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Expelling banshees

/ 07:45 AM July 24, 2012

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 III shredded the Autonomous Region of  Muslin Mindanao’s notorious  “Book of Voters.”

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

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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 as 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

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“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 reexamine in biometric verification process  in days ahead. In Lanao del Sur, Reform ARMM Now, a nongovernment organization, 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 the National Statistics Office found a population of 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.

Registered 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 did Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel manage to get his   rightful Senate seat.

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Hindi tayo nag-iisa. Look at  Zimbabwe’s registration lists.  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 three 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 United States, the 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.

“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.

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TAGS: Autonomous Region of Muslin Mindanao, Book of Voters, President Benigno Aquino III
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