Last Monday, on reading the report about a teacher’s confession in Maguindanao that she and others had been forced to fill up ballots with names of TEAM Unity candidates the whole night before the May 14 election, Abalos called the report “alarming,” an attack on the “electoral system” and putting the “credibility” of the Commission “at stake.” (INQUIRER.net, May 22)
But at the same time, he “challenged the accusers” — the teachers — to present evidence with the guarantee that the Comelec would protect them. To call the teachers “the accusers” for exposing the anomaly and putting on them the burden of presenting evidence was evading the Commission’s primary burden of investigating the exposé that involved election officials.
Last Tuesday, he “threatened to penalize people or groups that exposed the alleged fraud should they fail to substantiate their claims which he described as ‘tsismis’ or rumors”. The threat was meant not only for the teachers but also for Lente (Legal Network for Truthful Election), the source of the Inquirer report. (INQUIRER.net, May 23)
“They could be liable for giving false and alarming information, which is a violation of our election code. That is an election offense,” he said. He could not believe “that allegations made by someone claiming to be a teacher over the phone would be taken at face value”.
Evidently, Abalos is referring to the Inquirer as the subject of his disbelief. But Lente was the one interviewed by telephone not the teacher who detailed to Lente lawyers how the voting had been done in the presence of armed guards.
Abalos exposed his mental set. To call the exposé “an accusation” and threatening all those involved in the exposé with penalty on failing to present evidence to “substantiate” the “accusation” was most alarming.
Abalos has formed a team headed by Commissioner Rene Sarmiento to probe the Maguindanao fraud. Namfrel, PPCRV (Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Election), Lente headed by Integrated Bar of the Philippines president Jose Vicente Salazar, and VForce (Volunteers for Clean Elections) led by former Comelec chairman Christian Monsod will help in the probe.
In the investigation, Abalos wants the PPCRV and Lente to reveal the sources of the exposé. The teacher will surely not come out with an affidavit nor will Lente reveal her identity otherwise she will be dead. How can the exposé be proven?
The regional and provincial election supervisors and other election officials will surely be invited to give their sides. Certainly, they will present documents to deny the report.
Even if the teacher and her companions will come out, can their words stand against the words of the Comelec officials and official documents? What evidence do the PPCRV and Lente have? The probe is headed for a whitewash.
If Abalos is not afraid to see the truth proven – the truth about the Maguindanao election last May 14 – he should go straight to the sources of the truth. These are already in the possession of the Comelec – the election returns, the certificates of canvass, and the ballot boxes.
He should order two ballot boxes – one from the population center and another from a remote voting center – from each of the 22 municipalities of Maguindanao flown to Manila. Let the Sarmiento team open these in the presence of the representatives of Namfrel, PPCRV, Lente and VForce and the Maguindanao election officials.
The 44 ballot boxes will tell whether there was voting or how the voting was done. They will either validate or invalidate the ERs and the COCs. The ballot boxes will eloquently prove the truth that no argument from the Comelec officials or “the accusers” can disprove.
This is the fastest and most credible way to find out the truth about the May 14 election in Maguindanao. The Sarmiento team can examine the ballots in the 44 boxes within one week or less. And this is the safest way, too, as no teacher will be identified.
There should be no legal impediment in doing this, especially that according to Abalos: “The credibility of the Commission has been put at stake. That’s why we are conducting an investigation.” (INQUIRER.net, May 22).
The sincerity of Abalos and the Commission is on test. Is the probe really to find out the truth about the voting in Maguindanao – that if there was no voting those responsible will be punished, failure of election will be declared and a special election held?
Or, is the probe intended to shield the Comelec and local government officials involved and to protect the 12-0 sweep of TEAM Unity senatorial candidates?
Last Monday, Abalos deferred the canvassing of the Maguindanao votes to Friday even before the Sarmiento team could start its investigation next week. The Board of Canvassers, Abalos said, could not totally disregard the results of the Maguindanao election “on a mere allegation” of an anonymous teacher. What then is the purpose of the investigation?
However, last Tuesday, the polls watchdogs asked the Comelec to defer the canvass of the Maguindanao votes and to discuss the alleged frauds. Later, Abalos announced the deferment — understandably beyond Friday until the completion of the probe. Monsod remarked: “We believe the Comelec is doing everything it can to make it a credible and effective investigation.”
Has Abalos changed his mindset? But unless, he orders the probe team to go directly to the primary source of truth – the ballot boxes – he will still be evading the truth.
("Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. The Titus Brandsma Media Awards recently honored Mr. Diaz with a "Lifetime Achievement Award" for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You can reach him at email@example.com.)