Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Cheating In 2004

As I See It : How cheating was done in 2004 polls

Neal H. Cruz
Inquirer News Service

BELIEVE it or not: The answer to the present political crisis is in the hands of the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET) and in the electoral protest of opposition vice presidential candidate Loren Legarda against Vice President Noli de Castro. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's problems emanated from a question of legitimacy. Is she the legitimately elected President? Or is she a fake President? The people's faith in her as the duly elected President was rudely shaken by the discovery of the "Hello Garci" tapes where she was caught in conversations with Election Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano, plotting to cheat in the last elections.

Fernando Poe Jr. died before his poll protest, alleging fraud and cheating in the last elections, could be heard, and the petition of his wife Susan Roces to substitute for him was dismissed by the PET. The question of who really won, Ms Arroyo or Poe, was left unresolved. Former Senator Legarda, claiming her rival, VP De Castro, also cheated in the polls, filed an election protest. The protest of Legarda has started to move -- after lying dormant in the PET for more than a year -- and she is optimistic that the recount of the votes in six pilot provinces would be finished in six months.

How does that affect the question of Ms Arroyo's legitimacy? Also on the same election returns where the votes for the vice presidential candidates are recorded are the votes for Ms Arroyo and Poe. It would take no more than several seconds to look at the votes cast for the presidential candidates after tallying the votes for Noli and Loren. Thus, the questions of who won in both the presidential and vice presidential races could be resolved at the same time. For the cheating was a "Cheat One, Cheat Two" operation.

While it is true that there is no valid poll protest in the presidential contest, the PET can exercise judicial statesmanship in recounting the presidential votes at the same time it does with the votes for VP in order to resolve the crisis that is ripping the nation apart. The opposition can petition for the reopening of the Poe poll protest, and Ms Arroyo -- if she really won "fair and square," as she claims -- should welcome it. as that would finally prove her legitimacy. If she opposed it, that could mean only one thing: A recount would reveal the cheating.

In a PowerPoint presentation, Legarda and her principal witness, Segundo Tabayoyong, showed the Kapihan sa Manila forum last Monday how the cheating was done. It was simplicity itself and very easy to do. It was a new way of cheating, used for the first time in the elections of 2004. (Tabayoyong was a Questioned Document Examiner and former chief of the Questioned Documents Division of the National Bureau of Investigation. He has retired.)

Instead of changing the ballots at the precincts -- as was done in the past, which is difficult and labor-intensive -- the cheating was done on the election return (ER), the summary of the votes in the precincts. Election returns of a city or municipality are totaled in the Statement of Votes (SOV) which are, in turn, summarized in the Certificate of Canvass (COC) for the province. It is the COCs that are added by Congress to determine the presidential and vice presidential winners.

What the cheaters did -- Legarda and Tabayoyong explained -- was simply fill up new election returns, disregarding the ballots. These spurious ERs were prepared in advance, by a special force of about 200 persons in two places in Metro Manila (one in a hotel near the Edsa highway) and then sent to the provinces. Thus, the votes were already counted and the "winners" known even before the voting started. It didn't matter for whom the people voted. It was the special force that decided the winners.

The Commission on Elections has admitted that it overprinted 32,000 sets of these ERs before the elections. It has not explained fully what happened to these excess ERs. It is believed that these were the same fake ERs used by the cheating team. It was a systematic, well-financed, well-managed and well-supervised operation by professional cheaters, Legarda and Tabayoyong said.

The cheaters, however, made mistakes. And that gave them away. ERs supposedly coming from areas thousands of kilometers apart were filled in by the same hands, said Tabayoyong. The vertical tally bars ("taras") used to mark the votes on the ERs were written very neatly and not in the uneven manner when written in the precincts because of stress and haste. There are columns where there are totals of votes but no bars. There are totals that do not tally with the bars. Thumb marks used to close the columns -- so no new bars could be added afterwards-were small, purposely smudged to make identification impossible. Required signatures were missing. Some had only initials instead of signatures.

Of the approximately 5,000 ERs analyzed, 3,000 were found to be spurious.

The analysis also showed that the team gave De Castro an average of a 70-vote margin over Legarda, and Ms Arroyo, a 100-vote margin over Poe. Therefore, the 32,000 sets of overprinted ERs could translate to a vote-margin rate of approximately 2.1 million votes in the Legarda-De Castro contest and around 3 million votes in the Poe-Arroyo race. Thus, De Castro and Ms Arroyo had something like 2 million votes and 3 million votes, respectively, for "insurance." Even if their rivals won in other areas, the insurance votes made sure Ms Arroyo and De Castro won in the totals.

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TODAY'S JOKE: Terrorists kidnapped Ms Arroyo and demanded ransom money.

"Pay us P500 million or we will set her on fire," demanded the ransom note.

The bankrupt government asked the people for donations. So far, the donations totaled 2,000 liters of gasoline.

PS: A group of businessmen offered to donate another 2,000 liters if Fidel Ramos and Jose de Venecia were included.