Incredible Even Before Day One

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her supporters cannot just sit back as if all’s well with the world. Those crying fraud appear to have a convincing case in their hands and the administration is not helping matters by glossing over allegations of fraud.

By Alexander Martin Remollino
Bulatlat.com

The walkout last June 8 on filibustering Sen. Aquilino Pimentel, Jr. of the Koalisyon ng Nagkakaisang Pilipino (KNP or Coalition of United Filipinos) by some 200 people from the gallery of the House of Representatives, where the canvassing of the presidential and vice presidential votes is being conducted, has raised more questions than answers.

The certificate of canvass for the local absentee votes – those from police and military, and personnel of the Department of Education (DepEd) and the Commission on Elections (Comelec) – had stirred controversy a day before because of discrepancies in the figures it contained. The certificate of canvass showed that a total of 5,710 votes had been cast. But the tally for the presidential votes was: Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, 4,164; Panfilo Lacson, 988; Fernando Poe, Jr., 421; Raul Roco, 151; and Eddie Villanueva, 102 – totaling 5,826 or 116 higher than the indicated number of votes cast.

A debate ensued and stretched itself into the next day. Provoked by a remark from Sen. Francis Pangilinan – a former student activist who is with the administration coalition – that the public was getting impatient about the canvassing, Pimentel went into a lengthy talk explaining why there were delays in the canvassing in the first place and why it was the administration that was to be blamed for these. The senator from Cagayan de Oro City took up some four hours in his talk.

At 5:30 p.m., about 200 people walked out of the gallery. Some told reporters that they were “disgusted” with the “delays” in the canvassing. But House security also told the media that the “walkout” crowd had always been arriving together, and assumed they were part of a single group. The opposition has accused the administration of staging the walkout – an accusation given credence by TV news crews who reportedly told media that their news desks had received advanced notice that “some people will walk out.” A report in the June 9-15 issue of the national-language Pinoy Weekly states that the walkout group is composed of Arroyo supporters under the banner of Alay sa Kapayapaan at Pagkakaisa (Akap or Oblation to Peace and Unity).

Credibility crisis

The walkout – which is being laid on the shoulders of an administration that has increasingly had to contend with allegations of poll fraud – by its apparent dubious character is a blow to the credibility of the canvassing and the circumstances surrounding it. Administration spokespersons are playing up the walkout before the media, while evading concerns on the authenticity of the certificate of canvass in question.

But the May 10 election had been suffering from a serious credibility crisis even before the campaign period could begin.

The last Comelec appointments to take place before the campaign period were dubious. Aside from the fact that their beneficiaries could not be confirmed by Congress’ Commission on Appointments as these were made when the legislators had adjourned session, they themselves were suffering from questions on their credibility. In particular, Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano figured in the 1995 dagdag-bawas (vote-shaving/padding) scheme against Pimentel, then a senatorial candidate. Pimentel won in the electoral protest he filed and was proclaimed senator. Garcillano has not been taken to task, however.

The sacking of the former education and information chief of the Comelec, Ferdinand Rafanan, is another matter that cast clouds on the credibility of the election. Rafanan, a lawyer, had raised issues regarding the violation of election laws – including against Arroyo – before he was transferred to a post in Eastern Mindanao, ostensibly because he was more needed there. In the Comelec, Rafanan has a reputation for being one of the more responsible and competent people to head its education and information division.

The government had mounted giant billboards carrying the president’s name and pictures during the February-May campaign period. Supposedly public-service announcements of the major government agencies, these were criticized by various quarters for being campaign billboards in disguise; these did not have to contain the president’s name and pictures, it was argued, if they were merely public-service announcements.

The use of government funds for election campaigns is prohibited by law.

Rafanan had also said that Arroyo could be disqualified from the presidential race if her campaign ads exceeded the maximum airtime allotted for each candidate.

Conflicting figures

The credibility of the May 10 election is further eroded by inconsistencies in the figures for votes, particularly those for the presidential candidates.

For instance, the conflicting figures for the local absentee votes has been dismissed by Comelec official Betty Pizaña as amounting to merely a “human error” caused probably by fatigue. Pizaña has not explained why such an important document as a certificate of canvass was not double-checked for mistakes before being submitted for counting.

