Elections in Maguindanao: The meaning of twelve-zero

What is important is we can rectify the negative impression that here in the ARMM, there is cheating,” he told MindaNews outside Precinct 01-A of the central elementary school here shortly after he cast his vote on May 14.

A month later, reports on electoral fraud continue to hound the six ARMM provinces – Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-tawi, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao and Shariff Kabunsuan.

But it is in his home province where the Commission on Elections in Manila has specially created a Task Force to investigate reports about alleged election irregularities, including claims no election was held at all because ballots were allegedly filled out on the eve of the elections and that it was statistically improbable that 19 senatorial candidates, including those from the Genuine Opposition, each got zero vote.

It is also in Maguindanao where a  failure of election, though being questioned now on technicalities, was declared by the Comelec on June 6.

Ampatuan was so confident Maguindanao would deliver a 12-0 victory for the Administration’s Team Unity senatorial ticket because Maguindanao “is an extension of the home province of Her Excellency, PGMA (President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo) which is Pampanga” and “considering that we have 20 mayors unopposed,  these 20 mayors are allies of the administration, even those areas with opponents – Pagalungan and Talitay – the opponents, are all allies of the administration.”

“So this is definitely 12-0 here?” MindaNews asked.

“Basically ganon ang mangyari pero iba ang sabihin ng 12-0. Ang meaning kasi ng 12-0 sa amin dito is yung first 12 candidates na boto ay in favor of Team Unity. Yung Opposition makakuha from 13 down to the last,” he said.  (Basically, that’s what’s going to happen but we have a different meaning for 12-0 here. The meaning of 12-0 here is that the votes for the first 12 candidates are in favor of Team Unity. The opposition can get from 13 down to the last).

Two days later, as expected, the Ampatuans delivered a 12-0 sweep for Malacanang.

But  Ilocos Sur Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson’s topping the race and Sultan Jamalul Kiram, the lone Moro in the Administration’s slate ranking 12th immediately raised howls of protest and cries of cheating. For indeed, how can a Mindanawon with a distinctly Moro family name (Kiram) place 12th and the political warlord from Ilocos Sur up north top the race in a predominantly Moro province down south?

Engr. Norie Unas, Maguindanao administrator and spokesperson of Governor Andal Ampatuan, did not respond directly to the question about Kiram’s landing 12th but said Kiram got more than twice the votes of GO’s Chiz Escudero, who placed 13th.

Unas credited the 12-0 sweep “to our 12-0 campaign.”

He said it was easy to focus the campaign on the national candidates because candidates in 20 of  22 towns in Maguindanao ran unopposed.  The provincial slate was also unopposed.

Singson’s victory in Maguindanao, he told MindaNews on May 16, was  because “people here can relate Chavit with Gov (Andal Ampatuan), both of them are governors and both of them are strong-willed.”

Also, he added, Singson visited Maguindanao twice or thrice during the campaign period.

Unas would, on May 17, be reported by the national media as saying that shura (Arabic for consultation) was behind the 12-0 sweep of Team Unity. 

When MindaNews asked Unas on June 6 about how scholars and religious leaders said his invoking the shura to explain the 12-0 sweep was wrong, he quickly replied: “I never invoked shura… I don’t even know what shura means.” (see other story)

On May 16, Unas told MindaNews that as of 11 a.m., the canvass showed Singson leading in 815 out of 1,115 precincts from 17 of 22 municipalities. Unas moved the calculator on his table nearer to him, made some computations and said, “that’s 73 per cent of the precincts.”

Behind him, boxes of what he claimed were copies of the election returns for the dominant party, were neatly stacked on the shelves, labeled according to municipality.

Shariff Aguak, which is where the Provincial Capitol is, is the vote-richest among the 22 towns with 27,386 registered voters; Buluan, 10,118; Mangudadatu , 4,683; Talitay, 4,121, and South Upi with 12,272. The five towns account for 58,580 registered voters out of the province’s 212,795 voters.

A floor below Unas’ office, at the session hall of the Sangguniang Panlalawigan in the still-to-be-inaugurated Provincial Capitol, the Provincial Board of Canvassers (PBC) was in a huddle, claiming it was on recess while awaiting the arrival of the certificates of canvass from the five towns of Maguindanao. It resumed session when a ballot box from Talitay was presented.

Only the PBC chair, Maguindanao election supervisor Lintang Bedol, vice chair Kanguan Pendi and member/secretary Shuaib Maulana, were present when Bedol turned to the microphone and announced the resumption of session.

There were no lawyers or watchers from the political parties for the senatorial level, no municipal board of canvassers, just a few members of the office staff and the Comelec’s tally recorders.

Whether or not the ballot box contained documents from Talitay, only Bedol and the two members of his Board can say.

For among the documents shown by Bedol to MindaNews, there was one on Talitay which showed how many of the town’s 4,121 registered voters “actually voted.”

There were no documents on Pagalungan even as it was among the 17 towns supposedly canvassed. It is also one of two towns where candidates have opponents.

In the afternoon of May 16, members of the Board of Election Inspectors in Pagalungan trooped to the Provincial Capitol here to present 38 ballot boxes and election returns from the eight barangays where they claimed elections took place, but they were not allowed inside.

Reelectionist councilors Omar Maglangit and Rahma Matalam said the ballots for the remaining four barangays (Pagalungan has 12) were seized by armed men early morning on election day and filled out in neighboring Montawal town. Affidavits have been executed by witnesses to support these allegations.

Pagalungan, a three-hour ride to this town, has 10,171 registered voters.  The four barangays whose ballots were counted and canvassed in Shariff Aguak accounted for some 2,800 votes.

Unknown to the BEI members  who waited outside the Capitol on May 16, the Comelec had proclaimed Ohto Montawal as mayor-elect and his father, the incumbent mayor, Macabangen, as vice mayor-elect of Pagalungan.

Son and father team got the same number of votes: 2,769 each. [Tomorrow: Getting zero: “through love or force”   (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)