April 12, 2007

Repeat of massive fraud

There will be massive cheating by the Arroyo administration in the upcoming May elections. The elements of this unfolding crime of monumental proportions are all present. The fact that there is still no hue and cry is a testament to how crime does pay in this country, most especially when the brains as well as the perpetrators, are cloaked with authority and wield the powers of high office.

First of all, there is the motive. Despite the fact that the forthcoming elections is not about choosing a new president, everybody knows that the fate of the incumbent, de facto Chief Executive, Mrs. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, hinges on its outcome. The gelling of a protest vote against Mrs. Arroyo could very well translate into the trouncing of administration-backed candidates for both houses of Congress. This means the Opposition could win enough congressional seats to impeach Mrs. Arroyo as well as enough senators to convict her.

Under such a scenario, not only can Mrs. Arroyo be removed from office through impeachment, a whole can of worms of her regime’s outstanding crimes against the people such as gross human rights violations, unprecedented graft and corruption and betrayal of the nation’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and patrimony, can be brought to light. Mrs. Arroyo can be made criminally accountable as well as civilly liable to return ill-gotten wealth as well as to pay damages to victims.

Second, there are the wherewithals. Even without proof positive, it is obvious that administration-backed candidates have all the unfair advantages of the largesse of Malacanang’s political patronage – money, resources, political network and influence – not to mention the unofficial, even illegal, sources of campaign funds.

The precedents are plenty: we have not forgotten the fertilizer fund scam, the Philhealth cards distributed before the elections nor the ubiquitous street sweepers with the name of the presidential candidate GMA emblazoned on their blue t-shirts and the government billboards announcing Mrs. Arroyo’s supposed achievements as incumbent.

But even this was not enough to score victory against Mrs. Arroyo’s immensely popular rival, film actor Fernando Poe, Jr. A premeditated plan for massive and systematic electoral fraud was put in place to operate before, during and after the elections. In fact, the fraud continued long after Mrs. Arroyo’s was proclaimed President.

According to the poll watchdog group Kontra Daya, “The electoral fraud perpetrated by the Arroyo administration to secure victory in the presidential and vice-presidential elections of 2004 consisted mainly of the following:

  • fabrication of voting results in election returns to favor Gloria Macapagal Arroyo over Fernando Poe, Jr., largely in the provinces of Pampanga, Cebu, Iloilo, and Bohol;
  • ‘dagdag-bawas’ operations, i.e., the manipulation of election results in the certificates of canvass, perpetrated in a number of provinces in Mindanao;
  • and a post-election ‘clean-up’ operation in which up to 10,000 election returns (ERs) were fabricated and switched for the authentic ERs kept at the Batasang Pambansa complex.”

But more alarming and portentous is Kontra Daya’s assessment that the conditions for wholesale election fraud persists to this day. The citizen’s poll monitoring group highlighted four major alarming developments.

COMELEC has failed to investigate and prosecute cases of electoral fraud in the May 2004 presidential election. Consequently, the “machinery for cheating’ used by the Arroyo administration in 2004 is intact and primed for a repeat performance. The group named a number of COMELEC personnel implicated in the massive dagdag-bawas operation in Mindanao in 2004 as revealed in the “Hello, Garci” recordings that have since been promoted, implying an increase in their capacity to “manipulate” the election results.

COMELEC has failed to secure the production of election returns (ERs) and certificates of canvass (COCs) so much so that spurious election documents can still be manufactured using COMELEC-approved security paper with all the secret markings or security features of the COMELEC intact. This ensures that the faked documents -- whether pre-fabricated as revealed by the testimony of one former NBI hand-writing expert named Mr. Tabayoyong, or done after the fact to correct the discrepancy between COCs canvassed by Congress and unopened ERs as witnessed to by self-confessed vote-rigger, Arsenio Rasalan – can pass for the real thing.

COMELEC has so far failed to fully implement legally-mandated safeguards against wholesale electoral fraud such as “dagdag-bawas.” Kontra Daya makes specific reference to Sections 31 to 43 of R.A. 9369 that introduce significant changes to the manner in which votes are counted at the precinct level and canvassed at the municipal and higher levels. Notable reforms include the requirement that the second copy of election returns and the third copy of certificates of canvass be posted for 48 hours on a wall within the premises of the precinct or canvassing center for the perusal of the public and the projection of COC results. COMELEC has shown gross negligence and unjustifiable diffidence in implementing said provisions.

Finally, COMELEC has been shown to be “complicit with Malacañang in sabotaging the election for party-list.” Malacañang, it appears, has undertaken a special project to intervene in the party-list election in its favor. It has sustained and even stepped up its campaign of physical attacks, harassment and legal disqualification against militant party-list groups who are among the most vocal critics of the administration in order to prevent their predicted victory at the polls. At the same time, through its Office of External Affairs, Malacañang has fielded at least 22 party-list groups (based on information gathered by Kontra Daya) whose nominees are in one way or other connected with Malacañang. In so doing, the Palace seeks to do two things: one, gain control of more congressional seats via the party-list; two, with the sharp increase in the number of party-list groups in contention, make it more difficult for genuine party-lists to achieve the minimum number of votes required to gain a seat in Congress.

For its part, the COMELEC has played along by accrediting a large number of party-list groups with dubious credentials and ill-disguised links to Malacañang. COMELEC’s refusal to disclose to the public the nominees of the party-lists it has accredited, especially the new and more suspect ones, effectively shields these “shady party-lists” from exposure and possible disqualification.

COMELEC does this even as it diligently entertains unfounded petitions to disqualify progressive and militant party-list groups such as Bayan Muna, Anakpawis and Gabriela Women’s Party that have a well-established track record of legitimacy, performance and popular support. COMELEC is guilty as well of glaring inaction in the face of blatant electioneering by the Armed Forces of the Philippines against party-list groups such as Bayan Muna, whose leaders and members are subjected to harassment and intimidation by soldiers deployed in urban poor communities in Metro Manila and targeted for extrajudicial execution in the provinces apparently by government-sponsored death squads.

All the hallmarks of a repeat of the massive electoral fraud that took place in 2004 are present. Will the Arroyo regime get away with it once more or will the people act to make the criminals pay for their repeated crimes?###