10 MAY 2007
Abalos, however, has assured voters that Comelec is doing everything to prevent the further escalation of violence by declaring conflict-torn areas under its control. He also insists the 2007 polls will be on the up and up — the legacy, he says, of his term, which ends next year.
But the public has had trouble seeing the Comelec beyond the way it has been presiding over past polls, which have used an antiquated and easily corruptible system that practically ensures questionable results. To say that many Filipinos think the Comelec is inept may be putting it mildly, so much so that a significant number probably expect the worst to happen each election.
Just recently, the Comelec got dragged into the Supreme Court after it suddenly refused to reveal to the public the names of party-list nominees. Many speculated that the Comelec was in cahoots with the Arroyo administration to sabotage the party-list election, and even after the commission had followed the Court's order to reveal the nominees' names, some people remained palpably irritated with the poll body.
"The highly questionable pronouncements, decisions, and actions taken by Comelec," said Fr. Joe Dizon, spokesperson of the election watchdog Kontra Daya, "with regard to the party-list election calls into serious question the constitutionally mandated independence of the poll body under the leadership of Chairman Abalos."
Yet even before the controversy broke out, rumors were already flying thick and fast about how efforts to rig the election results were emanating from within the Comelec itself. The commission has denied these, of course. But it certainly hasn't helped that the allegations of massive and systematic electoral fraud attending the victory of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo three years ago have yet to be resolved, and that among the supposed major players in that fraud was no less than a Comelec commissioner.
Ramon Casiple, executive director of the Institute for Political and Electoral Reform (IPER), also says that the fact that the Comelec has never admitted that the conduct and the results of the 2004 elections were questionable just adds to the poll body's credibility problem. Plus, he says, it invites the risk that the results of the upcoming elections will not be trusted.
The public has noted as well that nothing has come out of the investigations Abalos himself called regarding allegations that the Comelec's own personnel were part of the 2004 elections "cheating operations." To this day, not one of those implicated in the supposed dagdag-bawas (vote-padding and shaving) operations in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) has faced prosecution. Instead, they were even promoted, among them:
Many of these Comelec personnel were trusted lieutenants of ex-Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano of the infamous "Hello Garci" wiretapping scandal that brought the Arroyo administration on the brink of collapse in 2005. Observers have thus argued that the "cheating machinery" within the Comelec has remained intact — and with the recent promotions, only implying an increased capacity to influence, if not manipulate, the voting results.
A known dagdag-bawas operator in Mindanao as far back as his days as Comelec regional director during martial law, Garcillano is reportedly busy these days not so much with his congressional campaign for the first district of Bukidnon, but because his services have again been allegedly tapped by about a hundred politicians running in the May elections.
In the meantime, Abdullah Dalidig, the chairperson of the National Citizens' Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) in Lanao del Sur who blew the whistle on alleged 2004 cheating operations there, is wary of yet another electoral fraud case now that Sumalipao is on top of the polls in ARMM. Dalidig described Sumalipao as the "right hand of Garcillano" in 2004, when he was provincial election supervisor of Lanao del Sur. Sumalipao was later named ARMM assistant regional director.
Aware of the statistical improbabilities and of "birds and bees voting" that have characterized past elections in ARMM, Rene Sarmiento, the commissioner in charge assigned to the region as well as to Region IX, says he has tapped non-ARMM Comelec directors to help him safeguard the votes. If warranted, Sarmiento says he will also order a reshuffling of election personnel.
But Casiple suspects that such a move has already been anticipated by those with less-than-noble plans. Thus, he predicts, any reshuffling will still result in the concerned Comelec personnel manning their pre-assigned places come election day.
He adds that even if the Comelec is serious about combating cheating in the elections, the poll body is simply incapable of preventing it. "It's a whole system outside of the electoral system, a whole syndicate in which Garci plays only a small part as operator in ARMM," he says, stressing that police powers and political will are needed to dismantle its structure.
Email us your comments about this article, or post them in our blog.