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Incoming Comelec commissioner Lanto denies poll fraud allegations

Incoming Commission on Elections (Comelec) commissioner Macabangkit Lanto on Friday proclaimed his innocence on charges that he was involved in poll fraud in the past, and blamed the negative publicity against him on enemies of the administration. “Apparently there is an orchestrated move to discredit me because of the event that happened 20 years ago when I was unseated as congressman of Lanao del Norte,” Lanto told a news briefing at the Comelec office in Manila. Asked who is behind these moves, Lanto said, “Maybe some people who would not want me to sit or people who want to embarrass the President,” without giving any names. Lanto, whose appointment to the Comelec was announced by President Aquino on Thursday, met with Comelec chairman Sixto Brillantes Jr. on Friday. He explained that the electoral protest against him after the 1992 elections was filed by his powerful rivals in Lanao del Norte who “cannot accept the fact that they will lose to somebody who is unknown.” “I was only an ordinary [law] practitioner so they bonded together and filed a protest against me,” Lanto said, stressing that he won the elections “fair and square.” Syndicate at HRET? The 1992 petition against Lanto had been dismissed by the Comelec at the time, prompting his rivals to elevate the case to the House of Representatives Electoral Tribunal (HRET). He said when the ballot boxes were opened, nothing anomalous was found and the initial recount showed that he got more votes than his opponents. Lanto said his counsel, lawyer Pete Cuadra, advised him to withdraw his counter-protest because there was no way his opponents would overcome his margin, to which he agreed. After he withdrew his petition, he said someone from the HRET approached one of his advisors “and asked money to help me in the revision.” “I got curious, I said why should we deal with those people,” Lanto said, adding that his advisor submitted a counter-affidavit regarding the incident and attached it to their motion for reconsideration. He said when the formal counting began, they found out that the valid ballots in his favor had been marked with stars, sultan, Arabic scripts and other unnecessary writings. It was found out later that the markings were done by one person. Lanto recalled that a similar case happened in Makati involving then Rep. Joker Arroyo and Buboy Syjuco during that time. “There was an allegation of a syndicate, money changed hands daw and [HRET decision said] Syjuco won over Joker Arroyo by over 50,000. So Joker exposed this, saying he was a victim of a manipulation of a syndicate in HRET and in fact it was publicized,” he said. He said the difference between his case and Arroyo’s was that the latter pursued his case before the Supreme Court and got a temporary restraining order and was not unseated. “But in my case I did not pursue it kasi baguhan lang ako sa Maynila, tatanga-tanga. I do not know anybody about these things. Hindi na ako nag-pursue. Wala na akong pondo by that time,” said Lanto. He was replaced by Mario Hisuler, who was declared winner by 597 votes by the HRET. Brillantes backs Lanto Meanwhile, Brillantes said he immediately looked at the HRET ruling upon learning of the issues raised against Lanto. “If you go over it, the dispositive portion, maliwanag naman na while there may have been irregularities, there was no evidence linking the commissioner to the irregularities. That was very clear. Hindi siya kasama sa fraud, no evidence on his part,” he said. He added that generally, if an incumbent official is unseated due to fraud, HRET recommends to the Comelec that those involved in the irregularity be prosecuted for an election offense. “Dito hindi sya kasama. Actually andun sa decision, very clear, he may have benefited in the fraud but there is no evidence linking him to the fraud,” Brillantes reiterated. He believes that Lanto was unseated because the ballots in his favor were nullified, so his opponent received more valid votes. UP Law School grad Aside from the revival of the HRET case, the new poll commissioner said there were also rumors that he is not a lawyer. “Kagabi sinabi nila na hindi ako abugado. For the record I’m a lawyer,” he asserted, adding that he was once the president of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines in Lanao del Sur. According to his curriculum vitae, Lanto completed his Bachelor of Laws degree at the University of the Philippines in 1967, and finished his masteral degree in 1981 at the New York University, where he was also a Ph.D. candidate. Among his classmates at the UP law school were Vice President Jejomar Binay; former environment secretary Fulgencio Factoran Jr.; the late Violy Drilon, first wife of Sen. Franklin Drilon; USA-based billionaire Loida Nicolas-Lewis; Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Francisco Villaruz; and Court of Tax Appeals Presiding Justice Ernesto Acosta. Drilon connection Lanto also confirmed reports that Drilon, the administration's campaign manager in the May 2013 elections, had recommended him to become officer-in-charge of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao in 2011 and to the Comelec. He also admitted getting employed under Drilon's office as consultant for the Senate committee on finance from September 1, 2010 to June 30, 2011 and for the congressional oversight committee on labor and employment from September 20, 2011 to December 31, 2011. Despite the political connection, Lanto said he will not be beholden to anybody. “I think my previous record in the government, I was undersecretary of justice, I was undersecretary of tourism, [I was an] ambassador [who] sometimes sits as a judge to fix [problems] between and among Filipinos, I have shown independence and impartiality. You can check my record. There was never a case filed against me for corruption or whatever,” he said. Ready for CA Lanto said he would answer the allegations raised against him when Congress resumes its session in July. “I’m ready to face the Commission on Appointments about this issue. I have somebody to get the copy of the affidavit submitted by my advisor. This guy is willing to face the media to reiterate what he said in his affidavit,” he said. — KBK/YA, GMA News