LANAO DEL SUR POLLS SPECIAL REPORT: Patterns of Vote-buying and Forms of Cheating

Pahibalo! Hangyoon namo ang mga igsoon namong mga Kristianos nga mga FLYING VOTERS SA LUMBATAN. Maglikay ta ug kasamok. Ayaw gayod kamo adto sa Lumbatan (Warning! We ask our Christian brothers who are flying voters in Lumbatan. Avoid trouble. Do not go to Lumbatan).

At the same time, a respected Maranao leader, Region 10 Director Mandangan Darimbang of the Land Transportation and Franchising Regulatory Board, went on radio in nearby Cagayan de Oro warning Christian flying voters that something bad will happen to them if they go to Lanao del Sur on election day.

The warnings were unheeded. Hundreds of flying voters still went to Lanao del Sur to vote on May 14. They came on dump trucks, hired vans and other means of transportation.

The threat against the flying voters was real. Gunmen shot and killed three residents of Iligan City and Lugait, Misamis Oriental in the busy Bangolo district in Marawi City on May 13, said Col. Raynard Ronnie Javier, chief of the Army 103rd Brigade.”

Electoral fraud in Lanao del Sur does not begin on election day. It starts on registration day when politicians would bring in “flying voters” from as far away as Misamis Oriental and Iligan City to vote in the province.

An indicator of the presence of “flying voters” would be the sudden increase of registered voters in Lanao del Sur. During the 2004 presidential elections, there were only 275,72 voters in Lanao del Sur in the 2004 presidential elections and 2005 elections for the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao.

For the May 2007 election, the number of registered voters suddenly shot up to 396,913 voters – a number that is “statistically impossible” since the birth rate of Marawi City is only 2.96 percent and 3.92 percent for Lanao del Sur a year.

Votes being bought have prices ranging from P1,000 to P7,000 in some areas in Lanao del Sur province, according to the watchdogs’ accounts.

The amount will be higher if the candidate is linked to a drug syndicate,” said Dalidig. He said local drug lords want to be elected to acquire some legitimacy and protection from the police.

While most local drug syndicates operate outside Lanao del Sur, many of the drug lords reside in the province. In 2002, police identified the towns of Buadi Puso and Maguing as among the haven for local drug lords.

Dalidig said local drug lords crave to be elected as mayors so they can have respectability and a legal front for their lavish lifestyles.And for those politicians who are not drug lords, Dalidig said it’s the “Maratabat,” a compelling Maranao social value that denotes honor and sensitivity of rank, that drives them to buy votes to win.

He said it is the custom of the Maranaos for relatives of the candidate to rally behind him, offering financial and other forms of assistance. “Losing in an elections means the family will lose face. The family will do everything so their relative will win,” Dalidig said.

Dalidig said flying voters were able to register legally in Lanao del Sur because many of the election officers involved in the cheating in the 2004 presidential elections, are still in place.

He said these election officials formed the network of former Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano who was accused of cheating for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in 2004.

The accusations, however, were not proven in court.

Dalidig said local politicians paid bribes of P200 to the corrupt election officers to register the flying voters in Lanao del Sur.

He said corrupt election officials also charge P25 for every vote they can add to a senatorial candidate and P 50 for candidates for the Lanao del Sur provincial board.

The cheating in Lanao del Sur will continues so long as these election officials will not be removed from office,” he said.

Another strategy is to “preserve” election paraphernalia by local election officials who would not tear up excess ballots as required by law.

Another way to cheat, according to the watchdogs, is the practice of election officials of reading the names in the voter’s list instead of “first come, first served.” This practice is highly anomalous since a corrupt election official can purposely omit the name of a voter whom he or she suspects will be voting for another politician.

Local politicians also bribe local election officials to make “last-minute changes” on the composition of board of canvassers in a particular town.

“Politicians do that especially if they think their opponents have already the board of canvassers in their pay. A change of canvassers will level the playing field,” Ibrahim said.

Filling in the blank spaces

Most voters in the province did not bother to write down the names of the senatorial candidates of their choice. This is because they are more interested in local politics because of the intense rivalry of the clans. This also means that many of the ballots have blank spaces in the senatorial line-up. “Anybody can fill in those blanks,” said Ibrahim.

Minors were also allowed to vote in many precincts. C-Care caught minors voting in Madalum town. But Comelec special action officer Roy Prule, who was assigned to supervise the elections in Butig town, said they could not do anything against the minors because the names were in the voters' list.

"We are not from here so we do not have intimate knowledge of the voters," said Prule, who is the regular election officer of Sinacaban town in Misamis Occidental.

Ibrahim said most of the known methods of cheating come during the counting and canvassing of ballots. In most cases, the board of canvassers will use “the dagdag-bawas” adding or subtracting the votes for their favored candidates.

In the face of an imminent loss, local politicians resort to the tried and tested tactic of employing goons to sow violence.