That Malacañang’s spokespersons had immediately issued a statement defending Pizaña even as its current occupant is also a candidate has not helped to ease suspicions.

But this particular certificate of canvass is only the first in what should be expected to be a long line. “There will be more,” warned KNP lawyer Harriet Demetriou, a former Comelec chairperson, and there is sufficient reason to take this as definitely something more than rhetoric.

Rufus Rodriguez, another KNP lawyer, had in a recent press conference shown reporters tampered statements of votes, election returns, and certificates of canvass. From the town of Tinggalan in Kalinga, northern Luzon, the KNP reportedly obtained election returns showing that Arroyo, who heads the slate of the K-4 Coalition, got nine votes. But the certificates of canvass which shows that she got 248 votes from the same town – 18 more than the number of registered voters there.

Likewise, the KNP has election documents from 25 documents pointing to “systematic and comprehensive cheating in the elections from Luzon, Visayas, Mindanao and, internationally, in Hong Kong,” said Rodriguez.

Bangon Pilipinas (Philippines Arise) Movement, headed by evangelist and presidential aspirant Eddie Villanueva, has also documents showing possible vote-padding in places as far between as Tuba, Benguet, northern Luzon; Rosario, Cavite, southern Luzon; and Ozamiz City, Maguindanao (southern Philippines).

Reports from the party-list group Suara Bangsamoro (Voice of the Moro People), based on election returns obtained by the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), show vote-padding in 20 of the precincts in Lanao del Sur province, southern Philippines alone.

Vote-shaving, etc.

The progressive party-list groups Bayan Muna (People First) and Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP), which have both been proclaimed as winners, have recently filed charges of vote-shaving before the Comelec. They both cite as areas of fraud incidence provinces in the Visayas island group.

Pimentel, who was recently proclaimed senator, has filed charges of vote-shaving against Comelec officials in Bacolor, Pampanga, about one and a half hours from Manila.

Mt. Province in the Cordillera region, is one of the provinces where Alyansa ng Pag-asa (Alliance of Hope) senatorial bet Frank Chavez claims to have lost 18,538 votes through vote-shaving, based on election documents and affidavits from poll watchers and officials stating that there was fraud. Chavez also said he has documents from the provinces of Davao, Sultan Kudarat, South Cotabato, Mt. Province, Central Luzon, and Maguindanao pointing to poll fraud.

Apart from all these are reports from human rights groups of whole villages being prevented by the military from voting in certain areas in Central Luzon and Southern Tagalog, of canvassing being done inside military camps in some areas in Maguindanao and Sulu even as soldiers are prohibited by law from interfering in the electoral process.

Giving more fuel to allegations of fraud is the admission of a Comelec commissioner, cited by a newsweekly, that he was approached by a fellow commissioner – as well as government officials closely associated with Malacañang – for help in securing an Arroyo victory.

Prospects for the incumbent

The Arroyo administration has taken to dismissing every single question on the canvassing – including concerns on poll fraud – as nothing but delays that inconvenience the people. It may think that it has the upper hand, what with a public eagerly awaiting the final results of the votes they cast last May 10.

The administration camp appears to be using a tactic similar to that used by the military and the police on the broad-based poll watchdog group Patriots. Everytime Patriots cried fraud – with convincing evidence to back up its claims coming from various monitoring efforts – military and police linked it to a supposed destabilization plot. But they were never able to prove their allegations forcing the Philippine National Police (PNP) chief to apologize to Patriots.

The PNP’s experience with Patriots shows that concerns of electoral fraud – especially when backed by evidence – cannot be dismissed simply by shooting the messenger.

The Arroyo camp cannot claim that all the evidences of fraud are merely inventions of the losing camps. For one, even among those who won, there are cries of fraud. For another, the documents presented by the parties complaining can speak for themselves.

Arroyo and her supporters cannot just sit back as if all’s well with the world. Those crying fraud appear to have a convincing case in their hands, which is why it is now up to the administration camp to clarify matters. The administration is not helping matters by glossing over allegations of fraud – people are bound to sense the pattern, especially when evidence mounts before their very eyes. And when they do, the debate may stretch itself well beyond the confines of Congress.()

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