GMA News Research: 181 RP towns consistent poll hotspots

EDERIC EDER and BRENDA BARRIENTOS

05/22/2007 | 11:42 PM

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On April 1, Freddie Boy Quidato, mayoral candidate in Placer, Masbate, and two of his supporters were walking on Sitio Bugtong at Cauayan village when a group of some 20 armed men sprayed them with bullets. Quidato survived the attack unhurt. His supporters, Tod Nonoy Duan and Toto Juanico, were not as lucky.

A few days later, national police records show that Alfredo Yuson, a supporter of another Masbate mayoral bet, allegedly killed in an ambush two supporters of a rival candidate.

Violence is not new in the province of Masbate. Its political history has left a trail of blood in recent years: Three Espinosas, all elected public officials, have been killed in over a decade. The Espinosas have been rulers of Masbate for almost half a century.

Police statistics show that election-related incidents have claimed at least 25 lives in Masbate since the 2001 polls. A recent GMA News Research study finds that all but three towns and cities in Masbate have been consistent hotspots in the last three elections.

Masbate, however, is not an isolated case. GMA News Research finds 181 cities and towns in the country are consistent hotspots since 2001. (see complete table)

Hotspots are areas considered election areas of concern (EAC) and election areas of immediate concern (EIAC). The police define EAIC as cities or municipalities where election-related violence are highly expected to occur. EAC are towns where election-related violence are likely to occur or where election-related offenses were committed during the previous elections.

consistent election hotspots

Eighteen of these towns are in Masbate: Arroyo, Baleno, Balud, Batuan, Cataingan, Cawayan, City Of Masbate, Claveria, Dimasalang, Mobo, Monreal, Palanas, Pio V. Corpuz (Limbuhan), Placer, San Fernando, San Jacinto, San Pascual, and Uson.

Meanwhile, Abra, province of killed Rep. Luis Bersamin, is another regular hotspot. Ten of its 27 towns are consistent hotspots. It was declared under the control of the Commission on Elections this year. In the 2004 elections, four towns in this province were also declared under Comelec control: Bangued, Danglas, La Paz and Tineg.

In Nueva Ecija, 17 out of 32 towns are hotspots. Jaen town, where violence also erupted and claimed lives this year, is among the 17.

Half of the towns in Lanao del Sur are also consistent hotspots in the national elections from 2001 to 2007. This year, elections failed to push through in 17 towns due to threats of violence.

In Cagayan, 16 out of 29 towns in are consistent hotspots.

Table 1. Consistent election hotspots
Municipality Province Region1
Bangued Abra CAR

