As the national canvassing of votes for the recently-concluded senatorial and local elections continues to go full-swing, all eyes are on the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) -– as massive fraud is alleged to have taken place in two of the region’s provinces while failure of elections has been declared in another.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Vol. VII, No. 16 May 27-June 2, 2007
As the national canvassing of votes for the recently-concluded senatorial and local elections continues to go full-swing, all eyes are on the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) –- Sulu, Basilan, Tawi-Tawi, Shariff Kabunsuan, Lanao del Sur, Marawi City, and Maguindanao –- as massive fraud is alleged to have taken place in two of the region’s provinces while failure of elections has been declared in another.
Maguindanao and Sulu have aroused controversy for both delivering 12-0 victories for the administration coalition Team Unity. Meanwhile, a failure of election had been declared in 14 of the municipalities of Lanao del Sur.
The ARMM has a combined total of 1,381,467 registered voters, based on data from the regional office of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) there. Maguindanao has 212,795; Shariff Kabunsuan has 198,278; Lanao del Sur and Marawi City have 396,913; Basilan has 182,020; Sulu has 251,223; and Tawi-Tawi has 140, 238.
The size of the voting population in either Maguindanao or Sulu can affect the 11th and 12th slots in the senatorial race.
Based on the official Comelec count as of 7:30 p.m., May 25, Genuine Opposition candidates Antonio Trillanes IV and Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel are in the 11th and 12th slots, respectively.
The total number of registered voters in the entire ARMM is statistically enough to affect the rankings of all senatorial candidates.
Uncanvassed returns, pre-filled ballots
A May 25 report from the Task Force Poll Watch (TFPW) -– a joint effort by the progressive party-list bloc and the Genuine Opposition to monitor the counting of votes – reveals that up to 190 election returns (ERs) and 38 ballot boxes have yet to be canvassed in Pagalungan, Maguindanao.
“Up to now, the authorized Comelec officer has yet to collect the election returns and the 38 ballot boxes,” said Faizal Kalantungan, a member of Maguindanao’s Board of Election Inspectors (BEI), in an affidavit signed yesterday.
Kalantungan’s affidavit, which TFPW used as reference for its May 25 report sent to media, comes as a shocking disclosure considering that the Magundanao certificate of canvass (CoC) had been submitted to the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC), where the Comelec en banc is conducting the national canvassing of votes.
A TFPW fact-finding team sent to investigate the reported fraud in Maguindanao discovered that the 190 uncanvassed ERs mentioned in Kalantungan’s affidavit contained all the votes for eight out of 12 barangays (villages) in Pagalungan.
“It is highly irregular that the Provincial Board of Canvassers already finished canvassing ‘votes’ in Maguindanao while the ERs remain in the custody of poll officers at the municipal level,” said Satur Ocampo, first nominee of Bayan Muna (People First) which is among the initiators of TFPW.
“This is a clear case of election sabotage, a criminal and election offense,” Ocampo also said.
Kalantungan’s revelation comes on the heels of reports that teachers serving as election officials in Maguindanao were literally forced to deliver a 12-0 victory for senatorial candidates belonging to the administration coalition Team Unity.
In a news conference on May 20, the poll monitoring group Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente) –- headed by lawyer Carlos Medina –- stated that a teacher from Maguindanao had talked to its volunteers and said that election officials were ordered at gunpoint to fill the ballots with the names of Team Unity senatorial candidates, starting with those of Luis “Chavit” Singson and Prospero Pichay.
Aside from Singson and Pichay, Team Unity’s other senatorial candidates are: Juan Miguel Zubiri, Mike Defensor, Jamalul Kiram, Ralph Recto, Joker Arroyo, Mike Defensor, Edgardo Angara, Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, Teresa Aquino-Oreta, and Cesar Montano.
Not only that -– students and other children playing around on the school grounds were asked to mark the ballots with thumbprints and sign their names on the voters’ list.
Comelec chairman Benjamin Abalos has warned of the possibility of penalty should the Maguindanao teacher’s allegation “fail” to be substantiated. “We are also looking at the other side because unverified, invalidated reports, which cause alarm to our people, should not be tolerated and should not be left unpunished,” the Comelec chairman said in a press conference on May 22.
Lente even stated that the teacher said no actual voting took place in Maguindanao. “We request the Comelec to send an investigation team and talk to the common folk, look for indelible ink on their fingers because the teacher said the ink was not used,” Medina said.
Alongside Lente’s exposé came a report from Eric Alvia, secretary-general of the National Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), that Maguindanao Comelec officers withheld copies of provincial ERs from Namfrel volunteers.
Fr. Eduardo Tanudtanud, Namfrel’s Maguindanao chairman, said their volunteers were told that municipal election officers issued a verbal order to withhold the release of all copies of the ERs –- including the copy for Namfrel.
It is not only in Maguindanao that such occurrences have been reported. There were reports of similar occurrences in Sulu.
On election day, lawyer Raissa Jajurie, the only Lente lawyer assigned to Sulu, visited a number of polling precincts in the said province. “I was really taken aback by the massive cheating in the area,” she said in an account published in Mindanews.
This, she said, is what she witnessed in a school in one town (the identity of which she requested to be withheld):
“When I arrived, many of the rooms where the precincts were conducting business were closed, with a military guard right outside the door. When I tried to get in, I was told by the military that I could not, even if I showed him my (canvassing) ID.
“I peeped in and saw that there were people inside. I tried my luck in another building. I was able to get in. And I was shocked to see the BEIs (Board of Election Inspectors) writing on the ballots which had already been thumbmarked. They were writing the same list of candidates on each of the ballots. A man with a bolo was also near the BEI. A ballot box was open (without padlock) while ballots were being placed inside it.
“I saw the same thing (BEI writing on the ballots) being done in two precincts stationed on a stage (it is a school campus). When the BEI and other people around them realized that I was watching them, they whispered to each other but continued with their task. When I left, someone approached me and asked me what I was doing. I told him I’m a watcher, and showed him my IDs.”
In another school in the same town, Jajurie said, there were people “assisting” the voters. “There was no vote secrecy and voters, watchers and ‘other people’ were mingling in the rooms,” she said.
Jajurie said she had information that there were similar incidents in other towns in Sulu, but she admitted she had no opportunity to visit other areas.
The Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) has called for the declaration of a failure of elections in Sulu on account of what it described as the “massive fraud” that transpired in the said province.
In its preliminary post-election report released May 21, the election monitoring group Kontra Daya (Anti-Fraud) –- which has among its conveners former Vice President Teofisto Guingona, Jr., Fr. Joe Dizon, former Transportation and Communication Secretary Josie Lichauco, film director Carlitos Siguion Reyna, retired Army Col. Gerry Cunanan, and National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera –- noted that the occurrences in the ARMM seemed like a repeat of what transpired in the 2004 elections, where the said region was reportedly a major operating center.
“Kontra Daya finds significant the reports of Maguindanao province delivering a 12-0 sweep for administration senatorial candidates,” the group stated in its report. “There are incoming reports that Sulu province is also poised to deliver a 12-0 sweep for Team Unity. Such an overnight sweep, which the government attributes to overwhelming popular support for the administration, simply strains credulity.”
Kontra Daya has accused Malacañang of engaging in “large-scale electoral fraud” to favor its candidates in the senatorial and party-list elections. It has also denounced the Comelec for being “directly complicit with the Arroyo administration” in perpetuating fraud. Bulatlat