BY GILBERT P. BAYORAN
We are practically ready for the May 9 elections in Negros Occidental, declared Provincial Comelec supervisor Atty. Roberto Salazar Jr yesterday.
Salazar reported that they have already distributed the vote counting machines (VCMs) to Comelec temporary hubs in the province, escorted by Army soldiers and policemen, on April 26 and 28. Delivery and final testing is on May 7.
The official ballots and other electoral forms were also simultaneously delivered on April 29 to the custodians which are various city and municipal treasurer offices, and the opening of boxes will be on May 9, he added.
Salazar also said that Election Officers have already been ordered to coordinate with their respective city and municipal treasurers to conduct ballot verification to ensure the ballots delivered are for specified precincts.
Ballots and vote counting machines are precinct-specific, Salazar said, stressing that ballots assigned to a precinct cannot be used in other precincts.
The Provincial Joint Security Coordinating Center, composed of the Comelec, Philippine National Police, Philippine Army and Philippine Coast Guard, will have its final meeting to iron out minor details in the holding of May 9 elections in the province.
On the other hand, the Comelec urged voters who may witness vote buying activities, which are usually rampant a day before the elections, to document such activities, with keeping in mind necessary precautionary measures as those engaged in illegal activities may be accompanied by armed men.
Salazar disclosed that vote buying is a public crime, and those responsible can be arrested anytime and detained.
In the past elections, rampant vote buying usually takes place a day before or during the election day, as part of the special operations of unscrupulous politicians to further bolster their chances of winning.
Salazar encouraged witnesses of vote buying to immediately report it to the nearest police station, stressing also that the Comelec is willing to assist them in filing cases.
Any person found guilty of any election offense shall be punished with imprisonment of not less than one year but not more than six years and shall not be subject to probation, according to the Comelec.
Nineteen towns and cities in Negros Occidental, including highly-urbanized Bacolod City, have been identified as possible election areas of concerns during the May 9 elections, either due to history of election-related incidents, intense political rivalries, existence of private armed groups and sightings of New People’s Army rebels.*