MANILA, Philippines – Did the birds and the bees vote in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao, that many polling precincts there registered a 100% voter turnout?
Or was it one of those days when everything was perfect: no sick or disenfranchised voters, accurate computerized voters’ list, everyone patiently lining up to get a chance to vote, no rejected ballots, and the automated counting machine functioning well and transmitting results with just a click of a button?
While many polling precincts encountered the usual problems – hundreds of thousands of disenfranchised voters unable to vote and the Precinct Count Optical Scan machines malfunctioning – it was election Valhalla for 54 clustered precincts in the ARMM which recorded a perfect voter attendance during the recent May 13 polls.
It was an achievement of sorts, as these precincts often defy the estimated national average of voter turnout for the mid-term polls of 70-75%.
While it may be not be impossible, it is “statistically improbable” that there will be a 100% turnout in precincts, Pablo Manalastas, Automated Elections System Watch co-convener and IT expert, said.
“It is unlikely that those precincts reported 100% turnout. It is statistically improbable, unless there was really a concerted community effort to go out and vote during the elections,” Manalastas said.
Namfrel chairperson Corazon dela Paz-Bernardo, who has more 30 years auditing experience, refused to say outright whether the ARMM feat was improbable or even impossible. “It is unlikely, but it could happen.”
But Damaso Magbual, also of Namfrel, said anecdotal experience in ARMM elections shows that in a 100% turnout, “the manipulation of the votes is a likelihood.”
Below is the breakdown of clustered precincts which registered a 100% turnout:
|Lanao del Norte||5|
|Lanao del Sur||14|
|Zamboanga del Sur||1|
The ARMM way
Magbual said he is not surprised that these polling precincts, especially if located in the provinces comprising ARMM, register a perfect attendance. “You know, barangay officials there accomplish the ballots themselves. It has always been that way in the ARMM,” he said.
The ARMM has earned a reputation for being the poll cheating capital in the country – with the region retaining this status despite the automated elections. Prior to the May 13 polls, the Commission on Elections purged 280,000 names from the voters’ list – bloated with multiple registrants and ghost voters. ARMM consists of the provinces of Basilan, Lanao del Sur, Maguindanao, Sulu, and Tawi-Tawi.
Data mined from the Transparency Server, which receives election results at the precinct-level, showed that 70 clustered precincts so far have reported a complete voter turnout. This means the registered number of voters in those areas all voted during the elections.
A clustered precinct consists of up to 5 established precincts. The number of registered voters in a clustered precinct should not exceed 1,000. One Precinct Count Optical Scan (PCOS) machine is assigned per clustered precinct.
The clustering of precincts was done during the 2010 national elections to maximize the full use of the PCOS machines. For the 2013 polls, the Comelec ordered the re-clustering of precincts, which led to reports of many voters not finding their names in the precinct where they cast their vote in 2010.
But it seems the re-clustering of the precincts posed no problems in the areas where turnout bested the national average.
In Lanao del Sur’s 14 clustered precincts where every voter cast a vote, 8 are in the town of Malabang. Liberal Party mayoral bet Omen Balindong won by a landslide over rival Bulawan Lidasan, obtaining 8,006 votes compared to Lidasan’s 561. Voter turnout for the entire Malabang town was 78.7%.
In Maguindanao province, out of the 14 clustered precincts with a 100% turnout, 13 are in the town of Datu Odin Sinsuat. One clustered precinct had 906 registered voters who all apparently exercised their right of suffrage on the day of the elections.
Candidates in Datu Odin Sinsuat, from the mayor, led by Datuombra Sinsuat, to the municipal council, all ran unopposed. All are members of the ruling LP. Voter turnout for the entire municipality was a high 91%.
Four of Sulu’s 11 clustered precincts with 100% turnout are in the municipality of Maimbung. All the winning local candidates there are from the LP, led by Mayor Samier Tan.
In Tawi-Tawi, of the 10 clustered precincts with a perfect record, 6 are in the municipality of South Ubian. Local candidates from the National Unity Party (NUP) and the United Alliance Coalition are wrestling for positions there. In the mayoral post, NUP bet Gamal Hayudini leads UNA bet Sal Omar with a slim margin.
Outside of the ARMM, Lanao del Norte had 5 clustered precincts with a perfect turnout.
Perfect voter attendance was also recorded in Apayao and Kalinga (3 clustered precincts each); North Cotabato (2); and Cebu, Sultan Kudarat and Zamboanga del Sur (1 each).
While the 100 % turnout is on its face already a statistical anomaly, Magbual said it will be difficult to determine if only one person accomplished all the ballots in a clustered precinct. This is because unlike in manual elections, one only had to shade the ballots under the automated polls. In a manual election, anomalies are detected based on the handwriting. In the past, allegations of cheating in electoral protests were detected if the ballots bore similar handwriting.
Historically, ARMM has been a bastion of cheating, validated by Namfrel’s experience in the past. In 1984, Namfrel discovered an entire ghost barangay with its own ghost precinct and fictitious election returns.
The introduction of automation there has not prevented election operators from making a mockery of the electoral exercise.
In 2007, for instance, foreign observers were not allowed to enter polling precincts in Maguindanao because of special operations. “Ballot are already filled up. When a voter goes to the precinct, he finds out that someone already voted for him. Sometimes, they allow a few voters to vote to give the semblance that elections occurred there,” Magbual said.
Why is poll cheating already second nature to some, especially in ARMM?
A resident in ARMM explained that candidates and their supporters will do anything to win because assuming public office is a matter of survival for the entire clan.
“If one gets elected, then the entire clan gets to be employed. It is their source of income and livelihood. That’s why they make sure they get to vote. This also explains why there are many multiple registrants.”
In other places, the area is controlled by one clan and rival clans could not possibly enter the designated precincts. Even poll watchers could not enter, especially if rido is involved. Rido is a state of recurring hostilities between two clans characterized by violence and killing. It is a Maranao term for clan feud.
“When that polling precinct is totally secured from outsiders, you can do anything you want. No watchers can enter. It is a perfect crime,” the resident explained. – Rappler.com
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