Posted by: daniellesabai | 2010/04/06

Philippines: Notes on the Current Situation – Part 1

Richard Solis

Signs of the times are pointing to a different direction

A little, more than a month to go before the May 10, 2010 local and national elections, more than eighty-five thousand (85,000) candidates are vying for the seventeen thousand (17,000) local and national positions and 50.2 million voters will have to select upon them. However, the fast and oftentimes complex events in the country have shown a very blurring picture whether this first automated election will really take place or succeed in getting near to its completion in terms of preparations and implementation or back up alternatives just in case there will be failures in some areas. Four days from now, this new method will not be tried in absentee voting in Hongkong and some South East Asian countries where around 95,000 voters will cast their votes thru postal and manual voting, as well as automated voting through the Precinct Count and Optical Scanning (PCOS) machines.

There are clear signs for instance that the current administration is preparing for a holding up situation which means going beyond June 30, 2010, the constitutional date when the sitting president is to give up to the new and truly elected president to govern the country. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA), the current sitting president has already appointed her new chief of Staff for the Armed Forces of the Philippines. She has appointed new commanding generals of the Army, Air force and is about to appoint the commanding general of the Navy, all of whose common denominator is proven loyalty to GMA and all belong to Class 1978 of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) who had adopted GMA as honorary classmate.

The supreme Court (14 associate Justices are Arroyo appointees out of 15) has just approved a decision ordering the Judicial Bar Council (JBC) to submit to GMA for appointment a list of candidates for the Chief Justice (CJ) when the sitting CJ will be retiring on May 17, 2010 (seven days after the election) defying and redefining what is clearly stated in the 1987 Philippine constitution that the sitting president cannot make appointments unless temporary…two months prior to election…(Article Vll section 15 of the 1987 Philippine constitution). The spirit and the intent of the law is to stop the outgoing president to continue to govern even after the end of his/her constitutional term. This positive decision of the Court for GMA made her to appoint any officials in both Judiciary and Executive branches who have not shown their loyalty to her and her family in the last few weeks. With the solid backing of the AFP, the non-cooperative signs showed by the current Philippine National Police (PNP) Chief to disobey the order of GMA if she continues her term beyond her constitutional mandate would not really matter. Unless he (PNP chief from PMA batch ’76) will get the support of many from the active or retired AFP officials, which to the dislike of GMA, he is getting such support now and will surely assure him of not yet be replaced.

Now GMA is about to appoint the Presiding Justice for the Sandigan Bayan which vacancy was created by the death of the presiding Justice. One should remember that the Sandigan is the court, which hears and tries cases of corruption involving government officials. GMA is about to appoint the Presiding Justice who will try her and her family on corruption and plunder after June 30, 2010. She had just fired the Philippine Consul to Germany without the latter knowing it and was replaced by the billionaire businessman who has been involved to the pre-need scam but can freely deliver her the business in connection with the Philippine airport terminal constructed by a German firm but has encountered problems. In not so distant pastime had appointed her young troubleshooter Mike Defensor to oversee the controversial construction of the airport terminal. But obviously, he had not succeeded in having a decision in favor of his boss.

To the top from the house

There are also signs that one can read with the moves of GMA and her camp to continue themselves in power directly (the abovementioned move are governing indirectly or through proxies). She will continue to be in power after June 30, 2010 thru the Congress. At this stage, this is already a done deal because she is already assured of a seat in congress since she is practically running unopposed but she still uses all the national resources at her disposal in her campaign against an engineer and an architect who have dared to run against her in the district of her son vacated by the latter for her. Her son is running to represent the security guards as marginalized sector. Everybody believes that GMA’S running for congressional district is geared towards becoming a speaker in the House. All her cabinet members who are running either for the partylist, district, and other political positions are meant to back her up in the direction. This move has to be done in balance to support her and an alternative presidential candidate who has a greater chance of challenging Senator Noynoy Aquino who is running consistently strong and will not do the bidding of GMA. In the next few days or weeks the alternative candidate (NP candidate Sen. Manny Villar) will be most likely and indirectly be supported by the GMA camp. Already those traditional politicians and known political operators of GMA have continued to go to Villar’s camp like Abalos of Mandaluyong, with Benjamin Abalos, Sr. – the former COMELEC Chair, Chavit Singson with Manny Pacquaio and TV personality Willie Revillame, the Garcias of Cebu, the Zubiris of Bukidnon, etc. They have not changed camp without a purpose or a message.

