COMMENT: Overdoing Does not Pay

It was easy for them to do it.  Gov. Andal Ampatuan, it was being touted, was so trusted by his followers that his choice of candidates was so respected.  Indeed, the mayors of Maguindanao’s 22 municipalities were his so that their followers were also the governor’s followers. That was one explanation of the 12-0 sweep.

Under the Maguindanaon social, cultural and traditional realities, loyalty to the leader and doing his wishes and commands are expected.  So the 12-0 TU sweep as Gov. Andal Ampatuan wished and commanded was credible.

The governor’s apologists gave the 12-0 sweep an Islamic explanation.  The governor consulted the mayors and the mayors consulted their followers.  In those consultations, the consensus was to give TU the 12-0 sweep.  That was the way of shura, a principle of consultation according to Islam and the Qur’an. Under that, the 12-0 TU sweep was credible.

Giving Away

But their acts gave away incredibility.  They did not allow media, Namfrel and Comelec-accredited election watchdogs and lawyers of candidates and parties to watch the canvassing. The two dominant parties and Namfrel did not receive copies of the municipal certificates of votes, statement of votes and election returns as the law required.    

These raised the questions: Was election really held in the province? Why was the provincial canvassing held behind closed doors? Why were copies of municipal CoCs, SoVs, and ERs not given to parties that are entitled to receive as provided in the Omnibus Election Code?

There was nothing wrong with the people voting according to consensus. But they must go to the polling places and cast their votes freely.  The votes must be counted and documented honestly with copies of the documents furnished the parties entitled to receive according to law. At the provincial canvassing, all parties concerned can check the votes being tabulated.

Exposed

Then the irregularity was exposed.  A teacher-member of the board of election inspectors started it; others followed later complete with affidavits. The exposès facilitated by election watchdogs hit media headlines.  The Comelec could no longer ignore the Maguindanao controversy and ordered an investigation then a re-canvass by a Special Board of Canvassers.

What did the SBC discover? The provincial election supervisor could not provide provincial statement of votes, municipal CoCs, SoVs, ERs and summary of votes. It found the zero votes for 19 candidates statistically improbable. Last Wednesday, June 6, the Comelec declared a special election in Maguindanao to be held on June 20 after the SBC had declared failure of election (INQUIRER.net, June 7).

Failure of election! The price Maguindanao has to pay for giving TU a statistically improbable 12-0 sweep over GO with 19 GO and other candidates getting zero votes in the 22 municipalities.

What embarrassment for Gov. Andal Ampatuan! And, together with adverse reports about election in Sulu and Lanao del Sur, it belies ARMM Gov. Zaldy Ampatuan’s assurance that the May 14 election will “rectify the negative impression that here in the ARMM there is cheating” (MindaNews, May 15).

Mockery

But here’s the hitch.  The Commission on Elections appears to be overdoing its leniency — reconsidering its orders even before the Maguindanao governor could ask for reconsideration and against more than enough evidence to nullify the votes.

MindaNews (June 6) reported:

Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, commissioner in charge of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao told MindaNews there would be a hearing on Monday in Manila to give the parties a chance to say their piece on the matter.

Comelec Chairman Benjamin Abalos told the press conference in Manila that the Comelec summoned proclaimed winners in Maguindanao – from governors down to the councilors – to appear before the National Board of Canvassers in Pasay City at 10 a.m. Monday morning “to explain (their proclamation)”.

He said the Comelec will uphold the proclamation of who won in Maguindanao if the municipal board of canvassers produces the required election documents. Failing to produce the documents, Comelec will void the proclamations and schedule the special election.

GMA News TV quoted Abalos as saying that “as of today there is a failure of election but it can be overturned upon presentation of documents.  It is up for them to prove or disprove this (failure of election).  Sa ngayon kasi ang hawak naming record ay wala” (as of now, we have no records).

This is the height of mockery and the Comelec is allowing itself to be mocked! No documents were presented to the SBC to validate Maguindanao provincial canvass because the documents did not exist. Abalos is encouraging the Maguindanao provincial and municipal election officials to fabricate documents to overturn its declaration of failure of election.

Why would the Comelec overdo its leniency? It has already done more than enough. Instead of reminding Maguindanao leaders that overdoing their style of election does not pay, Abalos is encouraging them to do it every election as it does pay.

Making Sense

What would make sense is for the Comelec to cancel the meeting with the proclaimed Maguindanao candidates on Monday and make final the failure of election as determined by the SBC. The integrity of any documents that may be presented will be gravely suspicious and unacceptable under the election laws.

If after the canvassing of the votes from Basilan, Lanao del Norte and Surigao del Norte, the Maguindanao votes will be crucial to the final ranking of the three senatorial candidates in the 11th, 12th and 13th places, then hold a special election for the three senatorial candidates and the municipalities of Pagalaungan and Talitay only.

The top ten senatorial candidates have already been proclaimed. The candidates for provincial positions, for Congress and for municipal offices in 20 other municipalities were unopposed.  There is no sense including them in the special election. If the Maguindanao votes will no longer make a difference in the senatorial race, have special election in the two towns only.  

Holding special election when not necessary is overdoing it and considering money and effort wasted, it does not pay.

(“Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section
of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from
the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to
Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your
comments to patpdiaz@mindanews.com)

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