Did Rene Sarmiento resign because of this?

Look of the Year

The “Look of the Year” award should go to Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento when he was confronted by ABS-CBN News Channel correspondent Ricky Carandang with the video he got of election returns being transported to Maria Cristina Hotel in Iligan City last Monday.

That “look” was captured vividly on TV and seen here and abroad.

It was nakakahiya. A Comelec official caught covering up for something that his people were trying to hide.

Carandang and fellow ANC correspondent Noel Alamar chanced upon bundles of election returns being transferred to the hotel facilitated by Jubil Surmieda of the Comelec’s legal department.

Under Comelec rules, election returns should be under the safe-keeping of the provincial treasurer.

In Carandang’s explosive report, he asked Sarmiento about the transported ER’s and he denied it. When told that the ERS were in the hotel, he and Surmieda, who acted like more like a thug rather than a Comelec official, Sarmiento still denied it.

But when Carandang showed the video he took of the ERs being hauled to the hotel’s elevator, Sarmiento grappled for a justification. He looked pathetic. He said the transfer was upon his orders to make sure that the documents would not be used to rig the special elections in parts of the province. The provincial treasurer, however, said she did not know about Sarmiento’s orders.

When asked by Carandang, why he would entrust custody of the important documents to a group of Comelec officials that included Renault “Boy” Macarambon, Sarmiento reacted sharply and talked about “due process”.

Macarambon is a Comelec lawyer who was detailed in the office of Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano in 2004.

If Sarmiento is wondering why the public distrusts Macarambon, may we refer him to the transcript of the Hello Garci tapes especially the conversations on May 25, 2004, 7:52 p.m.

In that conversation that Garcillano was having with a certain “Danny”, they were talking about 40,000 more votes needed. And as of that day, they already had 39,000. Remember that this conversation was almost two weeks after election.

Danny and Garci were talking about Cotabato City and Lanao del Sur.

Danny said, in the six municipalities “panalo daw siya doon”.

Garcillano said, “Mananalo siya talaga. Nandoon si Louie…Macarambon eh.

For all we know, Sarmiento knows all these very well. Like he knew about the transfer of the custody of the ERs to Surmieda and Macarambon. He has become one of them.

Related report:

ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs condemned Tuesday the death threats received by its television anchorman and radio reporter in connection with stories they filed from the special elections held in Lanao del Sur over the weekend.

“ABS-CBN News & Current Affairs condemns, in the strongest possible terms, these attempts to intimidate the members of our Newsgathering team. We would also like to warn those involved that their identities are known to us,” said Maria Ressa, head of the ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs. Click here for full report.

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ABS-CBN reporters get death threats

ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs condemned Tuesday the death threats received by its television anchorman and radio reporter in connection with stories they filed from the special elections held in Lanao del Sur over the weekend.

“ABS-CBN News & Current Affairs condemns, in the strongest possible terms, these attempts to intimidate the members of our Newsgathering team. We would also like to warn those involved that their identities are known to us,” said Maria Ressa, head of the ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs.

Ressa said that the threats against Rickcy Carandang of cable news channel ANC and DZMM Radyo Patrol reporter Noel Alamar came after the two filed exclusive reports from Lanao del Sur.

“We are prepared to take legal action should these threats continue or should any harm come to Mr. Carandang, Mr. Alamar or any members of ABS-CBN News & Current Affairs,” Ressa said.

Carandang and Alamar had reported that a group of officers from the Commission on Elections took over custody of blank election returns from the Lanao del Sur provincial treasurer’s office in Marawi City on Sunday.

One of the poll officials was identified as Renault “Boy” Macarambon, a personality mentioned in the “Hello, Garci” recordings.

Footage taken over the weekend showed COMELEC officers hauling the ERs to Maria Cristina Hotel in Iligan City, Lanao del Norte, which is an hour and a half drive away from the provincial capitol of Lanao del Sur.

The Hello, Garci recordings alleged that former COMELEC commissioner Virgilio Garcillano masterminded election-rigging in the 2004 presidential election in favor of President Arroyo.

The COMELEC’s Rene Sarmiento, commissioner-in-charge for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), said he ordered officials to take custody of the ERs to ensure that they would not be used to rig the special elections in parts of Lanao del Sur.

On second thought

Alamar had reported that Sarmiento denied ordering the transfer of the ERs. Sarmiento issued another statement contrary to his first after viewing he ABS-CBN footage. Officers of the provincial treasurer’s office said they were not informed about Sarmiento’s orders regarding the transfer.

Sarmiento said there was nothing unusual about the blank ERs being kept in a hotel for safekeeping. He said the ERs were taken into custody by a special elections officer who was then staying at the hotel.

“These are blank ERs, which should not be left in Marawi City or anywhere else. These are his responsibility since these are accountable forms,” he told DZMM.

“I’m willing to resign if it is proven that it is irregular,” he added in an interview with Alamar.

Sarmiento added that the ERs were transferred to the hotel after a brownout and heavy rains hit Marawi after the special elections.

The blank ERs were initially distributed to provincial treasurers, who in turn would have to distribute the documents to municipal treasurers and then eventually distributed to BEIs.

ERs are used as basis for tallies. These are also used as basis for the certificates of canvass brought before the COMELEC’s National Board of Canvassers.

On Monday Sarmiento resigned as head of the poll body’s Task Force Maguindanao which was tasked to investigate poll fraud in the province.

Sarmiento cited health reasons saying he cannot physically head the investigation after overseeing the conduct of special elections in some areas in ARMM, including 13 municipalities of Lanao del Sur province, over the weekend.

Sarmiento added that he would have to concentrate on resolving problems that occurred during the special elections. Aside from Lanao del Sur, he said he would have to resolve some problems in the elections held in Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Sharif Kabunsuan provinces.

Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer has since replaced Sarmiento as task force chief.