COMMENTARY: Miseducation of Muslim-Moro on electoralism

Not the least appropriate perhaps, one can say categorically, that there is strength in numbers after all to operate or manipulate 'electoralism'.  Far from there being a "free-Muslim Mindanao" conspiracy to eliminate the Bangsamoro people (and the MILF or the MNLF or the Abu Sayyaf) what they end up with is cooptation into money power politics.  A preliminary statement of twenty-one observers from the ANFREL (Asian Network for Free Elections) who spent eight days to watch the ARMM pre-election situation and Election Day activity may be a starting point for change.  Ballot secrecy folders were seen as ineffectual: Why? "This lack of secrecy can be very intimidating." How can it be? It can facilitate vote-buying by allowing voters, "to demonstrate their adherence to a previously struck bargain" says the observer.

Media reporters—read, more accurately opinion editors—are wrong to say that casting of votes or counting of ballots runs afoul in the ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) simply because Muslim-Moro individuals have low literacy rate.  What makes such comments most absurd is anti-Moro profiling of their leaders (if not out of discriminatory slant by sheer slur) who are perceived to keep them illiterate or uneducated enough to organize them into so-called "command votes" constituency.

And that is an essential point.  Things must change because political rights are granted to many people who are in no position to take full advantage of them. It makes sense to remind our people that it was former Comelec commissioner Haydee Yorac who had to pose: "Does Muslim Mindanao deserve elections?" That feisty lady had to utter those words in her fit of frustration with the clan politics of the late strongman of Lanao del Sur, Ali Dimpaoro.

Historically, the right to vote was extended to Muslims, in 1959, after considerable struggles and compromises.  Yet it takes a lot more logic (not magic) since the task of solving deficiencies in the election process falls on this republican State it being a societal dimension of citizenship.  A cycle of anomalies derived from deferred electoralism is in fact an outgrowth of its very predatory nature: ineluctable party operators, senatorial tail-enders, and inept election officers all prey on 'swing-vote areas' of the Bangsamoro people.

Not since the "Hello Garci" Tapes scandal has this country felt the troubling anomy that makes a mockery of the very substantive principle of legitimacy.  Good warning to our readers here as to what we make of democracy now: a presidency whose alibi family resemblance is a 'government of politicians' but not of 'good men'.  Thus in a functioning system the dictum 'government is best that governs least' applies only to separate the private from what is public.

Our best glimpse at what ails electoralism starts at central party nominations where only at the top politicians would control what decision is happening and why.  Little wonder 'dynastic slots are reserved seats' in majority or minority Coalitions.  Others of a progressive-wing bent like Bayan Muna and Gabriela embrace the trade via the party list nominations; in readiness, the faith-based sectors and right-leaning coup plotters seek their own accredited political mouthpieces, too.  Such is the parliamentary path that now undergirds broad-clientele-based conspiracy against the electorate in general, and in tandem with members of the fractious national political parties it logs on to the pork-barrel largesse networks.

What remains to account for is current proliferation of LGUs (local government units) where the distributive function of the IRA (internal revenue allotments) is really at work.  From experience, I contend, the national style of making politics perpetuates the dirty and dishonest electoralism.  Targeting LGUs of the Muslim region of

autonomy, the intended consequences are indeed disgraceful to us as it is a disservice to the whole country.  How can this electoral process relate to the "primacy of the peace process" is a policy consideration that must steer a course between engaging and restraining armed force with regard for constituency "command concerns."  Something similar happens here in regard to clan politics: If they cannot bring their acts together to focus on this, very little concerted action happens.

First of all, warning on blatant attempts to rig the recent the Lanao polls, we have no reason to disagree with Amando Doronila that such bad practice can "easily trigger the collapse of the century-old electoral system".  But this frame of analysis treats Philippine democracy as a method.  That is why he goes on to say, its viability precariously rests on electoralism. "Obviously poll-rigging schemes are mainly plotted in Manila," argues the Muslim lawyer Mehol Sadain who once served as a Comelec commissioner. The final step is "carried out by 'operators' who flock to Mindanao during election seasons."  It is the peak of manipulative corruption because the cornerstones of balloting—freedom and equality—are repressed and concealed.

Secondly, it is politically incorrect for political analysts to single out Muslim Mindanao just to tag it the main theater of electoral frauds in the Philippine polls.  People often ask me why there is no other viable option without national politicians taking charge of it. When regional specialist Kit Collier and Malcolm Cook look at Mindanao "a gamble worth taking" in terms of risk factor the more paradoxical danger is that "localized state failure provides national political benefits." None of the senatorial slates or any of the political parties put it in their election platform. Is there something more to it than money? Curiously I have talked to a lot of observers, and the hypocrisy of it is nothing short of outrageous pledging of the plight of conflict-affected areas in Mindanao.

Thirdly, what exactly is the point about the politico-strategic interests if not to undermine the arguments for retaining an armed body to fight for self-determination of the Bangsamoro people? Pragmatically, though, the lessons learned from MNLF's failure to vie and bid as electoral force only serve to resolve current MILF's stance of abstentionism from electoral politics.  Those who argue for the MILF post-conflict entry into electoral politics somewhat resembling IRA-Sinn-Fein slogan "the Armalite and ballot box" are overcome by realities of failed electoral process in the field.

Suffice is it to stress, aside from the expected support funds, most party local candidates run on the administration ticket to be entitled to the important election documents —statements of votes (SoVs), certificates of canvass (CoCs), election returns (ERs).  All controversies or anomalies surrounding results of the election arise from the preparation to filling out these forms. But equally critical the proclamations of winning candidates or electoral protests hinge on their proper completion.  It stands to reason why this stage is a watershed in jurisprudence for now enters lawyers and retainers. What initially starts as anomalous electoralism turns into lucre for legalism via "chamber lawyering" lurking in the background. What happens in deferred electoralism is that brokers or operators may or may not be tolerated by Comelec but opposing candidates try to cut deals from under them.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Datu Michael O. Mastura is a lawyer, historian and a member of the MILF peace panel).