Thursday, October 18, 2018
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Expelling banshees

Ever kick a mound of white ants? Anay or termites spill out helter-skelter. That’s today’s image of the country’s “ghost voting capital”—after President Aquino shredded the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao’s notorious “Book of Voters.”

Heeding Congress’ Joint Resolution 3, the President ordered the registration of voters, starting from A. The rewrite covers the provinces of Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, Maguindanao and Lanao del Sur, plus the cities of Marawi and Lamitan.

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Joint Resolution 3 has widespread ramifications. Some electors are spooks or double, sometimes triple, registrants. They constitute the so-called “command votes” or “controlled votes.” Wielded by political warlords, they can tip local as well as national elections.

In Marawi City, “30 non-Maranao students of Mindanao State University were (directed) to assume Maranao names and register,” the Inquirer reported. “Flying registrants assumed the names of dead and ghost voters…. (They poured in) from Davao, the Zamboanga Peninsula, Lanao del Norte, Iligan and Maguindanao.”

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“In Datu Saudi Ampatuan town, the registrant looked all of 13 or 14,” Carol Arguillas of MindaNews observed. “But she claimed to be 19. You’re in college? we asked. She shook her head. High school? No? ‘Grade 6,’ she replied, almost in a whisper. When did you start going to school? The girl kept silent. When will you turn 20? ‘Di ko alam.”’

When registration ended July 18, about 1.3 million had applied for inclusion, Commission on Elections Chair Sixto Brillantes estimated. That’s lower than the 1.7 million crammed in the nullified registry.

Over 50,000 minors were nailed trying to bore their way into the new lists. Their names were segregated, Brillantes added. They’ll be reexamined in a biometric verification process in days ahead. In Lanao del Sur, a nongovernmental organization counted 17 percent less than the 522,417 listed in the scrapped lists.

The ARMM’s population stood at 4.1 million in 2007. But a 2010 revalidation by the National Statistics Office found its population a fraction of “more than 3.3 million.” Elsewhere, the country posted a population growth at 1.8 percent. Not the ARMM; it claimed a population growth of 5.4 percent.

Registered voters in the National Capital Region dipped by 4 percent in 2007. In contrast, ARMM’s bolted. “Is this statistically possible?” Asian Development Bank statistician Dalisay Daligmalig asked equally skeptical fellow scientists at an earlier Philippine Population Conference.

Of course not, demographer Mercedes Concepcion wrote. The ARMM analysis must be separate. Still, this “impossibility” jacked up Lanao del Sur’s voting population by a staggering 16 percent. Sulu’s leaped by 12 percent, and Basilan’s by 8 percent. Maguindanao swept the field by claiming 78 percent!

Padded registration lists enabled Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s candidates to shut out the opposition 12-0 in Maguindanao’s mid-decade elections. Only four years later did Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III manage to get his rightful Senate seat.

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Hindi tayo nag-iisa. Look at Zimbabwe’s registration list. Almost “27 percent of names appearing on the register were of dead people,” notes the South Africa-based Institute of Security Studies. In dictator Robert Mugabe’s rural home district of Zvimba, there were 1,101 voters who were 110 years of age. Most were born on the same date.

Overall, Mugabe tacked on 3 million phantoms to the list. “Zimbabwe’s voters’ roll is beyond redemption,” the ISS said. “(It) cannot even be used as one of the building blocks in the construction of a new voters’ roll. It simply has to be scrapped completely.”

In the United States, Pew Center found almost 2 million deceased Americans still on voters’ rolls. And 2.75 million people are registered to vote in more than one state. But only about three quarters of the eligible population is registered.

The findings do not suggest fraud, explained the director of Pew’s Election Initiatives, David Becker. But registration systems, in many states, enter vast quantities of data by hand. “These methods are costly, error-ridden, and inefficient as they are quaint. It costs the United States 12 times more to maintain a voters’ list than Canada,” he added. By innovative technology and data-matching methods, Canada registers 93 percent of eligible population.

The ARMM is haunted by phantom students, wraith-teachers, “even ghost schools in ghost barangays,” says Jamar Kulayan, who was appointed education supervisor in January. A Tausug, Kulayan found it had become practice, in the region, for teachers to bloat student-enrollee numbers.

There are 2,000 teachers in excess of 20,000 officially hired. “Names of teachers already dead, retired or abroad were still listed.” They continue drawing their salaries. A “Task Force on Moratorium of Abolition and Creation of Schools” is now operational.

The new final Book of Voters is still ahead. But a consensus on making honest elections the centerpiece of ARMM reforms exists, notes Institute for Autonomy and Governance’s Fr. Eliseo Mercado, OMI. The new technology of biometrics will be used to ensure honest polls.

If this drill succeeds, it’d be a fitting legacy for P-Noy, the new ARMM officials and the NGOs working to purge the lists. Exorcising banshees is a welcome change.

(Sorry for skipping a few issues. Whacked my back trying to pick up something. Forgot this was three decades later. Or was it four?—JLM)

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TAGS: ARMM, electoral fraud, featured column, voter registration
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