2
Boliney Abra CAR

3
Danglas Abra CAR

4
Dolores Abra CAR

5
Lacub Abra CAR

6
Lagayan Abra CAR

7
Langiden Abra CAR

8
Malibcong Abra CAR

9
Tayum Abra CAR

10
Tubo Abra CAR

11
Trento Agusan Del Sur XIII

12
City Of Ligao Albay V

13
Jovellar Albay V

14
Libon Albay V

15
Pio Duran Albay V

16
Casiguran Aurora III

17
Dipaculao Aurora III

18
Sumisip Basilan ARMM

19
Batangas City Batangas IV-A

20
Tuy Batangas IV-A

21
Amulung Cagayan II

22
Buguey Cagayan II

23
Claveria Cagayan II

24
Enrile Cagayan II

25
Gattaran Cagayan II

26
Gonzaga Cagayan II

27
Iguig Cagayan II

28
Lal-Lo Cagayan II

29
Lasam Cagayan II

30
Peñablanca Cagayan II

31
Piat Cagayan II

32
Rizal Cagayan II

33
Santa Teresita Cagayan II

34
Santo Niño (Faire) Cagayan II

35
Tuao Cagayan II

36
Tuguegarao City Cagayan II

37
Jose Panganiban Camarines Norte V

38
Labo Camarines Norte V

39
San Lorenzo Ruiz (Imelda) Camarines Norte V

40
Santa Elena Camarines Norte V

41
Buhi Camarines Sur V

42
Sagnay Camarines Sur V

43
Mambajao Camiguin X

44
Bagamanoc Catanduanes V

45
Gigmoto Catanduanes V

46
Carmona Cavite IV-A

47
Maco Compostela Valley XI

48
Mawab Compostela Valley XI

49
New Corella Davao Del Norte XI

50
Talaingod Davao Del Norte XI

51
Don Marcelino Davao Del Sur XI

52
Baganga Davao Oriental XI

53
Caraga Davao Oriental XI

54
Governor Generoso Davao Oriental XI

55
Lupon Davao Oriental XI

56
Manay Davao Oriental XI

57
Mati Davao Oriental XI

58
San Isidro Davao Oriental XI

59
Tarragona Davao Oriental XI

60
Can-Avid Eastern Samar VIII

61
Dingras Ilocos Norte I

62
Laoag City Ilocos Norte I

63
Cabugao Ilocos Sur I

64
Alicia Isabela II

65
Angadanan Isabela II

66
Delfin Albano (Magsaysay) Isabela II

67
Ilagan Isabela II

68
Mallig Isabela II

69
San Pablo Isabela II

70
Lubuagan Kalinga CAR

71
Pasil Kalinga CAR

72
Pinukpuk Kalinga CAR

73
Tanudan Kalinga CAR

74
Tinglayan Kalinga CAR

75
Kauswagan Lanao Del Norte X

76
Munai Lanao Del Norte X

77
Bacolod-Kalawi (Bacolod Grande) Lanao Del Sur ARMM

78
Balabagan Lanao Del Sur ARMM

79
Bayang Lanao Del Sur ARMM

80
Binidayan Lanao Del Sur ARMM

81
Butig Lanao Del Sur ARMM

82
Calanogas Lanao Del Sur ARMM

83
Ganassi Lanao Del Sur ARMM

84
Kapai Lanao Del Sur ARMM

85
Lumba-Bayabao (Maguing) Lanao Del Sur ARMM

86
Madamba Lanao Del Sur ARMM

87
Malabang Lanao Del Sur ARMM

88
Masiu Lanao Del Sur ARMM

89
Mulondo Lanao Del Sur ARMM

90
Pagayawan Lanao Del Sur ARMM

91
Piagapo Lanao Del Sur ARMM

92
Poona Bayabao (Gata) Lanao Del Sur ARMM

93
Pualas Lanao Del Sur ARMM

94
Saguiaran Lanao Del Sur ARMM

95
Sultan Gumander Lanao Del Sur ARMM

96
Tugaya Lanao Del Sur ARMM

97
Sultan Kudarat (Nuling) Maguindanao ARMM

98
Aroroy Masbate V

99
Baleno Masbate V

100
Balud Masbate V

101
Batuan Masbate V

102
Cataingan Masbate V

103
Cawayan Masbate V

104
City Of Masbate Masbate V

105
Claveria Masbate V

106
Dimasalang Masbate V

107
Mobo Masbate V

108
Monreal Masbate V

109
Palanas Masbate V

110
Pio V. Corpuz (Limbuhan) Masbate V

111
Placer Masbate V

112
San Fernando Masbate V

113
San Jacinto Masbate V

114
San Pascual Masbate V

115
Uson Masbate V

116
Baliangao Misamis Occidental X

117
Clarin Misamis Occidental X

118
Sapang Dalaga Misamis Occidental X

119
Lagonglong Misamis Oriental X

120
Arakan North Cotabato XII

121
Banisilan North Cotabato XII

122
Carmen North Cotabato XII

123
Kabacan North Cotabato XII

124
Midsayap North Cotabato XII

125
M’lang North Cotabato XII

126
Pigkawayan North Cotabato XII

127
Pikit North Cotabato XII

128
Tulunan North Cotabato XII

129
Lope De Vega Northern Samar VIII

130
Silvino Lobos Northern Samar VIII

131
Cabanatuan City Nueva Ecija III

132
Carranglan Nueva Ecija III

133
Gabaldon (Bitulok & Sabani) Nueva Ecija III

134
Gapan Nueva Ecija III

135
General Mamerto Natividad Nueva Ecija III

136
Guimba Nueva Ecija III

137
Jaen Nueva Ecija III

138
Lupao Nueva Ecija III

139
Nampicuan Nueva Ecija III

140
Palayan City Nueva Ecija III

141
Pantabangan Nueva Ecija III

142
Quezon Nueva Ecija III

143
Rizal Nueva Ecija III

144
San Isidro Nueva Ecija III

145
San Jose City Nueva Ecija III

146
Santa Rosa Nueva Ecija III

147
Santo Domingo Nueva Ecija III

148
Calintaan Occidental Mindoro IV-B

149
Sablayan Occidental Mindoro IV-B

150
Sablayan Occidental Mindoro IV-B

151
Sablayan Occidental Mindoro IV-B

152
Santa Cruz Occidental Mindoro IV-B

153
Bansud Oriental Mindoro IV-B

154
Gloria Oriental Mindoro IV-B

155
San Carlos City Pangasinan I

156
Pagbilao Quezon IV-A

157
City Of Antipolo Rizal IV-A

158
Calbayog City Samar (Western Samar) VIII

159
Matuguinao Samar (Western Samar) VIII

160
San Jorge Samar (Western Samar) VIII

161
San Jose De Buan Samar (Western Samar) VIII

162
Santa Margarita Samar (Western Samar) VIII

163
