ISLAM AND DEMOCRACY MEDIA FORUM: ARMM, an Electoral Basket Case? - Foundation Office Philippines
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The Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS), together with the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy (PCID) launched the inaugural session of a series of media forums dealing with various issues related to the Muslim community in the Philippines at the Club Filipino, San Juan City, last 25 July, 2007. Apart from journalists, participants in the forum include various stakeholders from government, civil society, and the diplomatic corps.
KAS Country Representative Klaus Preschle remarked in his opening statements that such forums give the media the opportunity to become credible sources of information to the general public based on properly researched issues, and that the media should be made use of as a powerful tool in information dissemination, in this case, regarding the issues of Muslim Mindanao.
Amina Rasul, lead convenor of the PCID, remarked: “What is lacking is a true picture of the situation in Muslim Mindanao. For years, the situation has continuously worsened: poverty abounds, conflict is never-ending, and the political machinery has – more often than not – advanced the self-interests of those in power rather than the interests of the people they are supposed to serve. The world is left to view Muslim Mindanao as hopeless, but it is only hopeless if nobody is willing to find out and begin solving the problems there. These media forums are a step towards creating an accurate picture of what is truly happening, and thus have a true understanding of what the problems are. Only then can we start to talk about solutions, and effect change for peace and development in ARMM.”
The inaugural session featured a presentation by LENTE (Legal Network for Truthful Elections) member and former human rights Commissioner Atty. Nasser Marohomsalic, entitled “ARMM: An Electoral Basket Case?”, which delved into the persistent and recurring issue of electoral fraud in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). These electoral problems were brought into national awareness in 2004 with the unresolved “Hello Garci?” scandal, and the more recent case of Lintang Bedol and the long battle for the last Senate slot between now-victorious Sen. Juan Miguel Zubiri and Senatorial candidate Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III. Atty. Marohomsalic’s presentation further included statistical and anecdotal evidences of anomalies witnessed by both local and foreign observers during the recently-completed May 14 elections in ARMM. Such anomalies included election-related violence, “dagdag-dagdag” (add-add) practices, national-regional “vote-leasing” dynamics, statistically improbable electoral outcomes, vote buying, and padding of the voters’ lists as indicated by massive increases in voting populations in the region. He also asserted that while electoral fraud can be traced back to the Marcos dictatorship, the scale and brazenness of today’s cheating is unprecedented.
Among the reactors to the presentation were Former Ambassador Henrietta de Villa, founding and current Chairperson of the Parish Pastoral Council for Responsible Voting (PPCRV), Former COMELEC Commissioner Mehol Sadain, and Executive Director of Mindanews, Ms. Carolyn Arguillas. COMELEC Commissioner Rene Sarmiento gave the closing remarks.
Ms. Carolyn Arguillas, editor of Mindanews.com, highlighted the unprecedented participation of numerous ordinary ARMM citizens, through various local and national civil society organizations, in monitoring the electoral process in these areas. “This,” she noted, “is proof that ordinary citizens of ARMM do not want their region to be a basket case anymore.”
There were several recommendations made by the forum’s panel of reactors and other guests with regard to the possible means by which elections in ARMM could be cleaned up. Among the proposals were the purging of the voters’ lists, a revisit of the political structure of ARMM (as an entity beholden to Malacañang and with an untempered drive for creating new provinces and municipalities which become the eventual birthplaces of ghost and multiple-registered voters), the implementation of an effective civic education founded on the principles of human dignity, the common good, subsidiarity, and solidarity, the automation of the electoral process from registration to the actual voting, and the complete and thorough cleaning up of COMELEC’s rank and file at the national and the field level.
In his closing remarks, COMELEC Commissioner Rene Sarmiento called for the creation of a multi-sectoral, inter-faith group to act as the voice of the people to demand COMELEC, Congress, and the President to implement the necessary reforms for Philippine elections. Through such an initiative he said that ARMM, from being an electoral basket case, can instead become an “electoral show case”.