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Mammoth electoral fraud in Philippines elections: Padding and shaving

CMS | 23.06.2007 08:07 | Anti-militarism | Repression | Social Struggles | London | World

Nearly three weeks after election day, there are still no definitive results for the Philippine elections to the Senate and House of Representatives. Counting is still continuing and in a number of provinces it has not even begun. This has nothing to do with inefficiency and everything to do with ballot-rigging. The Philippines is one of the most corrupt ‘democracies’ in the world.

Philippine election
Philippine election

During the 2004 presidential election, the victory of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was widely attributed to large-scale fraud. A tape was massively circulated of a conversation between the President and Virgilio Garcillano, head of Comelec, the national election commission. Arroyo was heard addressing him familiarly, ‘Hello Garci’, and the election chief proudly assured her that he would guarantee her a million-vote majority.

The diffusion of the tape led to widespread protests and attempts to impeach Arroyo, which failed because the opposition was unable to secure the necessary number of votes in Congress. One of the things at stake in these elections is to prevent the opposition winning enough seats to change that. That would require it to win eight of the twelve (out of twenty-four) Senate seats that are up for re-election. It is not looking good for Arroyo. Current estimates of the votes counted give the pro-Arroyo Team Unity (TU) just two seats, with eight going to the Genuine Opposition (GO) slate, and two to independents. At least one of these, retired army officer and serial coup plotter Gregorio ‘Gringo’ Honasan, is no friend of Arroyo. He is currently awaiting trial for an alleged coup attempt last year.

Fraud occurs throughout the country, as elections take place under the sway of ‘guns, goons and gold’. By intimidation and/or bribery, the contents of ballot boxes are changed. Some candidates’ votes are ‘shaved’(reduced), others are ‘padded’(increased). Indeed in some particularly blatant cases, no actual voting takes place. Ballots are filled in with the names of the appropriate candidate by the local warlord or corrupt village chief and handed over to the election authorities.

But much of the fraud is concentrated in the southern island of Mindanao, the second biggest in the Philippines. Mindanao and the adjacent islands have been the scene of armed conflict for more than thirty years. The resulting instability largely favours election-rigging. Populations have been displaced, accurate records of the number of voters are unavailable or intentionally concealed. The heavy presence of the army and police (two-thirds of the Philippine armed forces are concentrated in Mindanao) does nothing to guarantee fair elections, quite the contrary. At present, counting still has to begin in seven provinces of Mindanao. This is a common feature of Philippine elections, and these late counts are used to ‘adjust’ the overall results and increase the votes of pro-government candidates.

A glance at the country’s main newspaper, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, provides daily evidence of cheating. One of the most picturesque concerns the island province of Basilan, off the coast of Mindanao. Teachers assigned to supervise the elections were taking ballot papers over in a motor boat. They were surprised to be accompanied by armed goons in the hire of a local mayor. Half way across, these men ordered the ferryman to stop, confiscated the ballot papers at gunpoint and began to fill them in with the name of their candidate. Only heavy waves forced them to stop and continue in a house on the island. Voters in the precincts concerned never saw a ballot paper.

All 252 seats in the House of Representatives are up for re-election. Most are elected in constituencies, and Arroyo is fairly sure of winning a majority by hook or by crook. But 20 per cent are allocated to party lists, by proportional representation. Previously used mainly by radical left groups unable to compete financially in the constituencies, this election has seen a flurry of government-inspired ‘parties’ take part. The votes of the really independent party lists are particularly vulnerable to fraud, and they have to try and physically protect their votes up to the time of the proclamation of the results.

In Mindanao, the radical left party list Anak Mindanao (Amin), which fights for peace and cooperation between the ‘tri-people’ of the island (Muslim Moros, indigenous peoples, Christian settlers and their descendants), and which has at present one Congressman, is having to combat widespread fraud. Votes in its bastions are being attributed to government-sponsored party lists that no one in Mindanao has heard of – including a Manila-based list of…tricycle drivers.


Cheating frenzy in ARMM for party-lists close to COMELEC officials feared

Worried about reports that a cheating frenzy is taking place in ARMM (Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao) to pad the votes of party-list groups close to COMELEC officials, AKBAYAN Party-list today urged the public to remain vigilant as the canvassing of votes in ARMM begins. 

AKBAYAN Party-list said that it received reports that the votes of two party-list groups, Biyaheng Pinoy and You Against Corruption and Poverty (YACAP), will be padded in Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, and Shariff Kabunsuan.

