Expelling Banshees

by Juan L. Mercado


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 Benigno Aquino  shredded the Autonomous Region of  Muslim Mindanao’s  notorious  “Book of Voters.”             

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

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 national  elections.

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

“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 Six?” 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 applied for inclusion, Commission on Elections 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 re-examined  in biometric verification process in days ahead. In Lanao del Sur, Reform, an NGO –ARMM Now (RAN) — counted 17 percent less than the 522,417 listed in  scrapped lists.

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

Registrered votes, in the National Capital Region, dipped by 4 percent  in 2007.  In contrast,  ARRM’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. ARRM analysis must be separate. Still, this “impossibility” jacked up Lanao del Sur’s voting population by a staggering 16 percent.  Sulu leaped by 12 percent and  Basilan 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 years did Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel  manage to get his rightful Senate seat.

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 voter’s roll is beyond redemption,” ISS said. “(It ) cannot even be used as one of the building blocks in construction of a new voters’ roll. It simply has to be scrapped completely” .   

In the US, Pew Center found  almost two million deceased Americans still  on voter 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  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”..                    x
It costs the U.S. 12 times more to maintain a voter list than Canada,” he added. By innovative technology and data-matching methods, Canada  registers 93 percent of eligible population.

ARRM  is haunted  by   phantom students, wraith-teachers  “even ghost schools in  ghost barangays”, says Jamar Kulayan, who was appointed 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 and 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,  new ARRM officials and NGOs working to purge lists.  Exorcising  banshees is a welcome change.

(Note:  Sorry for skipping g 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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