Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Mindanao poll fraud detailed

Poll watchers report to Comelec

By Cathy C. Yamsuan, Jolene Bulambot, Charlie Señase, Nash Maulana, Edwin Fernandez
Mindanao Bureau, Inquirer, Visayas Bureau
Last updated 02:34am (Mla time) 05/24/2007

MANILA, Philippines -- Poll watchdogs Wednesday gave detailed accounts of massive vote-buying, flagrant cheating and intimidation -- including death threats to a foreign observer -- in Mindanao during the May 14 elections.

The price of a vote ranged from P1,000 to P7,000 in some areas in Lanao del Sur province, according to the watchdogs’ accounts.

“Not even the Manila city jail can accommodate all the corrupt people in our area,” lawyer Nasser A. Marohomsalic, a member of the executive committee of the legal group Lente, told reporters.

Ranking officers of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), Legal Network for Truthful Elections (Lente) and Citizens’ Action for Responsible Elections (C-CARE) took turns detailing how rampant cheating took place in Lanao del Sur.

The officers submitted their report to the Commission on Elections (Comelec).

The Comelec has ordered special elections in at least 13 towns in the province, where voting could not be held because of the presence of armed goons.

Marohomsalic said one supporter of a candidate in Ramain-Ditsaan town even had the audacity to offer P300 to a foreign observer, an Indonesian female he identified only as Marini.

Marohomsalic surmised that the person mistook Marini for a Filipino given her Malay features.

“Most buyers were inside the polling precincts coaching voters. Witnesses included local and foreign observers,” the watchdogs said in a statement.

250 votes each; only 169 voters

Marohomsalic said a Pakistani observer asked another person offering bribe money in exchange for votes in Bacolod-Kalawi town if what he was doing wasn’t illegal.

“The person only answered, ‘Do you want me to kill you’? (Gusto mo patayin kita?)’,” Marohomsalic said in a press conference.

Namfrel chair for Marawi City Mama B. Palawan presented an election return (ER) showing all 12 senatorial candidates of Team Unity (TU) sweeping the elections in Barangay Punod.

The TU candidates garnered 250 votes each even if the barangay only had 169 registered voters.

“Maybe even the ghosts voted there,” he remarked.

Palawan said the stranger thing was that an “unheard of” party-list group called NELFFI, or Novelty Entrepreneurship and Livelihood for Food, also swept the party-list race in the same barangay.

Watchers barred

Palawan also noted what he called an “oversupply” in ERs after getting his hands on two ERs with different serial numbers but reporting the same results in a single barangay.

There was also an ER accomplished without the signatures of any of the election inspectors save for a faded thumbmark which Palawan said looked like it was made with “a child’s thumb or a cat’s paw.”

A PPCRV volunteer identified as Nursaide Dipatuan was mauled by still unidentified men inside the campus of the Mindanao State University.

“His face was smashed,” the lawyer said.

The watchdogs’ statement said watchers of PPCRV and another group were denied access by the board of canvassers (BOCs) to polling precincts in several towns.

Marahomsalic said the BOCs were assisted by “members of the (Philippine National Police) and soldiers.”

During the provincial tabulation, said watchers from PPCRV, C-CARE, and Namfrel were not allowed to observe the tabulation of election returns held at the Lanao del Sur provincial capitol and the MSU campus.

Watchers were also barred by BOCs from monitoring the canvassing in Marawi City National High School.

No indelible ink

Other charges detailed in the report to Comelec included:

• Failure to apply indelible ink on the fingers of those who had voted.

• Proliferation of campaign materials inside the polling areas.

• Placement of ballot boxes and other election paraphernalia outside the polling precincts.

In many areas, votes were already being tabulated at the municipal level while ERs remained unaccomplished.

Marohomsalic said volunteers who were raising objections during the tallying at the precincts and during provincial canvassing were simply ignored by canvassers and election inspectors.

The disclosures of flagrant cheating in Lanao del Norte followed revelations earlier this week by a public school teacher in Maguindanao that she and other teachers were forced at gunpoint to fill out ballots with the names of TU candidates.

Lanao del Sur and Maguindanao are part of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) -- scene of alleged cheating in favor of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo during the 2004 presidential election, according to the “Hello Garci” tapes.

Comelec officials in cahoots

Fresh accounts of how cheating supposedly occurred in Maguindanao emerged Wednesday. One account came from a teacher who acted as a member of the board of election inspectors (BEI) in one town of that province.

The alleged Maguindanao fraud gave the TU candidates a sweeping 12-0 victory in the province.

Interviewed through her cellular phone on the program “Arangkada” aired over ABS-CBN-Cebu’s dyAB, the teacher, who identified herself as Bai, accused local Comelec officials, the police and the military of collusion in committing fraud.

Bai reiterated there were no elections in Maguindanao since the teachers were ordered to fill out the ballots starting at 11 p.m. on the eve of the May 14 polls.

She also said that representatives from Namfrel were prohibited from entering voting centers in Shariff Aguak.

Bai said that she knew her life, along with those of the other teachers, was in danger but she had to expose the truth.

She said two other teachers were willing to attest to her statement.

Probe welcomed

Bai said nobody went to the polling precincts on Election Day and that anyone could see that the people who supposedly had voted had no marks of the indelible ink on their fingers.

Another whistle-blower, named “Kareem,” said in Filipino on GMA television network:

“We were given a list of senators. That was what we wrote on the ballot. It was 12-0 for TU,” said Kareem.

“We were the ones who actually wrote the names on the ballots. Look at the handwriting on the ballots. Only three people did it. The handwritings were the same.”

Maguindanao provincial administrator Norie Unas said the provincial government was willing to help in the Comelec probe of alleged election fraud in the province.

“The provincial government is ready to assist them in any way to help clear the festering issue once and for all so this thing will already rest,” Unas said.

Education officials in ARMM Wednesday led hundreds of local public school teachers to the provincial capitol in Shariff Aguak to denounce the unnamed teachers who alleged there was wholesale poll fraud in the province.

“Whoever they are, they should come out into the open with their identities so as not to destroy the image of the other teachers,” local education official Udtog Kawit said.

‘Grand design’

Unas, who is also the spokesperson for Gov. Datu Andal Ampatuan, described the Maguindanao poll controversy as a “grand design” by people not happy with the TU’s 12-0 sweep in the province.

“Why blame us for this. They (the opposition) ought to be blamed for not campaigning in Maguindanao,” Unas said.

TU strategists have said the 12-0 result showed the power of the “command vote” in areas where pro-administration officials hold sway -- such as in Maguindanao, where Ampatuan is regarded as a political kingpin.

Unas bragged about Maguindanao’s “participatory democracy” under Ampatuan.

2 sets of winners

Another problem emerged Wednesday in South Upi town, also in Maguindanao, this time involving the proclamation of two sets of officials.

On May 15, local Comelec chief Monakiram Sambuang proclaimed Abdullah Campong as mayor-elect, Maria Sargan as vice mayor-elect, and eight councilors.

But a second certificate of canvass, or vote tally, showed another set of winning candidates for the town council.

Rodrigo Toriales, one of those on the first list of winners, told radio dxMS he could not understand why strange things always happened in his town.

“We are the sure winners but our names were deleted from the CoC and the Comelec put other names, why?” he asked.

Maguindanao election supervisor Lintang Bedol could not be reached for comment.