The last two elections were the worst. The Commission on Elections under the chairmanship of Benjamin Abalos has not only appeared helpless but also seemed to have abetted the anomalous conduct of the elections under suspiciously partisan circumstances.
To be credible, an election does not have to be perfectly without cheating, frauds, irregularities, etc. and violence. To achieve this, the Commission must strictly, decisively and resolutely fulfill its constitutional mandate.
The 1987 Constitution in Article IX, Part C, Section 2 provides: “The Commission on Elections shall exercise the following powers and functions: (6) … investigate and, where appropriate, prosecute cases of violations of election laws, including acts or omissions constituting election frauds, offenses and malpractices.” (italics bold supplied).
The Constitution has given the Commission the power. But the Commission seemed powerless against blatant violations of election laws. For instance, vote-buying was rampant; overspending by candidates was evident; the statistically improbable increase of registered voters in Lanao del Sur by more than 40 percent was in the official record and media reports.
Obviously, the Commission justified its non-action on these election anomalies by the fact that no formal complaint had been filed against the violators. Yet, it has the constitutional mandate to investigate and, on finding appropriate evidence, prosecute the violators; it does not have to wait for formal complaints.
From Chairman Abalos down to regional election directors, the challenge to the complainants and media was to show proof – meaning in formal complaints. In Davao City, the regional election director told reporters that complaints have first to be filed with the city prosecutors before the Comelec can act on them.
There were more than enough reports of frauds and anomalies from the foreign observers and the accredited poll watchdogs. They have given the Comelec detailed accounts of “massive vote-buying, flagrant cheating and intimidation during the May 14 election” as observed by more than one million watchers.
But to the election officials, these reports formally submitted to the Comelec and published in the media are not proofs of election frauds and anomalies that must be investigated. The poll watchdogs should file formal complaints supported by sworn affidavits and evidence; otherwise, their detailed accounts would be as good as “tsismis” or rumors – in the words of Abalos.
There is a move to have the elections in Maguindanao and Sulu invalidated or set aside because of reports that the votes were manufactured by the administration leaders to give TEAM Unity a 12 – 0 sweep in Maguindanao and possibly the same in Sulu. The ballots were reportedly filled by a few people on or before May 14.
The no-voting in many parts of Maguindanao was reported by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and a school teacher only identified as “Bai” who confessed to lawyers of watchdog LENTE (Legal Network for Truthful Election) and talked by telephone to a Manila television.
This shocked Abalos into forming a task force to investigate but denigrated the report as rumor.
The teacher’s account that she and her fellow-teachers in the Board of Election Inspectors were ordered to fill the ballots was corroborated by a 51-year-old man who executed an affidavit about how he and his fellow BEI members were detained to fill up boxes of ballots. The man’s affidavit was among the several gathered by the GO-Party-list Task Force.
The task force took the affidavit of BEI poll clerk Faisal Kalantungan from Pagalungan attesting that 38 ballot boxes and 190 election returns she had been guarding had not been picked up as of May 24, yet the provincial canvass had been finished and brought to Manila – suggesting that the SOVs and COCs from Pagalungan canvassed in Shariff Aguak had been manufactured.
The Moro National Liberation Front and the Opposition were asking the Comelec to invalidate the election in Sulu. Like what allegedly happened in Maguindanao, the ballots were reportedly filled by members of the BEI and other people inside the precincts in broad daylight.
An account of the voting was written by lawyer Raissa Jajurie, Mindanao coordinator of the Sentro ng Alernatibong Lingap Panligal and lone representative of LENTE in Sulu. LENTE must have submitted the report to the Comelec. The story was published in MindaNews and the “At Large” column of Rina Jimenez-David in the Philippine Daily Inauirer.
The Opposition led by Sen. Panfilo Lacson gathered “scores of affidavit” together with video footages attesting that “no election took place in the second district of Sulu”. The voters were told to go home on Election Day, said lawyer Diego Palomares who, with his son Dunhill, gathered the affidavits. The Opposition planned to file charges against Sulu election officials.
The Comelec in Sulu looked utterly hopeless and helpless. James Jimenez, the Comelec spokesman, said (as of May 20) that it would take two weeks before they could get a clear picture of the Sulu election and the voters’ turnout. He advised the MNLF to file a formal petition to declare a failure of election in Sulu.
“Show proof”, was the response of administration election lawyer Romulo Macalintal to the calls for the exclusion of the Maguindanao votes. Legally, the foregoing reports were not yet proofs until submitted together with a formal complaint to the Comelec or the court.
Macalintal cavalierly stated that if there is evidence of fraud and irregularities in the preparation of the COCs, “we (TU) will join them (the Comelec and the Opposition) and we will not object to a special election.” He is concerned only with the “preparation of the COCs”.
Rep. Simeon Datumanong challenged those questioning the Maguindanao COCs “to present evidence of fraud in the province other than the testimony of one witness”. He told them “not to entirely blame the province of Maguindanao just because there is such an allegation made by an alleged persons that there was cheating in the province.” No proof can make the unseeing see.
The Sarmiento-led task force will investigate the alleged no-election in Maguindanao after the Lanao Sur special election – most probably this week. How will the task force go about its investigation? Will it expose the wrong and punish the wrongdoer? Or, will keep the wrong buried and shield the wrongdoer?