Old-style violence stays despite automation

Published by rudy Date posted on May 12, 2010

The automated election system failed to bring change to Lanao del Sur, a traditional warlord and goon country of Mindanao, where violence and a low voter turnout marked Monday’s elections, as they did in the past.

The police, military and election watchdog groups reported incidents of killings, explosions, abductions and gunfights between opposing camps in this province, which has traditionally been the backdrop of the worst cases of dagdag-bawas (vote padding and shaving), when counting was done manually.

But voters in seven towns did not get a taste of the new automated system because teachers failed to show up for election duty as members of the Boards of Election Inspectors (BEIs) amid the climate of fear.

A failure of elections was declared in the towns of Masiu, Lumba Bayabao, Lumba Caunayan, Bayang, Tuburan, Sultan Marogong and Lumbatan because there were no teachers, and in Ganassi where there were no ballots.

The various incidents indicate that nothing has changed in Lanao del Sur. The violence, which ranges from verbal abuse to shooting that have been a regular feature of elections in Lanao del Sur and the Autonomous Region in Musim Mindanao (ARMM), even worsened this year.

It is no coincidence that the province has been a major arena for the production of fraudulent poll results, especially in the national voting. It was featured in the “Hello, Garci” scandal, the massive vote-rigging in the 2004 elections, with conversations between President Gloria Arroyo and then Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano recorded on tape.

On election day, two people—a 12-year-old boy and a 19-year-old-girl—were hit by stray bullets while they were inside a polling precinct at the Tugaya Central Elementary School in Tugaya town. The girl, Aslia Panda, was declared dead at the Amai Pakpak Provincial Hospital at 4 p.m. on election day.

Salic Ibrahim, head of the Citizens Coalition for ARMM Responsible Election (Citizens CARE), said there were no casualties from the bombings which he said were done by men “who are probably out to harass voters and disrupt the conduct of the elections.”

Lanao del Sur got a preview of the intensity of the violence as early as October last year when a bomb exploded at a voter registration center in Marawi City, killing three people and wounding 20 others.

Sources said many of those trying to enlist were would-be flying voters from Lanao del Norte intending to secure registration as Lanao del Sur voters. Each person was reportedly paid P100 as down payment for a promised P1,000, with free food and travel expenses, a big sum for people living in one of the country’s poorest regions.

Fraud starts at registration

Indeed, previous researches by Mindanews indicate that fraud and violence in Lanao del Sur usually began during the registration period when politicians and political operators maneuvered to pad the official roll of voters with names of flying voters. These flying voters were usually either non-residents or minors, or voters already registered in other precincts or localities in Lanao del Sur.

In 2007, most of the flying voters came from Iligan City and nearby Misamis Oriental towns while some were from Ozamiz City—a mix of Maranaos and non-Maranaos—hauled into the precincts in jampacked trucks.

This election is no different. Gov. Mamintal Adiong Jr. of Lanao del Sur disclosed that his camp estimated the province’s number of registered voters to be padded by more than 150,000. As of March 17 last year, total registered voters in Lanao del Sur for the May 10 polls was 459,012.

A Mindanews research after the 2007 election showed that the number of registered voters in Lanao del Sur had shot up to 396,913 that year from the 275,720 three years before, an increase that was statistically impossible.

Election day is when the numbers turn into actual votes and opposing camps guard each other’s voter base, herding supporters from their homes toward precincts and back.

The cooperation of precinct-level poll officials or the BEIs is a key element in having flying voters or multiple registrants operate. This includes not marking with indelible ink the point-finger of a person who just voted, or if at all, a non-indelible ink is used; or more brazenly, simply allowing those who are known to have voted, to vote as many times as they would like to.

For journalists who have long covered Lanao del Sur elections, one lingering image of this trick is that of a boy in his early teens in 2001 who emerged from a precinct and bragged about having voted 10 times in several nearby precincts as shown by all his fingers marked with indelible ink. The marks are a badge for collecting payment.

Another image is the reverse: A line of voters who came out of a precinct and showed no indelible ink marks on any of their fingers.

Coaching and dictation on who to vote for while already inside the polling center are fairly common practice. In 2007 when voters were to write names of candidates voted, there were precincts with no printed guides of the bets to choose from. Rather, only a select few of the candidates had their names in stickers pasted on the ballpens and desks that voters had to use when filling in the ballots. Additional guidance would come from the voter “coaches.”

Chances for more violence

The automated election system is supposed to have made dagdag-bawas passé. Hadji Abdullah Dalidig, chair of the non-government Islamic Movement for Electoral Reform and Good Government (IMERGG), said that with vote rigging at the counting and canvassing stages replaced by a quick and computerized count, the space for fraud maneuvers became centered on voter registration and actual voting, the stages where he said chances for confrontation and violence are high.

Dalidig cited adequate security cover as very significant in creating an atmosphere in which voters and poll officials would be free from intimidation or threats of physical abuse by opposing political camps.

“As you see, fraud is committed in an atmosphere of insecurity,” Dalidig said in an interview before the elections.

At the end of Monday’s election, the Western Mindanao Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines reported five incidents of bombing and four incidents of gun firing, resulting in one person killed.

The people of Lanao del Sur greeted the May 10 elections with much hope. On the road between Iligan and Marawi cities, billboards that read “Welcome 2010 Election, Hijrah from Haram to Halal! [Journey from forbidden to upright practices!]” are still visible.

These were hung by the IMERGG since mid-2009 to remind the Maranao electorate of the importance of reforming the way they conduct themselves as voters.

“The long-term process of changing the electoral landscape of Lanao del Sur must begin with voters. They are the most strategic element,” said Abdul Nasser Mangondaya, former provincial secretary-general of the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections.

Meantime, a “People’s International Observers Mission [PIOM]” has been monitoring events in the province since May 7 and will stay there until May 15.

“The goal is to assure that voters are protected and free to vote according to their conscience and that democratic processes are fully respected,” said a statement from the PIOM.

Joining the 22-man mission is Canadian Member of Parliament Don Davies.

“The role of the mission is to help ensure and to assess whether the conditions exist for the conduct of a free, fair and credible election in which Philippine citizens fully exercise their right to vote,” said mission member Randall Garrison.

VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. –RYAN ROSAURO, VICTORIA M. GLORIA and JULES BENITEZ Mindanews and Vera Files

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