Comelec en banc rejects Leonardia’s election protest motion

Bacolod City Mayor-elect Albee Benitez and former Mayor Evelio Leonardia

By Glazyl Y. Masculino and Dolly Yasa

BACOLOD CITY – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) En Banc has denied the Motion for Reconsideration filed by former Mayor Evelio Leonardia against incumbent Mayor Alfredo “Albee” Benitez concerning the May 2022 national and local elections.

The resolution, issued on April 23, 2024, was signed by Comelec Chairman George Erwin Garcia, along with commissioners Socorro Inting, Aimee Ferolino, Ernesto Ferdinand Maceda Jr., Marlon Casquejo, Rey Bulay, and Nelson Celis.

Leonardia’s motion, dated September 19, 2022, sought to nullify the Comelec Second Division’s September 7, 2022 order. The order dismissed Leonardia’s petition contesting the election results for the Bacolod City mayoral position, which was filed on May 20, 2022, against Benitez.

Leonardia’s protest alleged widespread fraud, irregularities, and vote-buying by Benitez and his supporters across all precincts.

However, the Comelec Second Division, in its September 7, 2022 order, stated that the petition was more in the nature of a complaint for an election offense and should be referred to the Law Department for further investigation.

This included alleged violations of Section 261 (a) on vote-buying, Section 261 (k) on illegal campaigning, and Section 261 (s) on wearing uniforms and bearing arms, violating Section 262 of the Omnibus Election Code.

The Second Division also noted that a revision and recount of ballots was not essential to the protest.

Additionally, it stated that Leonardia’s petition was insufficient in form and content, failing to provide detailed specifications of the alleged electoral fraud, anomalies, or irregularities, as required by Section 7 (g), Rule 6 of Comelec Resolution No. 8804.

Therefore, a summary dismissal of the case was warranted under Section 9 (b) of the same rule.

In his motion, Leonardia argued that electoral fraud and irregularities are valid grounds for an election protest. He contended that he had clearly requested a ballot revision, not just an investigation into vote-buying activities.

He further asserted that vote-buying is a valid ground for an election protest under the rules.

In its April 23, 2024 resolution, the Commission En Banc denied the Motion for Reconsideration, citing Section 1, Rule 19 of the Comelec Rules of Procedure.

The resolution emphasized that Leonardia did not present new matters or issues that would merit overturning the Second Division’s order.

The resolution also reiterated that the allegations in Leonardia’s petition and motion were too broad, general, and speculative. It noted that Leonardia failed to attach any affidavits or evidence to support his claims, which are necessary to substantiate allegations of electoral fraud and irregularities.

The Comelec En Banc affirmed that there was no justification to open and revise all ballots from the 450 clustered precincts in Bacolod City. It stressed that allegations of massive vote-buying, threats, intimidation, and fake voters must be proven, not merely alleged.

In the May 2022 elections, Benitez won with 171,893 votes, while Leonardia received 107,447 votes, resulting in a margin of 64,446 votes.

Atty. Caesar Distrito, Benitez’s spokesperson, stated that Benitez has once again prevailed with the latest Comelec decision.

“The decision of the Comelec is a clear manifestation that the election protests were purely harassment with no legal and factual basis at all. It was purely made to save faces in the aftermath of then-incumbent Mayor Evelio Leonardia’s defeat by former Congressman Albee Benitez,” he said.

Distrito added that the denial of the motion will now put to rest any doubts about Benitez’s victory. “Mayor Albee won clearly and convincingly with a margin of 64,446 votes. The people had spoken, and so did the Comelec,” he concluded.


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