Samar Elections


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July 23, 2007

CALBAYOG CITY, Samar – Barangay elections is fast approaching and Samar provinces town folks believe that they will be entering, again, into a season of 'kidnappings' or locally known as 'tago or hakot', a dirty tactics used by some political candidates in the recent immediate past national and local election.

While doing my fieldwork on electoral politics in the First and Second Districts of Samar, I was flabbergasted to find out the extent and sophistication played by some politicians prior to and during election day.

It has been observed that the May 14, 2007 election in Samar was marred by a more brazen way of cheating such as; massive vote buying, massive disenfranchisement, misreading or non-reading of votes in his or her favor, ballot switching, mis-tallying of votes, terrorism or coercion of electors, the use of fake ballots, the preparation of ballots before election day, the allowing of voters to bring out ballots from the precincts the systematic way of cheating called 'Lansadera'.

On vote-buying

In the places I went to like Catbalogan, Gandara, Sta. Margarita, Calbayog City, and some other towns, voters seemed to have grown inured to vote-buying. The pay-offs were getting bigger and better with every election. For many voters, especially the poor, elections at least provide the opportunity to make some easy money. And with those candidates who refrained from it often lost. Thus, even candidates who appeared to be well-meaning in the quest for public service succumbed to them accepting it as a fact of Philippine politics that one just had to learn and live with it otherwise...

And as what has been observed days before the elections pay-off, money had already been prepared – thus local banks tend to run short of bills or sometimes have a bank ran at best.

A critically tense period comes on the night before the elections. Everyone waits and watches the other's movement, candidate's, leaders, relative or trusted aide hands out the cash to the voters assigned to him, making sure that their opponents from the other camp cannot make a counter-offer.

In hotly contested areas in Samar like Gandara, Sta. Margarita and Calbayog City and some island towns in Samar namely Tagapul-an, Almagro, Sto Niño, etc., election eve is 'ora de peligro' in so many ways. Armed men allegedly being maintained by politicians candidates move about in shadows effectively disrupting the vote-buying, at least of one side. This includes outright intimidation, bribery, terrorism, coercion of electors and sometimes actual execution occurs.

Seemingly, but most obvious, these was not done to the electoral populace particularly and singularly but included as well those nominated, selected, chosen and designated guardians and protectors of the people's constitutional right of suffrage-clean and unmolested.

Free and fair elections are fundamental in any democratic policy because without elections, it will be impossible for us to claim that the people are sovereign. It is from these words that our rule, regulations and policies for elections were patterned and promulgated and made into order and to be followed.

Here are some of the interviews we randomly conducted (names withheld for obvious reasons).

M.A., 51 yrs old – '...a candidate has so many ways to ascertain that you vote for him...OPEN BALLOT has long been practiced in our barangay and armed goons of incumbent candidates local officials looms in the surrounding scene supervising the operation...a voter, while voting, is allowed to be accompanied by a chosen poll assistance orderly to help you out write your candidates & after finishing shows it to the poll chairman if everything you wrote down is correct as required... or you are to follow certain writing arrangement of candidates from the senatorial, congressional, gubernatorial etc., to the last name required... or you are to write the middle name of the candidate or just write the middle initial of a candidate they are paid to vote for, or will be paid after they have voted and again to be shown to the poll chairman and or a poll watcher... these all have been done in this election.'

D.C., 56 yrs old – '...guin gamit san liberal an LANSADERA...where a genuine and official ballot is made to be spirited out of the polling place with the alleged connivance of the Board of Election Inspectors (BEI). The ballot is filled up by someone in a specific place and then given to a registered voter and who goes to their assigned precinct gets a ballot and pretends to write his candidates but cast the ballot previously filled out secretly, gets the ink in his nail; thereafter, he brings the blank ballot he received (and did not use) back to the safe house where it is also filled up. These went on and on till the last paid voter has voted.'

T. B., 34yrs. Old – '...hakot ngan tago ginhimo liwat nira labi na san mga tricycle drivers... (fetch & hide) took place in Calbayog City a day before elections. It begins with an epigrammatic message like...'pinakadto ka ni Mayor'...with no further explanation you are whisked away to a house, resort, or a hotel where you are to wait for the mayor. Through out the wait-in-captivity the willing victims are treated like kings, meals are served, drinks and all other needs you cared for are provided with friendliness till the last hour of the election. As you go out from the place you will be given envelopes containing money – the least P2,000 or P3,000 pesos and an indelible ink placed unto the proper finger nail of one who had cast his/her ballot and made to pretend they have just came from voting.'

J. C., 63 yrs old – '...damo san mga botante han NP in wara didto san listahan san local Comelec nga igin paskin sa kada mga presento... some electors, mostly from the NP loyalist, did not find their names in the list of voters posted by Comelec in the polling precincts. The list of voters provided by the local Comelec was different from the one posted outside polling places which in turn also differs from the Voters Registration Record (VRR) with the chairman. This faulty information caused confusion, delay in the voters and some never even had a chance to vote... during the counting at the precinct level, cheating is done through the misreading of the ballots. Sometimes, the names on the ballots are not read, at other times, names not written thereon are read, thus, votes are illegally added to or subtracted from the tally.'

Meanwhile, as the dusk of the 14th progressed deeper unto the night & turned to dawn at the 15th of May, witnessing the cheating done at the precinct level compared faintly to the cheating occurring at the municipal/city halls in most places we went too.

Unreturned ballot boxes, missing ballot boxes, all individual ballots in some ballot boxes obviously evident at a glance that it was all written by one hand, numerical ballot returns on the official ER's did not compare the same with the actual numerical count of ballots in the ballot boxes.

It was observed that some ballot boxes from the precinct were brought to a gym or an specific house and there were opened... allegedly, this was dagdag-bawas a technique made fashionable during the advent of the computer counted electoral returns on the 1986 & 2004 elections – again this 2007 several news dailies bannered this election phenomenon and made into a 'hot pandesal' in the early morning broadcast.

In the resultant unprecedented electoral results, with the so called Liberal party candidates affiliated to Lakas-CMD, won in all electoral posts in the municipalities, city and congressional district – a first ever in Samar.

Really, herding voters, buying voters, force and intimidation with threat to life of voters won the elections for the people, for the candidates, and the government of the Philippines!

'...Quo Vadis' my dearest Philippines?...'

Unless and until...'cheating by the people, for the people and of the people' ...remains unchecked by a more or less credible Commission on Election democracy in the Philippines will always be an endangered specie – and the hush hush 'POPULAR WILL' will be subverted!