“Biyaheng Pinoy, as we all know, is the party-list of the brother of COMELEC Chair Benjamin Abalos, while the little-known YACAP is also linked to another controversial COMELEC official, ARMM Regional Election Officer Rey Sumaliapao,” said AKBAYAN Rep. Etta Rosales. “One of the nominees of YACAP, Haron Omar, is the brother-in-law of Sumalipao.” 

Sumaliapao was one of the election officials mentioned in the ‘Hello Garci’ controversy. As the provincial election officer of Lanao del Sur during the 2004 polls, Sumalipao reportedly padded the votes of GMA. This election, Sumalipao figured in other controversies, among them his refusal to hand over copies of election returns from Lanao del Sur to NAMFREL. He also figured recently in a TV report that has shown the transfer of ERs to a hotel. 

AKBAYAN Rep. Risa Hontiveros called for the relief of Sumalipao. “He has tainted the electoral process to such a point where his presence alone casts doubts on the integrity of elections in ARMM. He should be immediately relieved from his post,” Rep. Hontiveros stressed. 

Unlike Biyaheng Pinoy, which is not faring well in the polls, YACAP received a significant number of votes in Tawi-Tawi and Sulu. “YACAP got 22,000 votes in Tawi-Tawi and 35,000 in Sulu. For a new-comer, this is surprising,” Rep. Rosales said. 

AKBAYAN also lamented that the failure of the COMELEC to implement the party-list law has led to the bastardization of the party-list system. “We are losing the noble goals of the party-list system due to the incompetence and lack of integrity,” Rep. Rosales said. “What we are seeing is an innovative, democratic system suffering from the brunt of traditional politics.” 

“There was cheating and vote-buying in the 2004 party-list elections, but it was minimal. This year’s elections is different – there’s the confluence of COMELEC’s ineptitude, the administration’s systematic campaign to box out progressive groups in Congress, and the desire of political clans to use the system as an extension of ‘Kamag-anak’, Inc,” Rep. Hontiveros added. 

Rep. Rosales pointed out several ‘fly-by-night’ party-lists, which are reportedly operated by the administration and traditional political clans, that have the chances of getting a seat in Congress. 

“Abono, for instance, is the party-list of the Ortegas in La Union. Its number two nominee is Francisco Ortega, a board member in La Union. Its number three nominee, Ramon Morden, is a mayor in Villasis in Pangasinan. Abono got 186, 000 votes in Pangasinan and 87,000 in La Union,” Rep. Rosales said. “AGAP, on the other hand, reportedly gave out free processed meat and P20,000 per barangay captain in Batangas. In Batangas alone it got 166,000 votes.” 

“ARC, whose number one nominee is the son of Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, got votes through DAR and DILG,” Rep. Rosales said. 

Rep. Hontiveros said that it became difficult to campaign against groups that have the backing of the administration and traditional political clans at their disposal. She likewise explained AKBAYAN has no resources to guard its votes against the assault of traditional politics. 

“Our poll-watching efforts covered 15% only of all municipalities. In areas where we were able to guard our votes, we discovered cases of harassment and attempts to reduce our votes. We couldn’t protect our votes in other areas. We simply didn’t have the resources to do that,” Rep. Hontiveros said. 

She pointed out that in Marikina City, for instance, AKBAYAN got 3,216 votes but the tabulators wrote one hundred fifteen only. AKBAYAN was able to correct the ‘mistake.’ In a precinct in Caloocan, on the other hand, AKBAYAN’s votes were reduced from 32 to 4. 

In Cotabato City, AKBAYAN poll-watchers had to leave the canvassing area because they were being harassed by COMELEC officials and representatives from Assalam Party. In Lanao, AKBAYAN’s 840 votes in Picong was erased and changed to 0 in the SOV.


How the Local was Won

by Patrick Patiño

The May 14 elections gave us more of the same and, in many occasions, more than we expected. Vote-buying has become rampant and sophisticated. Reports on election-related violence have become prominent during the counting and canvassing of votes. Ruling families enjoying political clout for decades were finally replaced and political dynasties have now penetrated various layers of elective offices.

In the coastal city of Tuguegarao, Cagayan, vote buying was massive but discreet. The price ranged from P200.00 to P500.00 with free bangus (milk fish) –the money, wrapped in plastic and stuffed inside the fish. This system was exposed on the eve of election day, when the sight of men with pails of bangus going around the community raised the suspicions of some community members. In Sto. Tomas, Batangas, vote-buying was done with a five-kilo rice bag, one-kilo pack of tocino and beef tapa per household – a more enticing and cheaper way to woo voters. Meanwhile, an operator of a mayoralty candidate in Mabalacat, Pampanga herded the officers of an elderly association to a house in San Fernando to bribe them in exchange for the association’s vote. Unfortunately, the mobilization was uncovered before the vote buying was made.

