COMMENT: Infinitely Told Tales

What’s special about that? In the Philippines, we have election stories that we can publish as Infinitely Told Tales. Every election time, the tales are retold in slightly different versions according to emerging craft in winning elections — keeping interest ever fresh, dramatic, intriguing, tense, climactic, tragic and sometimes comic.

Maguindanao: TU 12-0

True to his promise, Maguindanao Gov. Andal Ampatuan gave the administration TEAM Unity a 12-0 sweep in his province. No, No, No! The opposition Genuine Opposition bets did not get zero-vote.  Their votes were in five figures putting the sweep within statistical probability.

Sweeping out opponents in Maguindanao has never been a problem.  There were times when opponents were swept out with all their candidates getting zero-vote – at other times, one or two, ten at the most.  The practice has stopped since statistical improbability became a ground for election protest.

Adel Tamano, spokesman of Genuine Opposition, said of the Maguindanao tale:  “It stinks to high heavens.” He was intrigued why Luis “Chavit” Singson, a Christian, was No. 1 while Sultan Kiram Jamalul was No. 12. For that, TU spokesman Tonypet Abano chided him for committing a “racial slur” against Singson.

According to Philippine Daily Inquirer (May 17), with Maguindanaon Nash Maulana reporting, the 12-0 TU sweep was “the power of the shura at play – a system of consultations where people are encouraged to reach a consensus on matters of public concern, elections among them”.

The system which is according to the Qur’an must be respected by the Christians. But it should be asked: Was there a general consultation of the electorate in Maguindanao prior to the May 14 voting?  Or, did Governor Ampatuan simply call the 22 mayors and tell them whom to vote for? Who actually did the voting?

Tamano, a Maranao, knows the shura.  And he must know, too, whether the shura is really done in elections in the Muslim provinces or it is just used as a cover of the traditional practice wherein the subjects vote according the dictate of their datu? Obviously, Tamano knows how Singson became first and Kiram last.  That is what stinks!

The 90 percent turn out in Maguindanao – 99.8% in Datu Unsay and 98.5% in Datu Anggal Midtimbang – is also an infinitely told tale. There were times in the past when voting was 100 percent or even more.

What happened in Maguindanao last may 14 had been essentially the election I had seen in the more than 40 years that I had covered Maguindanao elections dating back to 1957 in undivided Empire Province of Cotabato.  In reality, what they call election is selection.

And so, the tale will continue to be told and retold, revised.


Slow Canvass

Whether in the Quick Count of Namfrel or in the official canvass of the Comelec, election returns were slow in coming in.  Two days after Election Day, election returns from five barangays of Shariff Aguak, capital of Maguindanao, and from the towns of Buluan, Magudadatu, Talitay and South Upi had not arrived at the canvassing center.

In Sultan Kudarat Province, only the votes from Tacurong City and Columbio had been canvassed as of 10 a.m. of May 17. Namfrel reported the delayed arrival of election returns and certificates of canvass from 10 other municipalities.  There should be no reason for delay from Isulan, the capital, and nearby municipalities of Lambayong, Esperanza, Quirino and Lutayan.  (MindaNews, May 17)

In Iligan City, as of 4 p.m. May 17, only 124 (12.35%) of the 1,004 precincts had been canvassed. Namfrel reported that the slow canvass was due to the careful scrutiny of the returns by the Comelec, improperly accomplished returns, and questions and objections from the lawyers of candidates. (MindaNews, May 17)

Slow canvass is nationwide. Legal questions and objections are not a cause for alarm.  But the holding up of the delivery of the ERs and COCs to the canvassing center is alarming – the results could be manipulated.  ER envelops without or with broken seals could be signs of ER tampering.

The practice has been this: Candidates hold up the delivery of ERs and COCs in their bailiwicks while monitoring the on-going canvassing. They would have the vote figures changed to cover up their vote deficiencies in the on-going canvass.


“Almost all political candidates in Misamis Oriental and Cagayan de Oro City cheated and bought votes to ensure their victory,” Namfrel and PPCRV (Parish Pastoral Council for Reposnsible Voting) reported from Cagayan de Oro City. (MidnaNews, May 18)

“The credibility of every winning candidate will be tainted because of the massive vote-buying and cheating we witnessed in the last election,” MindaNews quoted Ermin Pimentel of Namfrel.  Candidates also engaged in other forms of cheating including disenfranchisement of hundreds of voters.

The Cagayan de Oro City experience happened nationwide according to various media reports. This is one of the infinitely told tales.  Election after election, the Comelec has been tolerant of and indifferent to vote-buying. 

In Davao City, Comelec spokesperson Melcar Unso told MindaNews the poll body will not entertain complaints of vote-buying unless reported first to the City Prosecutor’s Office which Comelec has deputized to attend to vote-buying cases. If this is the policy of the Commission, it is making difficult the filing of vote-buying complaints.

The Omnibus Election Code has very stringent rules against vote-buying – so stringent that if strictly enforced Philippine elections would have no candidates. But it appears that the Comelec is encouraging vote-buying by its tolerance and indifference.

De-listing, List-padding

Disenfranchisement is an eternal complaint in Philippine elections.  Voters cannot find their precincts.  How does this happen? To quote the poet Robert Browning, “Let us count the ways.”

The voters’ names may be omitted in the preparation of the lists to be posted outside of the precincts. The voters may have forgotten their precinct numbers and not verified these days before voting day. Their names may have been transferred to other precincts but have not been properly notified.  Voters may not vote because of terrorism.

The third cause is most controversial. Comelec officials are accused of transferring voters from bailiwicks of the opponents of their favored candidates – usually candidates of the party in power or of political kingpins. The accusation cannot just be dismissed.

The first three causes amount to de-listing.  The opposite is list-padding which is done through “flying voters” or registering children 15 to 17 years of age. This was what obviously happened in Lanao del Sur – its 275,572 registered voters in 2004 increased by 44.03 percent (121,341) to 396,913 in 2007.  This happened in other parts of the country.

It’s discouraging to note that the Comelec appears to be as helpless in coping with disenfranchisement and list-padding as it is against vote-buying and other election frauds and irregularities. Perhaps, the Comelec is finding the infinitely told tales entertaining. ("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.")