Editorial : Failed test
Inquirer News Service
IT WOULD BE hard to find clearer proof of how low its standards of efficiency and order have sunk than that the Commission on Elections would give itself a pat on the back for the conduct of the election in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) last Monday. As the balloting closed, Election Commissioner Florentino Tuason Jr. declared that the ARMM had just experienced an "abnormal" election-"abnormal because it was generally peaceful."
That was hardly news, and neither was it original. Fr. Eliseo Mercado Jr., ARMM chair of the National Movement for Free Elections, said exactly the same thing after the regional polls in November 2001. "The election was abnormally peaceful," Mercado then said, after pointing out that past ARMM elections had been marred by violence that claimed the lives of a number of people.
In last Monday's political exercise, Tuason made the same observation saying, "This time, not a single bloody and violent incident was reported."
True, no blood was shed during the elections, but violence-or at least the threat of it-was a part of the process in several places. In one school in Tuburan, Basilan, for example, school teachers manning a poll precinct could only look on in fear and helplessness as armed men snatched away empty ballots, then returning and stuffing them, filled out, into the ballot boxes after an hour. In Lumbatan, Lanao del Sur, the mayor reportedly fired his gun indiscriminately and prevented poll officials from performing their duties.
There were also indications that the candidates employed the usual tactics and tricks to win. In Marawi City, supporters of candidates stayed in the polling places after casting their votes and distributed campaign materials of their candidates. In Madalum, Lanao del Sur, one "operator" working for a candidate was caught by reporters buying votes for as much as P500 right inside a voting precinct. In a few other towns of Lanao de Sur, the elections were declared over just an hour or two after the precincts opened. One regional official of the Commission on Elections (Comelec) was quoted as saying that in places where the turnout was abnormally high, many voters may have voted twice.
So despite the relatively peaceful conduct of the elections, everything else was "normal," including the padding of voters' lists, the intimidation, the vote buying, the ballot snatching, the presence of flying voters, etc.
All this happened under the very noses of top Comelec officials who had arrived in full force to oversee the proceedings and had enlisted the support of several battalions of soldiers to ensure that the election would be clean, honest, orderly and peaceful. And all this came to pass even as everyone was looking at the ARMM election as a crucial test for the Comelec, which has come under fire for bungling the registration of voters and the computerization of the voting and counting, as well as for helping rig the results of the 2004 presidential elections.
If what happened in the election was the best the Comelec could do, then that was not enough. If that was its best shot, then trouble lies in every election that the country will hold. This week's election only proved further -- if indeed further proof was needed -- that the Comelec, as it is presently constituted, cannot measure up to its job. Sweeping reforms are obviously needed at the Comelec, but its leadership is hardly the kind to be entrusted with that responsibility.