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Tingting Cojuangco, 13 others face Comelec probe for alleged election offenses

Margarita “Tingting” Cojuangco and 13 others are under preliminary investigation by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) for various alleged violations of election laws.

In a phone interview with GMA News Online, Comelec spokesperson James Jimenez said the Comelec's Law Department on Wednesday formally filed with the Comelec en banc charges that the 14 individuals violated the Omnibus Election Code, or Batas Pambansa (BP) 881, and Republic Act 8436, or the Automated Election Law.

The charges against the accused were contained in five separate cases filed by the Comelec Law Department. These cases stemmed from the alleged offenses committed by the accused during the 2013 elections in Baguio City.

Cojuangco and the 13 co-accused, including former Comelec Commissioner Augusto “Gus” Lagman, were charged with violation of Section 35 (a) of RA 8436 for “utilizing without authorization, tampering with and stealing of official ballots.” Four John and Jane Does from the Baguio City Treasurer's Office were also included as co-accused in the case.

Cojuangco is the wife of President Benigno Aquino III's uncle Jose “Peping” Cojuangco Jr.

Cojuangco and eight others were was also named in a separate case for violation of Section 261 (z-12) of BP 881 for destruction, substitution or taking away of ballots and other election documents.

Jimenez said the Comelec en banc will now look into materiality of the formally filed complaint.

“If the Comelec en banc found probable cause, then proper charges may be filed before the court,” Jimenez said.

Cojuangco and Lagman have been critical of Comelec, particularly regarding the Smartmatic precinct count optical scan (PCOS) machines that the poll body will use in 2016 elections.

Aside from Cojuangco and Lagman, others named in the cases were former national security adviser and Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales, former Senator Francisco “Kit Tatad, former Biliran Rep. Glenn Chong, Worthy Acosta, Bernardo Vergara, Ferdi Balanag, Eliseo Rojo, Alicia Onoza, Melchor Magdamo, Lito Averia, Kamil Unda and Ramon Arguelles.
Also included in a cases were seven John Does and Jane Does from the Baguio City Treasurer's Office.

Asked on the possibility that the filing of charges against Cojuangco, Lagman and the rest might be viewed as a form of vendetta, Jimenez said: “Let them say that. What matters is that there seems to be strongbox evidence of violations of law and these violations were perpetrated to throw the electoral system into doubt.”

“It is the Comelec's duty to meet these doubts and dispel them,” Jimenez added. — BM/ELR, GMA News