On Jan. 21 next year, voters residing in the “core territories” of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARRM) will be asked to vote on the ratification of the Bangsamoro Organic Law (BOL). Also to take part in the voting are residents of six towns in Lanao del Norte, and 39 barangays in North Cotabato, Cotabato City, as well as Isabela City in Basilan province.
The plebiscite on the BOL is seen to pave the way for the replacement of the ARMM with the BARMM or the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. It is the culmination, said ARMM Comelec Regional Director Ray Sumalipao in a public forum, of “the dream of Muslim Filipinos to be part of national politics.”
Lawyer Anna Tarhata Basman, who served with the government panel under the Aquino administration, describes the coming voting as a “recognition of self-determination” of the Bangsamoro. It
will formalize in law and in governmental structures the special status of an autonomous Muslim region to be, said Sumalipao, “at par with other regions” in the country.
But next year’s plebiscite seems, from a remove, quite complicated. Problematic are the polls in Lanao del Norte and North Cotabato provinces, where a “yes” among majority of voters — even those living in areas beyond the six towns or 39 barangays — are needed to move them into BARMM territory. The same holds true in Cotabato City and Isabela City which, as separate political entities, did not vote for inclusion in the ARMM.
Complicating matters is the staunch opposition of local political leaders, including members of prominent Muslim-Filipino political dynasties, who fear losing their hold on local politics — and subsequently economic and social power — once a new political leadership and structure takes over.
This seems to me a recipe for confusion and violence, although Sumalipao, for one, seems confident the continuing imposition of martial law in Mindanao would keep election-related mayhem, a common enough occurrence in Mindanao polls, to a tolerable level.
All the more reason, I would think, that automated voting could serve to minimize fears of cheating, intimidation and confusion. But Sumalipao said that on Jan. 21, a “hybrid” electoral process would be adopted, with manual voting and automated counting and canvassing.
The clamor to rethink or reconfigure the electoral process in place in the last three national polls is genuinely puzzling to officers of the automated voting/canvassing provider: Smartmatic. The use of a so-called “hybrid manual” method, says Elie Moreno, vice president for global services and general manager locally for Smartmatic, “would only make it easier to cheat” in subsequent elections.
Right now, Smartmatic is under scrutiny because — so losing candidates in the 2016 polls claim — the technology was somehow sabotaged or preconfigured to favor certain candidates and parties.
“This is like blaming a vacuum cleaner for not cleaning in the right places,” says Moreno. “We just provide the technology, it is the human element that determines how the technology is used.”
And, as far as Smartmatic is concerned, the technology and the humans behind it performed excellently the last time the system was employed.
“The AES (automated electoral system) protected votes; the will of Filipino voters was upheld,” Smartmatic asserts.
The figures speak for themselves. In 2016, 44 million voters “voted and verified” that their votes were correctly recorded by checking the paper receipts before depositing these in separate containers. Exactly 2.7 million electoral returns were printed out by the vote-counting machines, with requisite recounts conducted, and 99.9 percent were verified. And even more important, 100 percent of transmitted results matched the election returns, despite existing protests to the contrary.
Right now, Smartmatic is merely joining in the bidding for peripherals like thermal paper and ink, since the majority of the vote-counting machines used in 2016 have already been purchased by the Comelec. It was, said Moreno, the most economical and practical arrangement for the poll body.