shall deposit their ballots.”

Bautista denied that votes were tampered with, but said there was “a possibility the voting process was not secure.”

“The counting would be affected kasi kung may mali sa pagkuha ng votes, malamang iba din ‘yung result ng counting,” he said.

Bersonda said the Comelec and its local affiliates did their jobs for a successful election.

“[W]e are ready to defend ourselves when the time comes. [A]lam naman namin na ginawa namin ang lahat para maging maayos and successful ang eleksyon,” Bersonda said.

Grecia, who ran for the presidency in the elections unopposed but lost, sent a “written clarification” to the Comelec and the judicial board on April 29 and May 16, respectively.

Grecia said the letter discussed the “effects of abstain” in the CSC elections following the whopping number of Thomasians who abstained in the April student council elections.

Only independent candidates Therese Gorospe and Francis Santos won in the elections, filling the posts of secretary and public relations officer, respectively.

READ: Thomasians reject council bets, vote ‘abstain’ in 4 of 6 posts

“[The written clarification was] regarding the effects of abstain in our elections since the CSC Constitution and the Students Election Code do not mention anything about abstain,” Grecia said in a text message.

The judiciary board has yet to release a decision on the complaints.

The Central Board serves as the legislative arm of the Central Student Council and is composed of presidents of different faculties, colleges, institutes and schools in the University.

The Central Judiciary Board is the judicial arm composed of the CSC adviser, legal consultant of the Office for Student Affairs, chief of the Legal Aid Clinic of the Faculty of Civil Law, president of the Canon Law Society and a representative of the CSC.

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