The massacre of Mindanao votes

May. 27, 2007

By the Policy Study, Publication and Advocacy (PSPA)
Center for People Empowerment in Governance (CenPEG)
May 27, 2007

MANILA, Philippines — With evidence staring at the very eye of election officers who may or may not be complicit in the commission of fraud (and most probably they are), Mindanao is once again in the eye of controversy as fraud and a strong revival of the 3 Gs (guns, goons and gold) mar the credibility of the May 14 elections.

At the rate that fraud transparent and glaring is being documented in all but one of six Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) provinces, it is not far-fetched that there is a de facto failure of elections in the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, and newly-created Shariff Kabunsuan province.

Voters in these provinces make up two percent of the voting population or over a million votes. Although marginal compared to the whole 40 million plus registered voters nationwide, votes in this region have come to be manipulated by an unpopular regime accused of gaining and maintaining power through fraud and the use of force.

It is no coincidence that ARMM has been regarded as the center of election fraud.

But this is not to say that voters in this remotest and most poverty-stricken region of the Philippines Muslims who trace lineage to the first gallant fighters of the nation’s resistance against colonial rule are cheaters. Rather, the cheat is on them and time and again they are massacred this time of their votes instead of their lives by an administration which knows no better to respect their autonomy than to take advantage of their democratic right to choose the nation’s leaders.

Indeed, next to Marcos, the Arroyo regime has gained facility on election fraud planning years ahead and executing its fraudulent plans using a crude combination of money, intimidation and deceit.

Exploited to the hilt

Mindanao is exploited to the hilt in the commission of electoral fraud not because of its remoteness. A distinct economic, political and cultural structure renders the region vulnerable to state manipulation verily through the use of the state’s apparatuses for state terrorism and coerced mandate through fraudulent elections.

The administration brags about the “shura” (Islamic practice of consultations) as delivering its 12-0 votes in Maguindanao. Actually, it is an admission of the administration’s incapability to marshal the people’s will except through a cynical and self-serving use of feudal traditions to prop up a coercive and crumbling misrule.

However, the administration is erroneously sending the message that Islamic culture has found a niche supportive of Team Unity (TU) and Macapagal-Arroyo’s brand of corruptive politics through largesse and tongue-in-cheek promises of federalism. It is the same as bureaucrat capitalism finding a prop through feudal means of population control.

Actually, according to Islamic experts, TU’s election victory through “shura” is a myth and merely serves as a justification for the widespread and systematic fraud perpetrated by the administration during elections in Mindanao.

Thus, from the “manufactured” votes of Maguindanao to over-padded votes of Basilan, fake election returns (ERs) in Shariff Kabunsuan, and the ballot box snatching, soldiers taking command of vote-canvassing and intimidation of board of election inspectors and poll watchers in Lanao del Sur, there is a preponderance of material facts pointing to the impossibility that there was a democratic election in ARMM.

Yet, it is not the first time these happened. On the eve of the 2004 elections, teachers held in hostage in Maguindanao were also forced to accomplish ERs based on ballots they themselves were coerced to tamper. Volumes of documentary and testimonial evidence purporting these facts are contained in the Minority Report of Congress prepared during the first and second impeachment against Arroyo but which were never opened and made public due to the tyranny of numbers of Arroyo allies in the House of Representatives. (See the book Fraud: Gloria M. Arroyo and the May 2004 Elections, Sept. 2006, CenPEG, Philippines.)

ARMM provinces

In that Report, opened during the Citizens’ Congress for Truth and Accountability in 2005, the most glaring unresolved cases of election fraud were found to be concentrated in the Mindanao region, with ARMM provinces comprising the bulk. It was in these provinces where statistically improbable tallies of all votes going to the administration and zero to the opposition were recorded.

It is not simply out of partisanship to doubt unanimous votes for the administration. It is borne out by experience where a reaping of zero opposition votes and sweep votes for the unpopular Macapagal-Arroyo clique, fraud has been found to be suspect, to say the least.

Fraud is not only seen in tangible manifestations of rigged votes and rigged counting of votes. Money is a more reliable measure of the extent that fraud in elections has become a way of life in these areas. Little wonder why money a scarce commodity in this the poorest among poor Philippine provinces literally floods streets going to election booths with goons and politicians buying votes in four-digit sometimes five-digit figures.

More effective, however, is the use of the military and corrupt election officials in the undertaking of massive and wholesale fraud. Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) units assigned in ARMM perform election duties far removed from safeguarding voters and protecting votes. As pieces of evidence gathered by the Genuine Opposition (GO) show, in certain different parts of the region, military elements do the voting and canvassing of votes with election inspectors either cowering in fear or in cahoots with them.

Wholesale fraud

The padding and shaving of votes (dagdag-bawas) has likewise grown in scale that the misreading of votes has become a wholesale act of fraud. Half of “dagdag-bawas” monitored throughout the country by the Task Force Poll Watch (TFPW) 2007 (a joint undertaking of GO and progressive party list groups) were committed in the ARMM region and other Mindanao provinces. Eighty to 90 percent of this form of vote-counting fraud happened in Lanao del Sur.

Dagdag-bawas could not but be associated with the unbelievable jump in the number of registered voters in the ARMM region. But even in the highest recorded increase in voter registration at 177 percent in Lanao del Sur, the vote count in several precincts yielded statistical improbabilities. Sixty-nine precincts in the province recorded votes that exceeded the number of registered voters, according to reports received by TFPW.

Furthermore, in Basilan, 9,000 plus registered voters were able to cast votes for 26,000 votes, or 15,000 more votes. These statistically improbable tallies were all cast for party lists, a weird case defying a nationwide trend where a little more than 50 percent of voters who actually voted cast votes for party lists.

The Comelec knew for a fact that there are more than 300,000 multiple registrants in ARMM. Yet, the poll body gave a lame excuse for not purging spurious voters from its list allegedly because there was no more time and the system Comelec implemented is “incapable” of cleansing the voters’ list. The Comelec’s reasoning in this case only serves to further speculate its role in the commission of fraud in the elections.

The Comelec, thus, did not come any cleaner. The elections did not restore its credibility any more than the elections gave the administration a clean break from yet unresolved issues of its illegitimate rule substantiated, among others, by the 2004 Mindanao poll fraud detailed in the “Hello Garci” tape.

For one, the Comelec did not even investigate ARMM and Mindanao election officers whose names were mentioned in the “Hello Garci” tape and where they presided in regions where fraud in the elections was committed. These election officers were even promoted and occupied sensitive posts in the run-up to the 2007 mid-term elections.

As of this writing, special elections conducted in several Lanao del Sur towns and polling precincts erupts in mayhem. Elections, let alone clean elections, have become impossible in this region. So warped has the system become that no longer is it possible for the administration to impose itself on a people long alienated by the massacre of its race, their democratic will and their right to self-determination. (CenPEG)

The article for this issue is contributed by CenPEG Fellow Ely H. Manalansan, Jr.

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