Mindanao execs warn of May 10 special operations
By Aurea Calica
The Philippine Star
ROXAS CITY, Capiz , Philippines – Liberal Party (LP) presidential candidate Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III disclosed yesterday that he had received information about “special operations” or cheating being planned by certain groups to manipulate the May 10 elections in Mindanao.
He said that local officials, including those not allied with the LP, have pledged not to participate in any plan to cheat or derail the elections in their jurisdictions.
Aquino said the special operations or cheating during elections had been known to be going on in the country but the problem was that nobody had ever been convicted of an election offense.
“Think of the transition from one administration to another as a sign of a mature democracy. But how come in every election we are like this? During my mother’s (former President Corazon Aquino) time, there was an orderly transition (to former President Fidel Ramos) but we are going back to where we used to be. There is talk of no-el (no elections), failure (of elections scenarios). Why are we stepping back instead of moving forward?” Aquino said.
President Arroyo was accused of cheating in the 2004 presidential race after the discovery of alleged wiretapped conversations she had with former elections commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, which became known as the “Hello, Garci” tapes.
Aquino said the “Hello, Garci” scandal has not been resolved, and if elected he would form a commission to investigate the 2004 poll scandal and other anomalies in which Mrs. Arroyo had been implicated.
He said that the bombings in Basilan last Tuesday might be a prelude to a disruption of the May 10 elections in Mindanao.
He said violent incidents would force the LP to double efforts to ensure that elections in the south would be honest, since there are widespread reports that poll fraud might occur in Mindanao.
He lamented that violence in Mindanao erupted when the Commission on Elections (Comelec) had not yet responded to their concerns regarding poll automation.
He said it would be difficult to speculate on what his rivals could do in Mindanao, especially if it would be placed under military control.
“We are still gathering data so we can arrive at a decision based on correct information. That’s our training, because when you jump to conclusions chances are you will make faulty plans,” Aquino said.
He said many previous violent incidents have remained unresolved, and he had earlier warned that the suspected Abu Sayyaf bandits involved in the latest Basilan bombings used C4 plastic explosives that are only available to the military.
“In mining and construction here, the use of C4 is rare unlike in the US. Where do you access the C4? Normally in the military, not in the PNP (Philippine National Police),” Aquino said.
“Where did the C4 come from? The current administration never answers. Do we really have tight control over explosives?” he said.
LP’s Muslim senatorial candidate Yasmin Lao called for sobriety amidst the worsening breakdown of peace and order in Mindanao.
She said that the renewed attacks in Basilan could be part of a sinister plot to sabotage the May 10 elections in the region.
Lao condemned the series of attacks on a Roman Catholic church, a school grandstand and three other public places in Isabela City in Basilan as un-Islamic and urged the police to work double time to arrest the attackers and ensure the safety of the public.
She said the bombings could be part of an organized plot to derail the elections.
Administration Sen. Edgardo Angara said there is a 70 percent chance that elections would fail next month, which could plunge the country into chaos.
Angara stressed that there is a great probability of a failure of elections, given the admission by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) that there is a 30 to 40 percent chance they would revert to manual elections and the growing percentage of those who may be disenfranchised or fail to cast their votes.
Filipinos are preparing for a historic election in which they will vote using machines for the first time, but there are rising fears the experiment could fail and trigger deep political chaos.
More than 82,000 automated machines will be used in the elections, with results expected to be known in just two days instead of several weeks under the former hand-counted manual system.
But electricity supply problems, data transmission complications, the reliability of the machines themselves and the potential for the system to be manipulated could lead to a failure of elections, analysts said.
“There are a lot of problems and vulnerabilities in the system that have not been checked, and this could lead to a failure,” Bobby Tuazon, policy studies director at the Center for People Empowerment and Governance, told AFP.
“These machines have not been subjected to rigid stress tests in actual conditions,” said Tuazon, whose group is an independent poll watchdog that has closely studied the automation process.
The breakdown of two machines in Hong Kong when voting for overseas-based Filipinos got underway on the weekend only heightened the concerns.
The automated polls are being introduced to reduce the risk of cheating, which has plagued Philippine elections in the past, and to make the process of counting 50 million votes more reliable and efficient.
But the Comelec has even admitted there is a chance 30 percent of the machines, provided by a Dutch-Filipino consortium in a P7.2-billion- ($161-million) deal, could fail.
Noynoy disputes Villar’s claim
Meanwhile, Aquino also disputed the claim of main rival Sen. Manuel Villar of the Nacionalista Party that he was the real ally of President Arroyo.
Aquino said as far as he was concerned, the LP did not accept all defectors from the administration party Lakas-Kampi-CMD because of certain qualifications and standards that the LP wants its members to adapt.
Aquino explained that Albay Gov. Joey Salceda, a senior economic adviser of Mrs. Arroyo, was accepted to the LP because he is independent-minded.
He said the NP, however, had accepted Lakas defectors that LP rejected, which proved that Villar’s party lacked principles.
Aquino said there would be other defectors from other major parties that would join LP.
He said the LP was making all those who wanted to join them agree to certain terms, especially on the kind of governance they would like to have.
Aquino said Salceda would take care of the LP’s campaign in Bicol and that he would also consider the Albay governor to be one of his advisers.
Aquino and Roxas met yesterday with Sagay City Mayor Alfredo Maranon of the Nationalist People’s Coalition.
The LP bets endorsed the bid for Negros Occidental governor of Maranon who had not yet endorsed any presidential candidate.
LP leaders assailed the continuous black propaganda being conducted by NP and Nationalist People’s Coalition vice presidential candidate Sen. Loren Legarda against Roxas.
The LP pointed out that Legarda was the source of the revived allegations against Roxas’ wife, broadcast journalist Korina Sanchez, the attacks against the Cheaper Medicine Law and the land case involving the Aranetas now pending before the Supreme Court.
Roxas lamented that his wife, who had decided to work on the sidelines, had been dragged into the mudslinging. With Jose Rodel Clapano, Antonieta Lopez, Manny Galvez