With all its seriousness, the question is intriguing as well as amusing. Was there an election? It depends on which side of the border you are, what you mean by "election", and what really took place on that day and the days before.
To people outside the border of Maguindanao, the troubling questions are:
First: How could TEAM Unity make a clean sweep contrary to the nationwide trend? Both in the media and Namfrel (National Movement for Free Election), Genuine Opposition was dominating 8 against 2 TU and 2 Independents.
Second: Who would believe that Luis "Chavit" Singson, a Christian, would top the Maguindanao election and Sultan Jamalul Kiram III, a Muslim, would land only on the twelfth, the last slot? Singson was 23rd or 24th nationwide. In all past elections, a Muslim senatorial candidate always topped in Muslim Mindanao provinces.
Third: While possible, is it credible to have a 93.5% turnout in the province — a 99.8% in one municipality and 98.85% in another? The turnout is contrary to conditions prevailing in interior municipalities and villages.
But to Gov. Andal Ampatuan, his leaders and the mayors of the 22 municipalities, the trouble is in the unfamiliarity of the Muslim custom and tradition to people outside especially in Manila, Luzon and the Visayas. They don't understand "the shura, a system of consultation".
Under this system, Governor Andal, his leaders and the mayors consulted the people and they reached a consensus to vote straight TU. What was wrong with that?
Shura, explained provincial administrator Norie Unas, is a distinct political reality in the context of the teachings of Prophet Muhammad. Failure to heed the consensus is sanctioned. The people of Maguindanao had agreed to vote straight TU. That explained the 12-0 TU sweep.
Normally, the shura, as a practice of the Muslims according to their religion, should be respected without question. But questioning the TU 12-0 sweep does not necessarily question the shura but the circumstances pertaining to how it was exercised last election –
granting that there was really consultation in the way of shura.
Were there consultations days before May 14? Were these done in the village, barangay or municipal level? Perhaps, in the village level only. Villages are spread out in the barangay and so are the barangays in the municipality. Were these consultations in the way of shura?
Most probably, Governor Ampatuan consulted the mayors who later consulted the barangay heads who consulted the village leaders and who, finally, consulted the voters under them. In all these consultations, the consensus was to vote straight TU. Is this the way of shura?
However, could this also have happened? Governor Andal ordered the mayors– with a P1-million incentive – to order their barangay heads to order the village leaders to order the voters to vote straight TU – utos ni Gobernor Andal (on orders of Governor Andal). This is not shura but it could be made to appear as one.
Unas explained (INQUIRER.net, May 20) that among Muslims, the decision of the leader is highly respected. Ampatuan's choice of voting straight TU was respected because he is both governor and spiritual leader of the Maguindanaons.
This virtually let the cat out of the bag: The conditions and mechanism to exercise shura appeared not to exist. So, consultation in the way of shura could be doubted. And, with the cat came the gut question: Did election actually take place?
In expressing disbelief that Singson could be No. 1 and Kiram No. 12, GO spokesman Adel Tamano, a Muslim, obviously knew that no shura had taken place. The ranking of TU candidates was prearranged. Tonypet Albano's (TU spokesman's) explanation that Singson was a top vote-getter and Kiram did not mind placing twelfth only widened the
visible cracks in the shura mask.
MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) spokesman Eid Kabalu (INQUIRER.net, May 18), citing reports, said there was no actual conduct of election in many parts of Maguindano and that election paraphernalia did not reach some polling precincts in the province.
Romy Guiamel, chair of the Citizens' Action for Responsible Elections, tried to belie Kabalu's report (INQUIRER.net, May 20). That, obviously, voters in population centers "trooped to their precincts" did not mean the report of no actual election "in many parts of
Maguindanao" was a lie.
Then came the bombshell (INQUIRER.net, May 21) that the elections "actually happened in the dead of night …." in some areas of Maguindanao. This was revealed to Lente (Legal Network for Truthful Elections) , the legal arm of PPCRV (Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting), by a teacher who, together with the Board of Inspectors, stayed the whole night before May 14 filling up the ballots.
Maguindanao Namfrel chair Edward Go said that the votes were counted at the capitol in Shariff Aguak, not in the polling places. No Namfrel volunteer was allowed to watch. Namfrel was not given the sixth copy of the election returns, as required.
A MindaNews report (May 18) said that during the canvassing "no lawyers or watchers from political parties for the senatorial level" were present – "just a few members of the (governor's) office staff and the Comelec's tally recorder".
To those who are very familiar with elections in Maguindanao – dating back to the Empire Province of Cotabato – the MILF report and the teacher's story were not news. These have happened ever since and will happen ever more.
I think this was what happened: In population centers, voters trooped to the polling places and cast their votes – whether on their own or as dictated by the datus is an open question. In remote areas, where going to voting centers was difficult, voting was as the teacher reported.
Whether the ballots in the ballot boxes were tallied is another open question. It is most probable that the ERs (election returns) and COCs (certificates of canvass) were justfilled up following lists of candidates ranked according to votes calculated not to exceed statistical probability. The ranking was the same in all precincts — the votes varied as determined by the board of inspectors.
These are speculations since the prevailing circumstances are conducive to speculation. The challenge is how to prove that there was no election – only selection under the cover of shura.
Carlos Medina, convenor of Lente, challenged Comelec Chairman Benajmin Abalos "to act urgently" – without demanding documentary evidence.
Inspecting the election documents and interviewing people on-the-know but who are afraid to talk openly will yield the evidence.
TU spokesman Joseph "Ace" Durano (INQUIRER.net, May 21) urged the Comelec to verify immediately "the integrity" of the ERs in Maguindanao "to clear its name from alleged cheating".
Will the Comelec rise to the challenge? If not, will Genuine Opposition file a complaint with the Commission on Elections and pursue the case up to the Supreme Court if necessary?