Tarangnan Samar (Western Samar) VIII

164
Bacon Sorsogon V

165
Castilla Sorsogon V

166
City Of Sorsogon Sorsogon V

167
Matnog Sorsogon V

168
Santa Magdalena Sorsogon V

169
Columbio Sultan Kudarat XII

170
Siasi Sulu ARMM

171
Siasi Sulu ARMM

172
Lingig Surigao Del Sur XIII

173
La Paz Tarlac III

174
Kalawit Zamboanga Del Norte IX

175
La Libertad Zamboanga Del Norte IX

176
Sibuco Zamboanga Del Norte IX

177
Sirawai Zamboanga Del Norte IX

178
Dimataling Zamboanga Del Sur IX

179
Josefina Zamboanga Del Sur IX

180
Kumalarang Zamboanga Del Sur IX

181
Tabina Zamboanga Del Sur IX
Source: Philippine National Police, Commission on Elections
gmanews.tv

Comelec censures media for reporting own tally of poll results

The Commission on Elections (Comelec) censured members of the media for releasing results of the May 14 elections that are not “sanctioned” by the poll body.

In a notice posted at the Philippine International Convention Center (PICC) on Tuesday, the Comelec said that election results released by its control and releasing group are the only ones considered official outcome of the midterm elections.

“The tallies arrived at by individuals-including members of the media-observing the proceedings of the NBOC (National Board of Canvassers) are not official and are not sanctioned by the Comelec in any way,” said the advisory that was released by the poll body’s media and information committee.

The advisory appeared to have been posted as a response to why different figures coming from the NBOC’s tabulation of certificates of canvass are being reported by the media.

Since Wednesday last week when the NBOC started canvassing COCs from overseas and in different parts of the country, reporters covering operations at the PICC have been tabulating results on their own based on what they read in the canvass proceedings.

In the 2004 presidential polls, the media also did their own tabulation but were provided by the Comelec with copies of the official results at the end of day. It took the Comelec two days to release the official outcome of the canvassing at the time. GMANews.TV

TRO on Imbestigador ‘threat’ to press freedom

A Canada-based media watchdog group branded as a “threat” to media freedom Wednesday (Manila time) the temporary restraining order slapped on a public affairs television program reporting on a clan’s 60-year reign in Lanao del Norte province.

The International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), in its website (www.ifex.org), classified the urgency of the censorship on the TV show “Imbestigador” as a “Threat.”

Last May 12, a representative from Lanao del Norte’s second district secured the TRO that barred GMA Network Inc.’s “Imbestigador” from airing the segment on the Dimaporo clan.

Rep. Abdullah Dimaporo said in his petition that the program would only cause “irreparable damage” to his “good name,” claiming that the show did not show his side of the story.

He said that a circulating mobile phone message saying that the story would focus on his “corruption and greediness” (sic) prompted him to file the petition.

“The 72-hour TRO reached GMA Network when Imbestigador’s staff was in the last stages of editing the program for airing,” the IFEX said.

On the other hand, IFEX noted the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) labeled the restriction “as a clear case of prior restraint,”

In its statement, the NUJP said that while it not dispute the Dimaporo family’s right to seek redress if they feel the episode is unfair to them, “any redress they seek should be after the fact and should not involve [preventing] the airing of an episode that very clearly touches on an issue of public interest.”

Angel Directo, Imbestigador’s associate producer, asserted that “Imbestigador” had tried to secure an interview with Dimaporo.

She said the congressman initially agreed to an interview, but was later not available. She added that the program had sent a researcher and a cameraman to Lanao del Norte on May 11, but were still unable to obtain an interview.

The network was said to have been “under intense pressure” the previous week from the Dimaporos and their go-betweens to kill the story, via “letters, phone calls, and personal visits.”

Lawyer Jose Ibarra of the GMA-7 legal department said that the report’s showing should not have been blocked, noting that a story on the Dimaporos as a political family is “not a private aspect of their lives, but a public fact.”

Theodore Te, a human rights lawyer, said GMA-7 could have opted to still air the Dimaporo story in spite of the TRO, citing the constitutional provision on press freedom if charged with contempt of court.

Te also said that the network could have also appealed to the Supreme Court for an immediate restraining order on the TRO.

