Maguindanao: A showcase of Philippine democracy

I have never been to Maguindanao, so I until recently did not know how they hold their elections there. Sure “Hello Garci” made known to all of us the extent of cheating possible in Mindanao. Its just that, while I took Garci’s and Gloria’s words for it, I never realized it was that bad. I never realized how serious those guys were in doing their jobs. To the extent that whole careers perhaps were built upon electoral cheating.

A source in Maguindanao told me how low our so-called democracy had sunk. He says there have scarcely been elections in the province since 1998. Leaders, particularly one named Andal Ampatuan, literally told them what to do — which is either to stay away from polling areas or vote his way. Ampatuan himself, and a host of administration functionaries, tried to justify this by saying it’s all part of Muslim culture, the “shua”, or a practice of consultative leadership in Muslim states. Well I’m no Muslim scholar (I’m neither Muslim nor a scholar, for that matter), but I do know Muslims have their own conscience. Muslims think, and are free to decide for themselves and choose their own leaders (guided, that is, by certain restrictions). The MILF, in answer to Ampatuan’s claim, said as much. And being the rebel group fighting for a Muslim state in Mindanao, I’d say they would know what they were talking about.

The source, a barangay captain for a villiage in Maguindanao (he asked that his village and municipality not be named for fear of being traced), said that a week before the actual voting, mayors in most of Maguindanao’s 22 municipalities were summoned by Ampatuan himself right in his office in Shariff Aguak. In the meeting, Ampatuan allegedly ordered the mayors to have voters in their respective areas vote for Team Unity and the local administration bets.  He then supposedly distributed sample ballots containing the names of the said candidates. It was an order they could not refuse.

A few days later, the mayor in our source’s municipality similarly summoned barangay captains like him to the mayor’s office. They were given the order: tell folks in their respective areas to vote Team Unity and administration. The sample ballots were distributed. In the dead of the night between May 13 and 14, some election inspectors reportedly went to work with the ballot. In many areas, there were no need for voters to report to their precints. In other areas, some voters would go through the motions of voting. That is, according to the sample ballot.

In one municipality, at least, there was some semblance of an actual voting. It was the Pagalungan town, and two prominent political clans were fighting it out in the local. So there had to be some voting, if only to decide which local bet wins. Ampatuan himself tried to dissuade both clans from fielding opposing candidates — a contest in the local would be too much of a hassle.

In the wake of claims of cheating in Mindanao — thanks to a conscience-stricken election inspector confessing to Lente that she helped fill out ballots in the dead of the night — Comelec was compelled to set aside the Maguindanao canvass. It tasked Commissioner Rene Sarmiento to investigate. Yesterday, Sarmiento resigned from the investigation task force, saying he was kinda sick. Of what, we we’re not sure.


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