By Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Reporter

AN unofficial count as of Monday early evening showed candidates of President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s administration dominating the top 12 slots of the senatorial race, led by reelectionist Senator Cynthia A. Villar.

Based on partial and unofficial election returns by the Commission on Elections, as posted at the headquarters of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV) and also by the media, the top 12 candidates in the count are:

1. Cynthia A. Villar

2. Grace Poe-Llamanzares

3. Christopher “Bong” T. Go

4. Pilar Julianna “Pia” S. Cayetano

5. Ronald “Bato” M. Dela Rosa

6. Juan Edgardo “Sonny” M. Angara

7. Maria Imelda Josefa “Imee” R. Marcos

8. Manuel “Lito” M. Lapid

9. Francis N. Tolentino

10. Maria Lourdes “Nancy” S. Binay

11. Ramon “Bong” Revilla, Jr.

12. Joseph Victor “JV” G. Ejercito

The 13th to 18th spots, meanwhile, are occupied by opposition reelectionist Senator Paolo Benigno “Bam” A. Aquino IV, reelectionist Senator Aquilino Martin “Koko” D. Pimentel III, former senators Jinggoy E. Estrada, Manuel “Mar” A. Roxas, and Sergio “Serge” D. Osmeña III, and first-time senatorial candidate Willie “Doc Willie” T. Ong.

Ms. Villar led the senatorial race as of 6:05 p.m. with 93,660 votes followed by Ms. Poe with 83,258 votes. The count is based on 330 out of 85,769 clustered precincts.

Among the Top 12, only three candidates were not endorsed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte: Mses. Poe and Binay, and Mr. Lapid.

“Massive” vote-buying as well as malfunctioning vote-counting machines (VCMs) were among the drawbacks reported by the Philippine National Police (PNP) and election watchdog Namfrel, as voters trooped to the polls for Monday’s midterm elections, three years into President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s term.

The PNP claimed that there are “massive” vote-buying cases after it tallied a total of 120 incidents with 302 violators based on its 1 p.m. update.

“The report here is nakikita natin is ‘yung massive ‘yung vote-buying incidents. ‘Yung reports of vote-buying ay kaliwa’t kanan,” PNP chief Gen. Oscar D. Albayalde said in a noontime press briefing on Monday, May 13. (We see reports of massive vote-buying incidents. Reports of vote-buying are everywhere).

But the PNP chief also qualified, “Although some of the reports ay hindi (are not) confirmed and are not actually true. Dahil yung iba nga, ‘yung mga supporters, makita lang na magrupo-grupo ‘yung mga tao du’n ire-report na nila as vote-buying.” (Because in some cases, supporters will spot people gathering and will report this as vote-buying).

Mr. Duterte himself, asked by reporters after voting in Davao City on Monday afternoon, said, “I have yet to receive (reports about) more than just the ordinary vote-buying.”

Mr. Albayalde also reported that election violence is thus far lower compared with 106 recorded in 2016 and 94 in 2013.

As of noontime Monday, PNP reported 43 incidents of election violence with 20 casualties, 24 individuals injured, and 29 unharmed.

The National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections (NAMFREL) also reported “rampant” vote-buying on Monday.

“Talamak nga din ‘yung vote-buying. May vote-buying reported incidents in Cagayan de Oro, inconclusive pa, kasi patago ‘yang mga yan. Sa Pasay kanina may sample ballots. Du’n sa report mukhang nakalakip ‘yung pera sa sample ballot,” National Council member Lito Averia of NAMFREL told reporters early Monday afternoon. (Vote-buying is rampant. There are reported vote-buying incidents in Cagayan de Oro, but still inconclusive, because these are done surreptitiously. In Pasay [city], earlier, there were sample ballots distributed, which according to reports contained money).

For its part, election watchdog PPCRV said as of Monday afternoon it has received “(n)othing alarming so far” from its monitoring of Monday’s elections.

“The reports that we’ve been receiving so far are VCMs that are malfunctioning, and people not being able to find their names in the master list. For the VCMs not functioning, it’s the (Electoral Board) whose taking care of that…. Basically those are reports on the ground that we have been receiving so far,” PPCRV Media Director Agnes Gervacio told reporters.

“All of our reports are really just, ‘I cannot find my name or VCMs are not working and were waiting here,’ the usual problems that we encounter. Nothing alarming so far,” she added.

On vote-buying, Ms. Gervacio said in part, “From our side, I don’t think we’ve received a lot of reports from our volunteers.”

PPCRV Executive Director Maribel Buenaobra, for her part, said the 400 to 600 malfunctioning VCMs reported by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) is “not alarming,” as this number is “just about less than 1%” of around 85,000 machines.

Former vice-president Jejomar C. Binay himself had complained to the Comelec on Monday morning after his ballot was rejected by the VCM at the Makati polling place where he was registered. Mr. Binay was able to cast his vote again after he was provided a “replacement ballot.”

In Mindanao, authorities reported Election Day to be generally peaceful, with reported incidents mainly concerning malfunctioning VCMs as in other parts of the country.

But two separate blasts were reported in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (BARMM), although no casualties were reported yet from either incident.

The explosions, which took place early morning before the opening of voting precincts, were in Barangay RH10 in Cotabato City and in the town of Datu Odin Sinsuat in Maguindanao, according to the Philippine Army’s 6th Infantry Division (6ID).

Both occurred in open areas, but the one in Cotabato City was near the People’s Palace.

“No one was hurt during the two separate explosions,” Major Arvin Encinas, 6ID spokesperson of the Philippine Army 6ID, said. “The military sees this as an attempt to disrupt the election. This only aims to scare the citizens for them not to proceed to their precincts.”

“Aside from these two incidents, we can say that the elections in our area of responsibility are generally peaceful,” said Mr. Encinas.

In the Davao Region, Police Regional Director Brig. Gen. Marcelo C. Morales said 110 VCMs, mostly in Talaingod, Davao del Norte, out of 3,771 were reported to have malfunctioned.

For his part, Col. Ferlu M. Silvio, head of Davao del Norte’s provincial police, said he has ordered the monitoring of vehicles being used for vote-buying. “Vans are mobile and we have yet to accost and catch them in the act,” he said.

Davao del Norte is considered a hotspot due to the political rivalry between 2nd District Rep. Antonio R. Floirendo Jr. of the Hugpong ng Pagbabago (HnP) and 1st District Rep. Pantaleon D. Alvarez of the Partido ng Demokratikong Pilipino-Laban (PDP-Laban).

Mr. Floirendo, whom Malacañang anticipates to be the next speaker of the House of Representatives, is seeking reelection against Alan R. Dujali of PDP-Laban, while Mr. Alvarez is also seeking reelection against Mr. Floirendo’s cousin, Gov. Antonio Rafael R. del Rosario.

In the Northern Mindanao Region, Police Region 10 Office reported more than P1 million seized and at least 16 persons arrested, as well as eight cases filed on alleged vote-buying. — with reports by Vince Angelo C. Ferreras, Charmaine A. Tadalan, Maya M. Padillo, Tajallih S. Basman, and Carmelito Q. Francisco.