“GMA’s legal department is still awaiting another hearing to settle the case, since the initial summons to determine if the TRO would go beyond 72 hours was set too soon, on 13 May,” IFEX said. - GMANews.TV

Namfrel count, 11:20 pm: GO bets glued to 8 winning seats

FIDEL JIMENEZ, GMANews.TV

05/23/2007 | 12:38 AM

Genuine Opposition senatorial candidates continue occupying eight of the 12 winning seats as the National Citizens Movement for Free Elections’ (Namfrel) quick count tally result nears 60 percent, as of 11:20 p.m., Tuesday.

Namfrel’s partial, unofficial tally came from 133,073 precincts, representing 59.21 percent of the total number of polling precincts nationwide.

Fixed in the top five posts are GO bets Loren Legarda with 9,624,986 votes, Francis Joseph “Chiz” Escudero with 9,370,285 votes, Panfilo “Ping” Lacson with 8,279,916 votes and Manuel Villar Jr with 7, 9,33,889 votes and Liberal Party candidate Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan with 7,512,265 votes.

GO bet Benigno Simeon “Noynoy” Aquino III remained a sixth placer with 7,470,608 votes.

Seventh place is still cornered by Team Unity bet Edgardo Angara with 6, 626,557 votes.

Independent candidate Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan also stayed at the eighth spot with 6, 279,935 votes.

GO bet Alan Peter Cayetano remains at the ninth spot with 6,084,715 votes, followed by fellow opposition candidate Antonio Trillanes IV with 5,939,286 votes.

TU bet Joker Arroyo is still the 11th placer with 5,921,281 votes while GO candidate Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III completes the winning pack with 5, 805,271 votes. – GMANews.TV

Angara to Comelec: Probe TU’s 12-0 sweep if you must


Edgardo Angara, formerly from the opposition block, and now an administration senatorial candidate, found no problem in the growing calls for the Commission on Elections to immediately conduct an investigation on the reported 12-0 sweep of Team Unity in Maguindanao province.

“If the Comelec finds (that reports of election fraud in Mindanao are) credible, then they ought to investigate (them),” Angara told reporters on Tuesday when he dropped by at the headquarters of the National Movement for Free Elections in Greenhills, San Juan where quick count is on-going.

Angara, however, said that a 12-0 TU victory is not impossible in Maguindanao because all the mayors in the province’s 22 towns are unopposed and thus are capable of delivering command votes.

“I think (the election) was fair in Maguindanao…There are 22 towns and municipalities there and… the 22 mayors…have no opponents,” he said. – Fidel Jimenez, GMANews.TV

Reelected Pampanga town mayor ‘ousted’ by SC

Reelected Pampanga town mayor ‘ousted’ by SC

Even before he could assume his post, a reelected town mayor in Pampanga province has been ousted, on orders of the Supreme Court.

Sun-Star Pampanga (www.sunstar.com.ph) reported Wednesday that the high court ruled Mabalacat mayor Marino Morales violated the three-term limit for elected officials.

It said Morales decided not to contest the decision, though he will stay on as the town’s mayor until his present term ends on June 30.

With the development, Mabalacat vice mayor Cris Garbo, who won a seat in the provincial board in the May 14 election, assumed the town’s mayoralty post.

Garbo took his oath as mayor before Municipal Trial Court Judge Ricardo Valderama at the Marina Arcade in Barangay Dau in the town last May 17.

The high court’s decision dated May 9 decreed that Garbo stay in his position until June 30.

Mabalacat top councilor Cherry Manalo “would be vice mayor as a rule of succession,” he said.

“It is not in the SC order but Manalo would certainly take my old post,” said Garbo, who was never defeated in politics since he became councilor in 1992.

Garbo said he would ensure the delivery of basic services until he vacates his post. He won as Pampanga’s first district board member in the recent elections.

“Just like always, I will report for work more than once a week at the Municipal Hall although there is no day off in public service,” said Garbo, a graduate of medicine at the Angeles University Foundation (AUF).

The high court issued its ruling a few days before the May 14 election. The ruling stemmed from a petition lodged by Morales’ opponent Anthony Dee.

Morales had beaten Dy in the 2004 elections. Dee later filed a disqualification protest against him.

In its ruling, the high court said the term of Morales from 2004 to 2007 would have been his fourth straight term. The 1987 Constitution allows three successive terms only.
GMANews.TV

SunStar: ‘People power’ drags on to 2nd day in Digos

05/23/2007 | 08:12 AM

A so-called “people power” vigil dragged on to its second day Tuesday in Digos in Davao del Sur as supporters of Rep. Douglas Cagas barricaded the Commission on Elections (Comelec) provincial office in the provincial capitol compound.

