Election building fire sparks fevered speculation

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 March, 2007, 12:00am

While no evidence of arson has emerged from the smoking ruins of the Commission on Elections building, there is no shortage of speculation among government critics about the cause of the blaze.

All original records from past elections - including the disputed 2004 Philippine presidential poll - were destroyed in the blaze. It is not known yet which documents were backed up elsewhere.

Oscar Cruz, a Catholic archbishop highly critical of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, called Sunday's blaze fishy and said it eroded public trust in the poll commission's ability to conduct credible polls on May 14.

'How suspicious, how convenient, how devious,' he said of the fire, even as the presidential palace yesterday called for a swift and transparent investigation and denied setting the building ablaze.

Opposition campaign manager, San Juan mayor Jose Victor Ejercito, claimed the blaze was part of a plan to cheat opposition candidates who continued to lead opinion polls.

'This regime plays so dirty. Knowing that its candidates will lose in the elections, it had to do something to stop it,' said Mr Ejercito, son of deposed president Joseph Estrada. He did not elaborate.

Commission chairman Benjamin Abalos said yesterday no documents needed to stage elections on May 14 had been burned.

Opposition spokesman Adel Tamano said that if Comelec could not protect its own headquarters it could not assure voters of being able to protect their ballots.

Senator Francis Pangilinan, who is running for re-election as an independent candidate, said: 'This doesn't help assure the public that the elections will be free from problems and difficulties.'

The election committee has yet to recover from a scandal in the 2004 presidential polls when a commissioner was accused of helping rig the vote in favour of Mrs Arroyo.

'Intrigues and black propaganda should not get ahead of the truth,' presidential spokesman Ignatio Bunye said of the blaze.

Election commissioner Rene Sarmiento said that besides arson, fire investigators were looking at 'faulty electrical wiring' as a possible cause of the blaze.

The Department of Interior and Local Governments said it had formed a taskforce to investigate, an announcement that met with scepticism since the department head is Ronaldo Puno, president of Mrs Arroyo's Kampi Party.