As a Speaker of the House, she can be either: a) leading the House and all its allies to change the 1987 constitution and pave the way of becoming the first Prime Minister of the country then avoiding all her cases but continue to govern the country. But this constitutional move (changing the 1987 constitution) will be camouflaged by working for peace and accommodate the Mindanao issues (e.g. Right to self Determination of the Bangsamoro) and adopting a federal form of government. This can be facilitated by the supreme court and the AFP; b) she can also be the acting President if there will be no proclamation on or after June 30, 2010 because the result of the election on the national level (presidential, vice- presidential and senatorial) will be questioned and delayed by the confusions created by the automated method of voting, counting, and transmitting. This scenario will be limited only on the national candidates- result in the local level (province, district, municipalities, and precincts) can be counted. The Supreme Court and the COMELEC will see to it that these can be considered valid and the AFP will ensure that everybody follows the decisions of both bodies. The lower house will convene and elect the Speaker and in the term of succession where the term of the President, Vice-president and the senate president expires it will be the speaker of the House who can constitutionally act as Transition President. This scenario can be avoided if one of the senators whose term ends up to 2013 will be elected and replace the current senate president (Senator Juan Ponce Enrile) before June 20, 2010. Such situation can hardly be realized as shown by the current attitude of the senate president.

Just in case a new elected President can be proclaimed thru the aggressive and militant watch of the people, such set up where GMA will be the speaker will surely make serious difficulties for the new President to govern. In addition, GMA and her camp will have a good bargaining position so that cases will not be filed against her at least during this period.

The COMELEC’s role and rules

The manner and the speed of the May 10, 2010 elections by the prime body tasked to implement the conduct of election – the COMELEC are revealing to the abovementioned possibilities of GMA’s camp movement. As stated earlier it is practically a month more to go before the elections are held but already anomalies are happening in the COMELEC in every area in which way it is going. The seriousness of worries of many on the success of the first automated election is intensified everyday. Aside from providing Operational Precinct Counting Optical Scanning (PCOS) machines, the 82,000 units’ serious defects have already been discussed and the COMELEC just reacted passively after the observers are pointing them out. A case in point is that, the security marks of ultraviolet ink that identifies the authentic from fake ballots. It is supposed to be built in the machine but somebody has found out that none of the machines has this part. Accordingly, more than 50% of the 50.2 M ballots have been printed already when it was found out. The COMELEC said that they are going to buy the special ultraviolet lamps to identify the security ink and identify fake ballots. What if this defect was not pointed out? The COMELEC did not even bother to investigate why the machines are not what they are supposed to be. The lamp that could read the ultraviolet ink in the ballots cost Php 70 millions. There are still other anomalies in the COMELEC in its conduct in the manipulation of elections that are being discovered daily.

In the actual automated voting, 1000 voters (one cluster) will be assigned to a PCOS machine. The time of actual voting is estimated to be between 10-20 minutes per voter that is if the ultraviolet lamp will function, and the voter can fill up her/his ballot without a hitch. The average voting time will be 15 minutes since a voter has to select from several pages of the list of the candidates (Partylist alone is more than 187 as of the last count). The 15 minutes will be multiplied with 1000 voters that means 15,000 minutes, equivalent to 250 hours but the voting time will be only at most 12 hours in May 10, 2010 and for 1000 voters to vote that means we need 10.4 days or it is simply impossible.

What is the solution of the COMELEC to this practical but very serious problem? None whatsoever, so the surest thing that one could expect will be confusion and chaos since more than 50% of voters cannot be accommodated to vote. Then it will be the scenario mentioned above which will take place and surely, the GMA camp will be in the top of the situation.