Sun-Star Davao (www.sunstar.com.ph) reported Wednesday that Cagas claimed he and his supporters will continue the barricade to prevent election returns of Malita from being counted.

Police personnel were already in the area to enforce order but said they will employ maximum tolerance against Cagas’s supporters, so long as they would not create trouble.

Cagas insisted he was a victim of cheating by his opponent, Rep. Claude Bautista, in Malita town. Cagas claimed there was vote-shaving in favor of Bautista.

He called on his supporters Monday to barricade the Davao del Sur provincial capitol and prevent the submission of the election returns from Malita.

Malita is the bailiwick of the Bautistas and is the second biggest town in the province.

Cagas said he was enjoying a 12,993 margin over Bautista for a total of 156,002 votes province-wide as against Bautista’s 143,009.

But he added a “dagdag-bawas” in Malita padded some 15,000 votes in favor of Bautista, and thus his opponent is set to win the election by some 2,000-vote margin.

Cagas earlier vowed bloodshed if Comelec officials would allow cheating in their province. - GMANews.TV

PCIJ: Maguindanao’s 12-0 sweep for TU: ‘Hello Garci’ Take 2?

MALACAÑANG strategists are trumpeting the news of a 12-0 sweep by Team Unity senatorial candidates of the Maguindanao elections as the vaunted power of the administration’s political machinery at work through bloc voting.

With TU bets trailing in early tallies by both the National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections (Namfrel) and the Commission on Elections (Comelec), Malacañang has claimed that “command votes” from its bailiwicks would eventually put them in the senatorial winning circle.

As of the morning of May 16, with 73 percent of the votes in the province’s 27 towns counted, Mindanews reported that the administration ticket was lording it over the opposition in the Maguindanao tally, with Ilocos Sur Governor Luis “Chavit” Singson emerging as the surprise top vote-getter with 136,044 votes out of a total of 336,774 registered voters. Singson was followed by Bukidnon Representative Juan Miguel Zubiri (133,321 votes), and former Senator Tito Sotto (132,103 votes).

But a bewildered Commissioner Rene Sarmiento, the poll commissioner-in-charge assigned to ARMM during the May 14 elections, remarked that this is the first time he has heard of such a result, and said that the Commission on Elections will have to look into the matter.

They should, especially with how the elections turned out last Monday in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). Foreign observers were witness to how the polls in the region’s six provinces were marred by widespread violence, blatant vote-buying and election irregularities.

Moreover, the Maguindanao tally brings to mind the suspicious results of the 2004 elections that came from the region, whose votes helped ensure Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s victory by a 1.1 million-vote lead over Fernando Poe Jr.

In 2004, Muslim Mindanao votes were indeed crucial to Arroyo’s winning margin as the region accounted for close to 300,000 of the lead. In fact, 17 percent of Arroyo’s total votes obtained in Mindanao came from ARMM. In seven towns ruled by the pro-Arroyo Ampatuan clan, Arroyo won over Poe by an incredible vote ratio of 82,411 to 142 (or 99.83 percent to 0.17 percent). In two towns, Arroyo garnered all the votes, with Poe getting zero.

More significantly, Maguindanao, along with Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi and Lanao del Sur, figured prominently in the “Hello, Garci” recordings — phone conversations between Arroyo and former Comelec commissioner Virgilio Garcillano caught on tape allegedly detailing efforts to manipulate the outcome of the 2004 polls in Arroyo’s favor.

One of the calls made by Arroyo on June 6, 2004 sought Garcillano’s assurance about the consistency of election forms in Maguindanao. Garcillano’s reply: “Hindi naman ho masyadong problema sa Maguindanao (Maguindanao isn’t much of a problem).”

Based on official results, Arroyo won handily in Maguindanao, obtaining 199,431 (69 percent) of the votes compared to Poe’s 63,313 (22 percent). This was, however, disputed by Guimid Matalam, a losing gubernatorial bet, citing alleged cheating in 25 of 27 towns. Matalam charged that election returns were prepared even before the voting started on May 10, 2004, and that ballot boxes were never brought to the precincts.

One town in Maguindanao, Talitay, was mentioned in a call also made on June 6, 2004 by Comelec lawyer Wynne Asdala to Garcillano discussing efforts to garner more votes for K-4 senatorial candidate Robert Barbers. “Itong Talitay tsaka Columbio (a town in Sultan Kudarat), gusto nilang mag-submit ng bagong COC at saka SOV para mahabol yung si Barbers (They want to submit new COCs and SOVs in Talitay and Columbio so Barbers can catch up),” Asdala told Garcillano.

