By Camille Anne De Asis
“Election concerns and frauds remain in spite of of the speedy vote counting after the recent automated elections”, said Salik Ibrahim, Chairman of the Citizens Coalition for ARMM Electoral Reforms (CARE) in a press conference last Friday. CARE is an organization in Mindanao which helps in monitoring the electoral process in the ARMM region.
Automated elections have been conducted in Mindanao since 1997. In previous elections, they used the Optical Mark Reader (OMR). It is a machine that has the capacity to read specially designed papers with shaded pencil marks. These are often used for exams and answer sheets in school. Now, because of the nationwide automation, the ARMM region used the PCOS machine for the recent election. “The PCOS machine is better because of the swift counting and direct transmission of votes”, said Bobby Taguntong, Provincial Coordinator for Maguindanao, District II.
A number of faults were noted by CARE after monitoring and observing municipalities in ARMM during the May 10 election.
“There were a lot of voters who weren’t able to find their names in the voters’ list”, said Rona Ann Caritos, Project Director of Legal Network for Truthful Elections (LENTE). This is one reason behind the massive disenfranchisement in some regions in Mindanao. Aside from this, command voting is also considered as one of the reasons for the unclean elections in Mindanao. “Political leaders still dictate political choices” Ibrahim said. This has been a problem for years every time there is an election. Vote buying is very rampant and noticeable. CARE observed that in Tawi-Tawi, representatives of candidates distributed money to houses to buy votes.
Because of the weak signal of network sites in Mindanao, the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs) experienced difficulties in transmitting the results. Slow transmission of votes affecting 37 municipalities in Maguindanao caused the delay in the canvassing of votes and the proclamation of the candidates who won. As of May 14, four towns still have not canvassed their votes because of problems in transmission. Power shortage also became a problem in the five provinces in ARMM and it lead to the delay of voting and transmission.
Comelec declared failure of elections in seven towns in Lanao del Sur because the BEIs failed to show up on election day. They said they were being threatened by some local candidates.
In addition, PCOS machines were not used in some municipalities in ARMM due to its malfunctioning during the testing period. Two machines were burned in Barimbingan, Ditsaan Ramain and another was destroyed in Barira, Maguindanao while a few other machines were not released in the town of Paraitan due to threats that it will be destroyed. There were no ballot secrecy folders and some of the BEIs and voters were observed to be filling up a number of ballots. One case involved a person filling out many ballots and feeding them into the PCOS machine.
Generally, CARE said, the elections were peaceful (compared to previous elections) except for a few incidences of violence in Northern Kabuntulan. Supporters of two opposing parties fought leaving two people dead. Mortar shells were thrown near precincts by unknown groups in the towns of Datu Salibo, Datu Unsay, Paglat and SK Pendatun municipalities in Maguindanao. According to Taguntong, so far, the recent election is relatively the most peaceful election Maguindanao has ever had since no failure of election was declared. The longer the time allotted for the counting of votes, the higher the risk of violence since people tend to find ways just to be able to cheat. There is less number of victims and cases of violence because of the quick counting of votes.
A Challenge to the Next Administration
The existence of private armies is one major factor for the electoral fraud in ARMM, said CARE. The dismantling of private armies, CARE added, is urgently needed to avoid fraud, vote buying and violence in the next elections to come.
LENTE together with the other affiliates of CARE are planning to file cases against people who have violated the law during the recent elections. “We are calling out to all the people in ARMM to complain about cases of electoral fraud,” said Caritos.
Ibrahim suggests a re-registration of voters using the biometrics system so as to avoid multiple registrants for future elections. Also, “voters education before and after each election is needed to inculcate values to voters”, said Taguntong, “They need to know the importance of their votes in nation building so that they won’t engage into vote buying in the future.”
“We challenge the new administration to find ways to solve these issues. Proper implementation of laws is needed to avoid these problems in the future”, Ibrahim added.
Automation is not Enough
“Though the automation of the elections brought quite a few positive changes in the electoral system, it is still not enough to entirely solve the usual election problems we experience. Automating the elections has brought significant improvements in the speed of counting the votes. Unfortunately, these improvements were not sufficient to break the established system of command votes, in which political leaders dictate people’s choices, and continues to thwart the true exercise of the right to suffrage,” Ibrahim said.
“Electoral reform needs unity. Automated election is not the solution. We need to broaden our scope to solve the electoral problems. The concerted effort of all stakeholders is needed to solve the problems.” concluded. Bulatlat.com