POSTSCRIPT / June 3, 2004 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Leaders close ranks, appeal for calm, unity

POTENT VOICE: We feel reassured seeing a broad spectrum of church leaders and business and civic groups appealing for calm and unity amid the confusion being sown by political terrorists in the aftermath of the hotly contested elections.

Among the latest to speak up was the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. The prelates said the other day that the elections were “generally peaceful” and ruled out a “national conspiracy to engage in massive cheating.”

The church should know. Its prelates and lay workers are all over the archipelago. They do not only watch and pray. Many times, they immerse themselves in the mundane affairs of their communities.

The CBCP statement echoes the widespread observation that while there was localized cheating and failure of some voters to cast their ballots, the May 10 polls had been fair and credible.

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COMMON CALL: This is part of the joint statement of church leaders, civic and business groups, the academe and NGOs in rallying the people for sobriety and unity:

“We call on the leaders of the contending political parties, their affiliated organizations, and their followers and sympathizers throughout the country to now join hands in pursuit of national unity and nation building.

“Our people have spoken. Our votes have been cast and counted. Our electoral process now calls for Congress to complete the process and officially declare the winners. While continued vigilance is appropriate, it is likewise a time for calm and sobriety. And it is a time for magnanimity and humility on the part of the winners, and humility and acceptance on the part of those who have not been favored with the people’s mandate.

“The elections were far from perfect. There were numerous instances of disenfranchisement. There was vote-buying. There were occasions of intimidation and coercion. There was cheating. And the vote count leaves much to be desired.

“Yet in the end, we believe the majority of our people agree that in the absence of evidence of widespread fraud, in its totality the elections at the national level reflect the will of the people. The final results of the elections for the Senate also reinforce this conviction.

“By all means, let us all work together to improve the quality of our elections. Let us rapidly move to join the rest of the civilized world in using appropriate technology to reduce instances of cheating and to expedite vote counting in our elections. Let us learn from India how a developing country can effectively use technology to achieve clean and credible elections. Let us bring all offenders to justice. All these we must do. But first we must work together for the expeditious and timely conclusion of our 2004 elections.

“It is time to cast aside the passions of partisanship. It is time to come together and move forward as one united Filipino Nation.”

The statement was signed by Ricardo Cardinal J. Vidal, Jaime Cardinal L. Sin, Archbishop Gaudencio B. Rosales, Bishop Socrates B. Villegas, Association of Foundations, Ateneo De Manila University, Bishops-Businessmen’s Conference for Human Development, Caritas Manila, Caucus of Development Ngo Networks, Chinese Filipino Business Club Inc., De La Salle University, Makati Business Club, Management Association of the Philippines, Philippine Business for Social Progress, Philippine Center for Population & Development Inc., Philippines-United States Business Council, Radio Veritas Global Broadcasting System Inc., and the Union of Metro Manila Cooperatives.

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CEBU POLLS: The reports of the bishops, which were the basis of the CBCP statement on the elections, provide an insight into local problems:

Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal assessed the elections in Cebu as “generally fair and relatively peaceful.”

Note that an opposition congressman kept questioning the credibility of the elections in Cebu during the ongoing Congress canvass of the votes for the president and the vice president.

Cebuanos cast 1,130,375 votes for President Arroyo while giving opposition presidential candidates Fernando Poe Jr. only 174,609.

Cardinal Vidal, however, observed “more than the usual chaos and confusion (evidenced by the difficulty) in finding voters’ names and precincts, lack of and delayed arrival of election paraphernalia, and lapses of some Board of Election Inspectors (BEIs).”

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ENDEMIC FLAWS: From Maasin, Bishop Precioso Cantillas reported election inspectors’ denying poll watchers the sixth copy of election returns and their failure to accomplish election forms properly.

There was no massive disenfranchisement in Bohol, reported Fr. Aniceto Polinar, who is also Tagbilaran Social Action director and Namfrel coordinator in the area.

But Fr. Polinar reported cases of vote buying and selling, which he described as “systematic and inherent” in local political culture attributable to poverty.

Going by a Social Weather Stations’ estimate that 2.11 percent of voters nationwide failed to vote, Gumaca Bishop Buenaventura Famadico calculated that 6,364 voters in his diocese were unable to vote. He also reported alleged vote buying, flying voters and an attempt on the life of a provincial board candidate.

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ISOLATED CASES: Bishop Emilio Marquez of Lucena reported the unusual presence of uniformed military personnel, but said that did not affect the elections in the diocese.

Cotabato Archbishop Orlando Quevedo found elections in North Cotabato and Sultan Kudarat generally peaceful and honest.

“There were the usual rumors of vote buying, harassment by individuals or groups, dagdag-bawas , and partiality of some election authorities,” he said, “but those were isolated cases and would not change the overall election results.”

He said the problem of disenfranchisement in the two provinces was smoothed out and that there was no evidence of its having been intended to favor a political party.

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POLARIZATION: In Cotabato City, Archbishop Quevedo noticed that polarized Muslims and Christians supported opposing mayoral candidates. But the rivalry had no apparent effect on their choices of presidential and vice presidential candidates, he added.

The archbishop explained how voters in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) continued a Maguindanaoan culture-based practice of block voting as dictated by traditional leaders.

He pointed out, however, that while this practice may be far from ideal, it nonetheless reflected the people’s will.

Bishop Dinualdo Gutierrez of Marbel, South Cotabato, gave SOCSARGEN elections grades of 97 percent in honesty, 95 percent in orderliness, and 98 percent in peacefulness.

The bishop praised the speed, accuracy and orderliness of the counting and the role of thousands of cellular phone users who exchanged information through short messages.

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DATU DICTATION: In the diocese of Tandag, the New People’s Army collected permit-to-campaign fees from candidates, according to Bishop Nereo Odchimar.

Illiterate voters among the indigenous peoples were not assisted by family members in preparing their ballots, he said, but by tribal chiefs fielded by some candidates as their political leaders.

Jolo Bishop Angelito Lampon confirmed that elections in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi were generally peaceful. “The main problem was the lack of preparation by the Comelec which led to confusion among voters looking for precincts,” he said.

While vote buying was also rampant in Jolo, Siasi and Bongao, there was no tampering of ballots and ballot boxes in the area, he added.

Bishop Lampon explained that it is “typical of elections in Sulu and Tawi-Tawi that datus dictate who to vote for and elections are decided by leaders, not by individual voters.”

Despite massive vote buying in the diocese of Mati, Davao Oriental, Bishop Particio Alo described the elections there as “generally peaceful, clean and orderly.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of June 3, 2004)

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