A Sickness Called Garci

The reports of massive fraud are staring the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in the face and Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos, Sr. and Commissioner Rene Sarmiento still refuse to conduct a thorough investigation and act swiftly to prevent further damage. And they refuse to do so only because there are no witnesses. Perhaps the Comelec is afflicted with a serious illness called Garci.

Vol. VII, No. 16, May 29-June 2, 2007

Stories of election fraud have been hogging the headlines since May 14. By May 15, the chaotic and anomalous conduct of elections in Lanao del Sur was already being reported by the media.

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) was therefore forced to suspend the elections in 13 towns in the province and call for special elections on May 26. That week, cases of fraud in Ilocos Sur and Bataan were exposed and condemned by the local clergy. While fraud, vote-buying and mysterious power outages during canvassing in other regions and provinces were not reported in the media, these appeared to be widespread, gauging from the stories one hears from friends and relatives. I have been told, for example, that an unannounced power outage hit Mindoro Occidental during canvassing.

The most recent case of cheating reportedly happened in Maguindanao. Defying the trend in almost all regions and provinces, the Team Unity (TU) senatorial candidates had a 12-0 sweep in Maguindanao. But before they could celebrate and even gloat over their “victory,” a teacher there said that they were forced to write, under heavy guard, the names of TU candidates in ballots even before the polling precincts opened. There were also reports that nobody dared to vote in Maguindanao.

Immediately, the opposition called on the Comelec to put on hold the inclusion of election returns (ERs) from Maguindanao in the national tabulation. The knee-jerk reaction of Comelec Chair Benjamin Abalos, Sr. was to deny the petition for lack of a case. When asked if the Comelec would investigate, his instant reply was, “Where are the witnesses?” Even Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, who is in charge of Mindanao, said that for as long as there are no witnesses and complainants, they would not act.

The reports are staring them in the face and yet they refuse to conduct a thorough investigation just because there are no witnesses who are willing to come out into the open!

One could smell rotten fish, garbage or a dead rat even without knowing its location. Why can’t they smell something “fishy” in the face of so many irregularities in Maguindanao, lack of complainants notwithstanding?

Big Disappointment

Commissioner Sarmiento is a big disappointment. As a lawyer, he specialized in human rights where he became publicly known. He knows that witnesses, especially in life-threatening cases, do not easily come forward. And he is aware that the absence of witnesses does not mean that an incident never happened and that there is no pressing need to investigate. Why is he dragging his foot in investigating the cases and putting stop-gap measures to prevent the fraudulent results in Maguindanao and Lanao from affecting the national tabulation of votes?

This is the same attitude of the powers-that-be with regard to political killings. The Macapagal-Arroyo administration and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) are evading responsibility by hiding behind legal technicalities, particularly the lack of witnesses. But everybody, including Philip Alston, United Nations special rapporteur on extra-judicial executions, knows that the AFP is involved in the killings.

There for a Reason

Abalos, on the other hand, was appointed Comelec Chair for a reason. He presided over the fraud-ridden 2004 elections. Although he was never mentioned in the “Hello Garci” tapes, he also never did try to investigate it. Former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano who is widely believed as the Comelec official who was caught on tape talking with President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo plotting to ensure that the latter wins by one million votes over her closest rival, the late Fernando Poe, Jr., was not even reprimanded, much less investigated.

Abalos acted swiftly to accredit party-list groups suspected of having connections with Malacañang while rejecting others such as Ladlad. He acted with haste in pursuing the disqualification case against Bayan Muna (People First), Gabriela Women’s Party, and AnakPawis (Toiling Masses) while dragging its foot on the case filed by Genuine Opposition senatorial candidate Alan Cayetano against nuisance candidate Joselito Cayetano.

His reaction to the Maguindanao expose’ was even worse. Abalos even threatened to run after those who exposed the fraudulent operations in Mindanao if these were not proven, citing it as an attack on the whole electoral system.

The teacher who revealed that they were forced at gunpoint to write the names of TU senatorial candidates in ballots did not attack the electoral system, Garci did. He or she does not deserve to be threatened, it is those behind these operations who need to be investigated and punished accordingly.

Inaction and Official Sanction

Impunity, whether in the perpetration of political killings or commission of electoral fraud, exists because of government inaction and official sanction.

Whether these cases of electoral fraud and terrorism, which continue to haunt Philippine elections, persist because of the Comelec’s inaction or its official sanction is anybody’s guess. Perhaps the Comelec and the Philippine electoral system are sick with a malaise called Garci.

The latter did not only lie while assuming a straight face, he did so with a “holier than thou” attitude. In spite of the scandal rocking his integrity, Virgilio Garcillano had the effrontery to run as representative of Bukidnon and be called “Honorable” if he won. And when he lost he had the insolence to declare that it was the proof of his innocence. That is pathological and a very serious illness indeed!(Bulatlat.com)

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