The Mindanao Factor

In any case, Mindanao can have a vital role in the unfolding of the situation favorable to the GMA camp. The revival of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) peace talks in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia has raised several serious apprehensions. The extra attention given by the GRP on the peace talks are unusual for a government which is about to have an exit so that the new government will have a free hand to explore and continue the talks with the MILF or other revolutionary groups.

However, what has come out so far with the talks is that the government (outgoing as it may be) would like to sign an agreement phrased in beautiful words with the MILF before the May 10, 2010 elections. One of its move is to have an Interim Governing Agreement which the MILF is pushing to the formation of a sub-state arrangement where the existing Autonomous Region for Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) plus several provinces and municipalities will be directly managed by the MILF through unelected body it will be organized. The government panel headed by Ambassador Seguis seems helpless to disagree with such arrangement. It seems that they are more worried about the phasing and formulations of such arrangement so as not to repeat of what happened in 2008 Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD). On the other hand, it will be very hard to understand that the government panel of the GMA camp will again overlook the possible serious implications on such move on the peoples of Mindanao unless of course it is really meant to be. That is, the people especially the Christians will surely not take such arrangement sitting down.

Last week (Holy week for the Catholic Christians), a big and broad gathering of the Reformed Ilaga Movement (RlM) headed by big businessmen, politicians, and even religious groups from the Christians had gathered and renew their commitment to defend their lands against the “Muslims”. What is surprising here is that they are all armed with heavy weapons and again military covert personalities were also present. So far an election battle cry of well known and Anti-MOA AD politicians has been effective and drawing more votes for his team in one province. Surely, if the GRP and the MILF will push through with the so-called signing of the Interim Agreement in whatever form, it will be a disaster waiting to happen. But then it will be done before the May 10, 2010 elections which is anytime from now. It will be a golden opportunity for GMA to realize her scenarios of holding on to power but packaged in a very benevolent manner that is saving a situation of conflict between the Muslims and Christians.

The Maguindanao massacre : what now ?

What about the aftermath of the Maguindanao Massacre and the GMA Scenario Building?

At present, the case of obtaining justice for the 57 massacre victims has been very slow. It has been more than four months since November 23, 2009 but no convictions yet and the rebellion case against the Ampatuans has been dismissed. Of course, everybody was expecting such dismissal because the case was meant to be weak and dismissible. Another development is the turning around of witnesses including those in the PNP and the Army. Those witnesses who still hold on to the truth have been harassed and murdered. The last one (murdered) was today, where the brother of the primary witness to the case against the Ampatuans had been murdered in Cotabato city. There are regular bombings and mortar firing in the house of the Sangkis in Ampatuan Municipality. The Sangkis are close relatives of the Ampatuans but decided to turn state witness against them in the massacre of 57 civilians including 31 journalists last November 23, 2009. Meanwhile the billions of pesos and dollars of the Ampatuans have been making miracles. Anytime from today, Zaldy Ampatuan the former Regional Governor of the ARMM will be freed according to a government official because he has a weak case. Governor Andal Ampatuan, Sr. is running as Vice governor of the province of Maguindanao and no one up to this date is questioning such move. Twenty-two mayors (out of 28 municipalities) had been seen visiting the Ampatuan, Sr. in his “jail” in Eastern Mindanao Command (EastMincom) of the Army and it has been known that they are all asking for his blessing and financial support. Brigade size armed militias of the Ampatuan Clan have been openly roaming around in several towns of Maguindanao oftentimes passing the Army company size detachment without being fired at. A single shot from anybody (or the Army) can make reason for these groups to make attacks to harmless and helpless civilians and are the reason to declare once again Martial Law in the province. Already one MILF base commander in the Area (BASE 106) led by certain commander Adan is known to be more loyal to the Ampatuans than to Darapanan based MILF leadearship.

The signing of any agreement between the GRP and MILF with the release of one Ampatuan most likely Zaldy – a lot of trouble can happen. And yet it is called sweet trouble for the camp of GMA.

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