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The ARMM new general registration: a step toward credible and clean elections?
Following the wish of the President, Congress passed a resolution nullifying the entire list of voters in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. With this Congressional resolution, Comelec en banc ordered a new general registration for the autonomous region. Election registrars from neighboring provinces were mustered and fielded in the ARMM for the registration from July 9 to 18.
The rationale at work in the cancellation of the entire list of voters in the ARMM is the belief that the integrity of the said list is in question. It has always been alleged that the list contains ghost voters, thus in no way could there be credible elections in the ARMM. Notwithstanding the sophisticated scanning for multiple registrations, the President and the reform-minded ARMM OICs have asked for a new general registration in the ARMM.
In earlier dialogues with Comelec, we were told that what was needed in the ARMM was simply to attain a 100 percent registration of voters (which at that time stood at 69 percent). With 100 percent biometrics in the ARMM, Comelec could install a program in the PCOS machine that would interface the biometrics of the registered voters with the machine, such that it would read the voters’ biometrics before voting and during the counting. They believed then that the scanning of biometrics (thumbs, physical features, signatures and other data) would suffice in doing the job of cleansing the list of ghost voters and multiple registrants.
Moreover, our delegation was told that “cheating” in the ARMM has been elevated to a fine art such that the “results” were really very distant to the actual votes. Instances of cheating in the ARMM elections were simpler and more effective, and these consisted in the preparation of certificates of canvass.
In the Philippines, we have adopted an electoral process that is sui generic, that is truly hard to understand. This process has been invented for lawyers, because the actual proclamation of winners in the elections is really NOT based on votes cast but on the certificates of canvass duly signed by a committee chaired by the Comelec supervisor with the Department of Education (DepEd) Superintendent and Provincial/City Fiscal as members. In short, only three people are needed to “control,” to “manage,” or to get a franchise of the results of elections.
In an earlier period, cheating happened at the level of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs), that is, at the precinct level. The massive cheating occurred NOT during the actual voting but in the preparation of the precinct election return. This involved only the three members of the BEI (DepEd teacher as chair and two members, usually another teacher and a clerk). Fraud happened in the actual preparation of the precinct returns independent of the actual votes cast. This was the reason why the integrity of the entire DepEd in the ARMM was put in question because of the massive electoral fraud that happened at their level.
The cheating was further refined by doing away with the precinct returns. The cheaters no longer depended on the precinct returns during the canvassing. If they did, it was only for show. The real certificates of canvass were prepared much ahead of time and already pre-signed by the members of the Board of Canvassers. One need NOT become a magician to do the substitution since the venue of canvassing and the members of the Board were “controlled.” So while there were ghost voters in the ARMM and multiple registrants, they mattered less and less, since the electoral fraud happened in the preparation of the certificates of canvass.
This was the reality of the electoral processes when we adopted the use of the PCOS machines in 2010. We believed that by becoming less dependent on human intervention, both in the counting and the preparation of the “returns” and certificates of canvass, there would be less fraud. That was the belief then.
Now with new technology, we are taught and programmed to believe that along with the ghost voters and multiple registrants, the counting and preparation of returns and actual preparation of certificates of “canvass” would be things of the past. The aim of 100 percent biometrics in registration, the scanning of the said data, the audit to be done post registration, and the use of biometrics in the actual voting during Election Day would guarantee, for the first time, credible and clean elections in the ARMM.
We can only pray and hope that the Comelec and the machines would, this time, deliver. So help us, God.
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