LETTER FROM MINDANAO: Bedol’s “stolen” documents

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/13 June) — Maguindanao election supervisor Lintang Bedol claimed on June 11 that the election documents from the province’s 22 towns were stolen on May 29 from his office in Shariff Aguak, Maguindanao.

Bedol should have announced to the world that the office of this supposed independent body, the Commission on Elections, is on the ground floor of the still-to-be-inaugurated provincial capitol, a heavily-guarded building in a heavily-guarded compound.

There was no forcible entry, he said, because the office was reportedly left open (ergo, not robbery, eh, just theft? Then again, why was it not locked? And why did it take him 13 days to announce the documents were stolen?)

So none of the heavily-armed guards on every floor of the Capitol saw the thieves carrying the documents? Oh, c’mon…

Unless of course they have not left the compound since? (Hahaha, am trying to be funny),

Curiously, the Philippine National Police in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao had not received as of 5 pm of June 13, any report from the Maguindanao police on the alleged stealing of documents in the Comelec on May 29.

Seriously, while Bedol’s previous pronouncements were already increbedol, er, incredible, this claim about documents stolen from his office is simply too much. Tama na, sobra na, please lang po,

Comelec chair Benjamin Abalos, however, cannot escape blame here. First, why was Bedol, whose name was mentioned several times in the “Hello Garci” wiretapped conversations between President Arroyo and former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, as the man who would “gagawa ng paraan” (find a way), not reassigned elsewhere when in neighboring Region 12, Abalos  reshuffled the election supervisors there?

Second, why is Task Force Maguindanao investigating election irregularities in Maguindanao in the comforts of airconditioned halls in Metro Manila?

The Task Force was created a week after May 14 when reports of fraud had surfaced, among them from a person who claimed to be a teacher from Maguindanao who phoned DZRH in Manila to say no elections were held in Maguindanao.  That was a few days after May 16 when news broke out that Maguindanao delivered a 12-0 sweep for the administration’s Team Unity.

Oh sure, Task Force Maguindanao’s first chair, Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, he who promised poll watchdogs they would be allowed to participate in the investigation, resigned as Task Force chief on May 28, citing health reasons.

Very few, however, believe Sarmiento resigned for that reason. Senator Aquilino Pimentel said it’s likely Sarmiento resigned “due to intense pressure from certain
powerful forces that are making it difficult to conduct an honest-to-goodness probe of the rampant anomalies in the Maguindanao elections.”

In Sarmiento’s stead is Commissioner Nicodemo Ferrer who is supposed to chair the Task Force but is always sidelined by the media-savvy Abalos that one would think, as I mistakenly did, that the Task Force has not been working. I guess my mindset was Task Force Maguindanao would investigate election irregularities in Maguindanao in Maguindanao and not in the comforts of airconditioned halls in Metro Manila.

Ferrer was quoted by The Manila Times on June 13 as saying that he saw no reason to go to Maguindanao because “I can base whatever I need to know on the documents.”

But documents can precisely be manufactured!  If Task Force Maguindanao was bent on finding out what happened during the crucial week between May 10 and 17 in Maguindanao, it should have gone to Maguindanao and asked around; it should have seen for themselves how impossible are Bedol’s claims that documents could be stolen from the heavily-guarded provincial capitol.

Among others, the team could also have checked on the ballot boxes in Pagalungan which local Comelec officials have refused to receive, and go into executive sessions to interview persons who want to testify but are afraid to come out in the open.

On June 6, when Abalos was reported to have announced the declaration of a failure of election in all 22 towns of Maguindanao,  a move immediately questioned, he was also reported to have summoned all proclaimed winners of Maguindanao to Manila to show proof of their proclamation.

“All” means 233 of them to Manila  (congressman, governor and vice governor, 10 provincial board members, 22 mayors, 22 vice mayors and 176 councilors), most of them incumbents.

At a very conservative estimate of P10,000 each for plane fare, overnight stay and food, that’s easily P2.33 million.

We haven’t even added the cost of bringing at least 23 election officers from the province —  the 22 municipal election officers and Bedol — back to Manila. Again at a very conservative estimate of P10,000 each, that’s still P230,000.

If the Comelec had sent Task Force Maguindanao to Maguindanao immediately,  that would have cost taxpayers very much less since there would be a few members of the team, the poll watchdogs who would have participated would be taking care of their own expenses and going around Maguindanao. Best of all, talking to the people there would have given them the ground truthing badly needed by a Task Force investigating fraud.

In Bisaya, we have a phrase that defies English translation but best describes how increbedol, er, incredible the Comelec has become on the Maguindanao drama: “ambot sa langaw, pilay idad sa ok-ok.”

Literally translated, that means  “I don’t know about the fly, how old is the cockroach?” (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. You may email the author at carol@mindanews.com or visit www.carolynoarguillas.com)