When asked for his side by the PCIJ in 2005, Asdala admitted talking with the former poll commissioner about the votes in Talitay, Maguindanao but denied the conversation was about attempts to pad Barbers’s votes.

What should also be a cause of concern is that Maguindanao’s provincial election supervisor is lawyer Lintang Bedol. In 2004, Bedol was reassigned to Sultan Kudarat shortly before the May elections. Sitting also as chairman of the Cotabato City board of canvassers, he presided over “highly problematic” counts in the two areas.

Bedol’s name was heard several times in the “Hello, Garci” tapes. Apparently, he was entrusted with “interesting” tasks during the 2004 elections, aside from reporting the results to Garcillano, as can be gleaned from these excerpts from our June 16, 2005 post, “Vidol who?“:

In the conversation that supposedly took place between Garcillano and the President at 9:47 a.m. on May 29, 2004, Arroyo wanted to know the extent of her defeat in Cotabato City.

The elections commissioner replied, “Hindi ho siguro sosobra ng (It probably wouldn’t exceed) forty, Ma’am. Nag-usap na kami ni Atty. Bedol….Kami ni Atty. Bedol, nag-usap ho ngayon (Atty. Bedol and I talked just now). But I’ll give you the exact figure ma’am in a little while, para ma-ano ninyo.” The final outcome: Arroyo: 8,510; Poe, 29,417.

Meanwhile, a certain Danny, apparently worried about the Cotabato count, asked Garcillano in a phone conversation on May 25, 2004: “Sir, ano kaya, nagawan kaya ng paraan ni Bedol (Did Bedol manage to do something about this)?”

Former senator Robert Barbers, who purportedly called up Garcillano on May 29 to inquire about the Comelec en banc’s resolution transferring the canvassing venue from Cotabato City to Manila, was told, “…Bine-verify ko, pero si Atty. Bedol, yung ating tao dun, hindi makontak (I’m verifying it, but I can’t contact Atty. Bedol, our man there).

Bedol, who sources from the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) describe as very close to Garcillano (the commissioner spent most of his 43 years in Mindanao), obviously wielded some power. The sources identified the voice of a woman complaining about Bedol to Garcillano as that of Comelec Region 12 Clarita Callar. She is heard saying, “Ba’t inaaway ako ni Bedol (Why is Bedol picking a fight)…”

In the tapes, Bedol was also caught talking to Garcillano at least twice. (see “Conversations with and about Bedol“)

Maguindanao’s “very high” voter turnout, with no town registering lower than 90 percent, according to Bedol, likewise lends to the improbability of the election results. It will be recalled that in the 2004 elections, the total votes cast for the party-list candidates in the province was 283,012 out of a total of 334,331 registered voters, corresponding to an unusually high 84.65 turnout. – Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

gmanews.tv 

PCIJ: The case for computerized elections

Ruben D. Canlas, PCIJ

05/20/2007 | 11:06 AM

WHEN IT comes to new consumer trends and communication technology, we Filipinos are always at the cutting edge. Our fashion mimics the latest from the West. We quickly took to texting, blogging, and Friendster. The children of our wealthy and middle-class families sport iPods and PSPs, while the rest of us use hi-tech mobile phones to vote on Philippine Idol and play SMS contests.

Ironically, while we have toppled government leaders by texting, we cannot seem to use technology to vote them in place. Our electoral system scores very low in the evolutionary ladder, second only to the plastic ballot boxes I recently saw being used in Africa, and voting by a show of hands.

Our system is in dire need of a makeover, one that is worthy of the Internet age. Even the Commission on Elections (Comelec) thinks so, although it somehow always shoots itself in the foot every time it tries to bring up the subject. The good news is this July, Comelec is finally going to test an Internet voting system with Filipinos working in Singapore. The plan is not exactly flawless, but it’s still a step in the right direction.

As expected, too many naysayers complain loudly whenever computerization and elections are mentioned in the same breath. Their main beef: computerization will make cheating easier. If their assertion is accurate, how come no politician has ever tried stealing via Internet banking?

Besides, cheating already exists in our election culture, whether technology is there or not. In fact, we can use the strengths of computers to solve the most persistent headaches we always face during elections: slow count, high costs, miscommunication, and recurring human error.

Computerizing elections can only result in:

Speed

Computerization will mean we no longer have to count the votes manually and one by one. We will know who won within a day or two, instead of waiting a week or more. As of this writing, Pampanga has announced that it will probably have a new governor by Friday, four days after the vote. The rest of the country will probably wait longer.

