Drilon questions 78% hike in Maguindanao voters

Drilon questions 78% hike in Maguindanao voters
By Philip Tubeza
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines—Former Senate President Franklin Drilon Tuesday questioned the “improbably high voting population” in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM), particularly the province of Maguindanao, and urged the Commission on Elections to purge the voters’ list in the region.

Drilon, a Liberal Party senatorial bet, noted that while other provinces in Mindanao registered voter population increases between eight and 16 percent from 2007 to 2009, the province of Maguindanao registered an unbelievable 78 percent.

Citing figures from the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel), Drilon said Lanao del Sur’s voting population grew by 16 percent (from 396,722 in 2007 to 459,012 in 2009); Sulu by 12 percent (from 250,571 to 280,257); Tawi-Tawi by 11 percent (from 140,232 to 156,027); and Basilan by eight percent (from 181,445 to 195,845).

Maguindanao recorded the biggest increase from 336,774 to 601,057, he added.

Drilon noted that the ARMM had gained notoriety in the 2004 presidential election as the alleged site of massive fraud that favored President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The ARMM is composed of the provinces of Lanao del Sur, Tawi-Tawi, Basilan, Maguindanao and Sulu. It had a registered voting population of 1.6 million as of early 2009, Drilon added.

He said a National Statistics Coordination Board (NSCB) official, whom he did not name, also felt that the region’s listed overall population growth rate of 5.4 percent—more than double the national average—was “patently unrealistic.”

Drilon said the LP was worried that local ARMM officials were padding the region’s population figures so they could carve out new districts to get higher local budget allocations.

“Already, we are getting persistent reports that the unrealistic population growth rate in the ARMM is causing so much confusion among government data gatherers that a technical committee in the census department is studying whether to accept the numbers as valid or not,” Drilon said.

The Ampatuan connection

Drilon then linked the ARMM voting figures to the Department of Justice’s recent decision to release two members of the prominent Ampatuan clan accused in the Maguindanao massacre.

“It might be a prelude to massive administration cheating in the region during the elections,” he said.

“To make the elections credible to the Filipino people and the international community, I am urging Comelec Chairman Jose Melo to seriously review the existing voters’ list in ARMM and have it immediately purged,” he added.

Earlier, LP campaign manager Florencio Abad said the DoJ’s decision to clear Zaldy and Akmad Ampatuan from involvement in the Maguindanao massacre could mean the “Ampatuan cheating machine” in the ARMM would be put to work again during the May 10 elections.

“With 23 days left before the May presidential elections, the timing of the dismissal of the case and order of the release of the two…can only fuel further suspicion that the Arroyo regime will once again employ the dreaded but effective Ampatuan cheating machine in ARMM to manipulate the coming elections according to Arroyo’s whims,” Abad said in a statement on Sunday.

The Ampatuans were close allies of Ms Arroyo before they were implicated in the massacre of 57 people, including 32 journalists, on Nov. 23, 2009.

Zaldy was suspended as governor of the ARMM while Akmad as vice governor of Maguindanao as a result of their alleged involvement in the massacre.

In the 2004 elections, President Arroyo enjoyed a comfortable lead over her opponents in the region allegedly due to the Ampatuans’ influence over the electorate, Drilon said.

He agreed that the DoJ ruling revived fears that the Arroyo administration “might again resort to massive fraud in the ARMM” to have its candidates win in the May elections.

Karen Ang

A plebeian who is trying to make small changes in this world.