Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Philippines Disturbing insights

THE roundtable The Times’ editors and reporters had with Vice Mayor Esmael Mangudadatu on Tuesday yielded reminders of extremely disturbing facts and insights. The most important of these were about the state of Philippine democracy and the veracity of our election process. Our banner yesterday “Mangudadatu warns of election violence” was perhaps the most topical and arresting news yielded by the roundtable.

There are at least 11 towns in Maguindanao province, the Vice Mayor credibly told us, where effective power is still in the hands of officials belonging to the Ampatuan clan or to its political network. These officials and their men are most likely to do everything they can to preserve their hold on power by being reelected or by having their candidates win in the May 2010 elections. Guided by their history and observed tendencies, they will terrorize voters and the teachers doing election-inspector work. They will take measures to cheat and make ballots and ballot boxes disappear. But their opponents will not let them get away too easily. They will put up a fight to prevent the Ampatuan clan members and allies from doing their accustomed prohibited and fraudulent acts on election day.

Unless the Commission on Elections—using properly deputized nonpartisan and neutral police and military units—places these towns under its control, violence is sure to explode in Maguindanao.

But that is not what this editorial is about.

We were more disturbed by Mr. Mangudadatu’s revelation about the true count of the population of many towns in Maguindanao province. These are again those controlled by the Ampatuan clan and their allies. These towns’ false and bloated population figures are the basis of the Comelec’s roll of registered voters.

Mr. Mangudadatu is requesting the government and the Comelec, joined by the media and independent monitors, to make a survey trip to these towns. He told us that a quick survey will immediately show that the official counts of those towns’ populations shown in the National Statistics Office’s tables cannot possibly be true. Indeed, 15 towns in Maguindanao are supposed to have populations of between 22,000 and 29,000. Fourteen have populations of between 30,000 and 41,000. Three have populations of more than 100,000. The Comelec roll of registered voters has more than 600,000 names. Mr. Mangudadatu estimates that when the voters’ rolls are cleaned there will only about 300,000 voters in the whole province.


The incorrect population count and the fraudulent Comelec list of registered voters in that province could not have come into being without the participation of regional and provincial National Statistics Office personnel and Comelec officials.

There have been questions about the inflated voters lists of the Moro areas in Mindanao. Even in the first elections after the Philippines became independent of the United States, elections in Mindanao’s Muslim majority provinces were already being described as activities in which “the birds and the bees voted.” In the last two national elections, government statistics officials did not lift a finger to help those trying to prove that the number of voters could not possibly be true.

How incorrect voters’ lists are made came to light when Comelec officials—including the former Maguindanao Comelec Supervisor Lintang Bedol—were asked to testify in a Senate investigation.

And, after the November massacre, the discovery of thousands of voters’ ID cards in Ampatuan clan hiding places suggests how flying voters, bused from town to town and precinct to precinct, provided the warm bodies of veritable actor-voters whose appearance would convince outsiders that voting did take place.
But the truth is that these were the same jeeploads, truckloads and busloads of people who went from precinct to precinct. They were allowed to vote by frightened teachers, working as the board of election inspectors, even if the voter’s IDs they presented did not have their names and pictures. But the wrong IDs did not matter anyway, because they were voting as nonexistent people named on the Comelec voters’ list.

Now, this worry of ours is not limited to the inaccuracy and fraudulence of the Comelec lists of voters in Maguindanao. We suspect that many towns in our country also have dishonest voters’ lists that are used to perpetuate the ruling dynasties in power and to deliver command votes in favor of their national candidates. This suspicion is especially pertinent not only to those Luzon, Visayas and other Mindanao provinces controlled by warlords like the Ampatuans. This suspicion also applies to provinces ruled by powerful and rich leaders who may not be as wildly trigger happy as the Ampatuans but do have lots of money and do maintain private armies or bands of enforcers.

It is probably too late to appeal to President Arroyo to do something about this problem. If she wanted to she could have moved to make these reforms in the past eight years.

But the next president of the Philippines must, as candidate Gilbert C. Teodoro has vowed to do if elected, use the might of Malacañang to dismantle private armies, to correct inaccurate population figures and to clean up fraudulent Comelec voters’ lists. The Comelec may be an independent constitutional body but in our country a president can get things done for the common good if he wants to.

In addition to being a big step in making ours a real democracy and in raising our Republic from a failed to a functioning state, having and using correct population figures are essential to sound policy- and decision-making.

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