In the most progressive countries (from where we often copy our fashion and cultural trends), their computerized systems allow them to know who won within a day or two. In the United States, the longest count in recent history was in 2000, when George W. Bush and Al Gore had a very tight presidential race and votes had to be recounted. Even their recount took only a few days to do.

Other election-related processes will be accomplished with less complications as well. When the Supreme Court disqualified Joselito ‘Peter’ Cayetano at the last minute, the Comelec could no longer remove his name from the ballot. Digital ballots will be easier to correct, should corrections be needed.

Cost Savings

Digital ballots will bring savings on money, time, and effort. We will use less paper (and even help save trees in the process). Our newly elected officials can go to work earlier. And our losing candidates can also file their disputes earlier. (It might still take the same amount of time for electoral protests to be resolved, but then that’s another issue altogether.)

Fewer Errors

Previous elections, including this recent one, are constant proof that human counting is inefficient. It is slow and prone to errors. Even our most persistent math teachers are not built for the repetitive and tedious task of ballot counting.

Witness the way we count the vote: Teacher Alpha picks out one ballot from the box. She announces a name to Teacher Beta, who scans the board for the right name and ticks off one vote for that candidate. The results are also echoed on paper by another teacher. Then all the scores are counted manually and aggregated on a form (the electoral return) that is submitted to a central location. More often than not, this process can take up until late night to complete.

Many things can go wrong during this tedious, manual process. Fatigue and distraction can cause ballot counters to make mistakes. Worse, a malicious person could intentionally announce the wrong name or award a vote to a different person. The election return — a document that is less open to scrutiny — can be intercepted and altered. Or as has happened lately, ballot boxes can be stolen or the precinct itself burned to the ground. In Pampanga where ex-priest Eddie Panlilio is currently leading, the slow count gives more opportunity for malicious elements to disrupt the vote. If we were casting digital votes, our ballots would have been counted by the time we reached home, shrinking the window of opportunity for fraud.

Smaller Window for Fraud

We know many politicians resort to dirty tricks to cheat the vote. But arguing against computerization because there are cheats is like arguing against the Internet because it has porn. Both problems exist outside of the technology and cannot be used as arguments to suppress the technology itself. In fact, a digital system will give less opportunity for fraud.

To improve integrity and minimize the risk of fraud, both low-tech and hi-tech elections use the same basic criteria: (1) make the process as transparent as possible, allowing anyone to follow and check each step, and (2) easily verify that the steps have not been compromised. Both criteria are easier to fulfill with a computerized system rather than our primitive one.

Recall the cases where Senators Miriam Defensor Santiago and Loren Legarda questioned the electoral results. The only way to verify the result was to audit the trail — go back through the process and check each step, reviewing all the returns and counter-checking them against the original ballots. On the local level, double-checking or recounting is daunting. At the national level, it will be horrendously expensive, as both Santiago and Legarda will probably attest.

We could speed up the manual audit process by employing as many people as possible, say, 1,000. Each of these auditors can sift through the data, review the calculations, and form their own conclusions. But that would mean reproducing 1,000 copies of electoral returns and ballots. And, as we all know, physical reproductions tend to lose a lot of information available from the originals. Some accredited pollwatching groups, in fact, are now complaining of having been handed copies that are practically blank sheets.

In contrast, in an electronic process, computerized ballots and returns can be embedded with encryption keys that give off a warning signal when they have been compromised. The Comelec could also opt to publish the process on the Web. Citizens could then visit the site to independently check the results. They could review electoral returns in their precinct and even their own ballot (by entering a personally registered password).

Imagine the possibilities that this transparent, electronic system would allow us:

* If I were concerned about the results of my precinct, I could visit a Web page where I can check the returns of my precinct. Then I could even log in, enter my personal password, and check my ballot.
* In this transparent system, I can theoretically ask the other voters in my precinct to also check their ballots. Then, we could all theoretically authorize the Website to pool our votes together and show us the results. Through this, we can cross-verify the count quickly and with less effort than in a manual system.
* My ballot could have an embedded trigger that will send me email or a text message in case my ballot is not counted or if it is altered.

NOW YOU see why news about Comelec’s planned electronic voting experiment in Singapore is positive. Last April, the commission even caused ripples in the global geek ecology when it invited hackers all over the world to try breaking into the Internet voting system, which runs from July 10 to 30.

For the Comelec, it’s a big leap. Previously, its attempts to push the computerization agenda were done mostly in the political arena and resulted in dead-end debates. But now it has stopped talking and just went and did it. Okay: some legal challenges forced the commission to lower its expectations and make it a mock vote instead. But this latest move by the Comelec sends a good message. “Our system is secure,” they seem to be saying, “and you can try finding holes in it.” By doing this, Comelec provides us an opportunity to see the digital system in action and then see its weaknesses and strengths.