In Albay, money flowed from different levels. Instead of a one-slate vote buying, each elective post had a price, depending on the target – individual votes or family vote. Mayoral posts ranged from P500 to P1,500 and P500 to P2,500 each for congressional and gubernatorial seats, including the senatorial slate. Vote buying became widespread in areas where there was battle of margins among candidates.

There are many forms of vote buying, but the system of giving cash directly is usually done to convince a voter to vote for a specific candidate. In the recently concluded elections, a new form of vote buying emerged: the negative vote buying. Instead of buying votes to convince a voter to go out and vote for a particular candidate, negative vote buying dissuades a voter from exercising her/his right to suffrage. This is done by putting indelible ink on the voter’s right fingernail to ensure that he/she could no longer vote. This system is done in areas where the candidate has little chances of winning. Negative vote buying is one way of disenfranchising voters but it ensures a win-win transaction between the candidate and the voter. As they say, “hindi disimulado at hindi garapalang nakakahiya.” In Pampanga, many ordinary and poor voters were given money inside biscuit packs just to stay home on election day and deny gubernatorial candidate Among Ed his important votes. The election result: Among Ed won in a very tight battle of margins and a very low and unusual voter turn-out.

The recruitment of poll watchers, usually more than the required number one can field in the precincts, is a legitimized form of vote-buying. Besides his supporters who were accredited as Commission on Elections (Comelec) Marshalls, a mayoralty candidate in Caloocan City hired a huge number of poll watchers to ensure his votes.

Election-Related Violence (ERV)

Election-related violence is a fixture of Philippine elections. What differentiates one election from the other is the number and nature of incidents of election-related violence. There are three issues on ERVs that emerged in the recent elections. The Philippine National Police (PNP) boasts of a decrease in violent incidents compared to the 2004 elections but the death rate is high relative to the number of incidents – more than 50% death rate (117 deaths against 227 election violence incidents from the start of the election period to May 12) were reported. This is expected to go even higher from election day to the end of the counting of ballots. Among the victims killed, 72 were politicians (incumbents) and candidates, unlike before where majority of the victims were ordinary supporters and civilians. Does this mean that violence in the recent elections was pre-meditated? If there is parity among contending candidates in terms of resources and machinery, is violence an effective tool for winning? Why were the killings done during the campaign period and not months ahead of the elections as what have been practiced before? Third, the PNP has discovered a formula for downplaying the impact of election violence, the same way our government economists make obscure statements on the country’s level of poverty and unemployment. The PNP has come up with categories to describe election violence – political motivation and personal grudges. They found out that not all 227 incidents of election-related violence were politically motivated, thus, these categories somehow justified their claim that ERVs decreased this elections.

The Family as a Political Machinery

Does the defeat of a number of political dynasties in the elections mean the loss or weakening of the family’s monopoly of local power or was it just plain campaign blunder? Can these dynasties (e.g., Josons of Nueva Ecija, Espinosas of Masbate, etc.) recover from their losses next time? While most political families either exchanged elective posts of did a changing of the guards, political dynasties not only maintained their rule but expanded the family’s control in various elective positions. Prominent among these are the Marcoses of Ilocos Norte, Singsons of Ilocos Sur, etc. Post 1986 emerging clans like the Zubiris of Bukidnon,, are trying to catch up with the old traditional families by expanding their own clout. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo also entrenched her own family in the Lower House by having two sons and a brother-in-law in the Lower House. Her sister-in-law also attempted to join the Legislature through the party list elections.

Political dynasties will stay as long as the political economy of local politics remains and as long as the election institution allows them. On the other hand, they may be considered as exception, but the victory of Among Ed in the gubernatorial race in Pampanga against the deep-rooted patronage, coercive network and political machineries of the Pinedas and Lapids; the re-election of Mayor Robredo in Naga City amidst multi-prong attacks by the Villafuertes and some Comelec commissioners; of Glenn Chong over the political patriarch in Biliran; and Grace Padaca’s struggle against the maneuverings of the Dys in Isabela are rays of hope that provide possibilities for agents of reform.

Summary of Cases of Election-related Violence and Fraud: Violence cases (May 07).xls.pdf