This early, some geeks have already raised some concerns about the Comelec implementation. One of the main criticisms against it is that it is built on a patented, proprietary system — specifically, one developed by the Spanish company Scytl Consortium. As any self-respecting geek would tell you, a patented software system is dangerous, since the system will likely be expensive and not entirely open to scrutiny. It also makes the user, i.e. our country, highly dependent on the firm that sold it.

Instead, government could have preferred to use Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). FOSS will cost a fraction of the price tag of a patented system. It will also allow many techies to join in the process, check the software for security holes, and patch it efficiently and at less cost to the government. In contrast, a patented software system will lock us with the foreign vendor. Making changes to the patented software is also likely to introduce higher maintenance costs. We will not be able to shift easily to other, cheaper service providers, since the source code is the foreign firm’s property.

Another criticism levelled against the mock Internet elections is that malicious hackers would most probably keep mum about security holes that they find during the event. They could then exploit the holes to their advantage at a later date, i.e. when real e-elections are held. Holding one mock vote should also not fool us into thinking that the system will forever be secure.

Let’s be clear on one thing. In the real world — as it is in the electronic world — nothing is absolutely secure. Locks can be picked or disassembled. Boxes can be pried open. Documents and ballots can be altered. These risks have not stopped us from holding elections.

The same reasoning applies to the digital world: we can conduct electronic transactions with an acceptable degree of security and risk. In the same light, we can safely vote, count, and declare winners in electronic elections before malicious people can corrupt the system. Provided, of course, that we remain vigilant and have no brownouts. – Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism

Ruben Canlas Jr. is CEO and Chief Knowledge Consultant of Dig It All Solutions Inc., an IT consultancy and software development firm. He is also a consultant for various private and government agencies and nongovernmental organizations, an IT columnist for Entrepreneur, and a blogger for GMANews.tv.

Marines, tanks guard Basilan canvassing

Marines backed by tanks were brought in to the provincial capitol of Basilan province to guard the canvassing of votes in hotly contested Sumisip town.

Sun-Star online (www.sunstar.com.ph) reported Wednesday that it was the second time the canvassing of votes in Sumisip town was transferred because of poll-related violence.

While Marine troops backed by two V-300 tanks were dispatched to secure the provincial Capitol compound in Isabela City, policemen were also deployed in and around the place.

The road leading to the Capitol was temporarily closed to traffic while all people entering the compound were required to wear IDs and undergo inspection before being allowed entry.

Canvassing for Sumisip was first transferred to Lamitan after gunmen attacked a school where it was originally held, but twin explosions injured three in a Lamitan school Monday.

Authorities said the explosion came from an M-79 grenade launcher, and disrupted canvassing for Sumisip town inside the Lamitan Central Elementary School.

Injured were supporters of Sumisip mayoralty candidate Haber Asarul and incumbent Basilan Governor Wahab Akbar, including Nasser Asarul, Ben Idris, and Jalil Paris.

The three wounded watchers were rushed to a hospital in Lamitan for treatment.

Akbar was leading with 24,687 votes over his closest rival in a one-on-one race for the lone congressional district. Akbar garnered 66,264 votes as against Jim Hataman-Saliman’s 41,586 votes.

Asarul, one of the wounded watchers of Akbar, said they were eating in a waiting shed when the incident occurred.

Monday night’s explosion was the second that took place in a canvassing area in Basilan.

Last Wednesday, a Commission on Elections (Comelec) staff was injured when a grenade lobbed at the student center of Basilan State College (BSC) in Isabela City exploded.

The incident happened while the municipal board of canvassers was canvassing the votes for Lantawan town at the BSC’s student center.

A second grenade landed beneath the table of the board of canvassers but failed to explode.

Except for the town of Sumisip, the canvassing of votes in all other cities and towns had been completed.

Meanwhile, incumbent Lantawan mayor Tahira Ismael received a fresh mandate, after beating her three male rivals. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) proclaimed her Sunday.

Ismael said she will continue her programs in her town. She was reelected for her third and last term in office as the town mayor of Lantawan.

She bested three other candidates who are all males with a lead of 3,000 votes over her closest rival.

Ismael’s opponents included incumbent Vice Mayor Hamsarula Hajirul, former mayor Tantung Hashim, and businessman Haramain Akbar.

Voters’ turnout in the May 14 elections in Lantawan was 75 percent. Lantawan has a total of 35 barangays with 17,771 registered voters.GMANews.TV

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